Is ‘the pint’ surplus to requirement?

By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic 

A pint glass is an excessive, unduly measure.

Have you ever drunk a pint and thought, “I really enjoyed that last drop”? The so-called ‘dregs’ is defined both as the remnants of a liquid left in a container and the most worthless part or parts of something, which is fitting. I’ve seldom reached that part of the pint where you tip your head and see the glaze of the pub through the glass base and thought, “that’s the bit I enjoyed the most”. In fact, the last third is the bit I could really do without.

Now I’m as British as the next man. I eat meals out of newspaper wrappings, enjoy beer at a slightly warmer temperatures and still don’t turn my nose up at pork scratchings, even though I know it’s essentially pig’s arse mixed with lard. So as my heart pumps to the tune of God Save the Queen and I litter my wardrobe with tweed I have also acquired a taste for real ale, along with many of the British compatriots. Figures show sales of real ale at supermarkets tripled in the run-up to last Christmas and traditional hand pumps once again litter the bars of British public houses.

But in pursuit of good beer, I’ve become more wary of the peripheral elements of brewing, serving and consuming real ale. Is it really ‘real ale’ if it’s dispersed in steel casks? Surely ‘real ale’ is wasted in lager cellars! And lately, I’ve become dubious of the quintessentially British pint glass.

Why a Pint?

There’s a memorable scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy in Fellowship of the Ring which has particular pertinence here:

Pippin: What’s that?

Merry: This, my friend, is a pint.

Pippin: It comes in pints? I’m getting one!

The implication is that regardless of contents, more is better. It’s a mentality that has dogged British pubs for centuries and is now quite engrained in our social philosophy.  The ‘half’ has fallen into disrepute as a consequence, viewed as an inferior measure which carries a social stigma most men dare not risk. It’s a women’s drink, although rumour has it that in parts of the South you can find men drinking them.

Drink from a bottle, however, and no such stigma is attached. A bottle is 330ml and a half pint is 284 ml, so for the sake of 46ml you can save your blushes. But surely industry standard measures should be somewhere in between, and not a whacking 568ml of alcohol.

Britain stands alone

Britain is largely alone in serving such measures as an unswerving standard. In Australia, ask for a beer and the bartender will ask what size beer before he questions what type or brand.  Take a pick from pots, ponies, middies, schooners, pints, butchers, sevens, eights, tens, handles… and something a little less mindboggling might work in the UK. But it’s not the choice that troubles me, it’s the industry standard.

On a recent to trip to Cologne with eight beer swelling, machismo, testosterone fuelled lads, we were confronted with a new industry standard, a slim 0.2 litre glasses known as Stangen. We pumped out our chests and looked wide eyed, mouths agape, in disbelief at the thimble-sized drinks that had been presented to us. The ‘man’s man’ of the group – to remain unnamed – let out a bellow of disbelief and even considered the next flight back to the UK where he could cradle a pint of Fosters in comfort, but soon settled as a busty waitress returned promptly with a Kranz (wreath) of fresh Kölsch beer and pencilled our total on the back of our beer mat.

Indeed, the period of adjustment to a glass that was a third of the size of the containers we were used to drinking out of was remarkably quick. And did we drink thrice to make up? No. In fact, we relaxed and got the same buzz from a good circle of friends and great atmosphere as we would if we were drinking a measure three times its size.

Time to Act

As a symbol of the real ale renaissance the dimpled pint glass has made a return to our pubs. The glass tankard with a handle and distinctive dimples, often referred to as a pint pot or jug, supports the ‘Britishness’ of the real ale movement which often evokes nostalgia of Great Britain ‘when it was great’ as a selling point. This, I thought, would be a good time to re-size our industry standard serving measures to something slightly smaller.

Alcohol is 45 per cent more affordable than it was in 1980. Misuse (such as over consumption) of the drink costs England approximately £21 billion per year in healthcare, crime and lost productivity costs. Most interestingly, average alcohol consumption has gradually fallen in many OECD countries between 1980 and 2009 with an average overall decrease of nine per cent. The United Kingdom however, has seen an increase of over nine per cent in these three decades.

Rather than a prohibition-style attack on Britain’s favourite beverage and rather than tax the life out of our publicans, surely we should consider drinking in moderation by adopting a new industry standard? Without attacking the British institution of the pint glass, I believe we have a more pertinent opportunity at our door by pushing for re-sized dimpled glasses to become the new ‘face’ of British beer.

1 Response

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