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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Thursday, 6 January 2011

The 'death of the pint'? How?

A schooner. Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  Actually, don't.

Recently I've done a bit of moaning about the relentless negativity from some quarters that immediately greets almost any topic you can think of in the world of beer.

Last night, I was approached by a TV station to comment on the new proposals to relax drinks sizes, notably to include two-thirds of a pint as a legal measure.  However, they were specifically looking for someone who was violently opposed to it.  When I told them I thought it was a fantastic idea, they thanked me and said they didn't need me any more.

To be fair, I'm sure the station already had plenty of people in support of it, and they did say that they felt most sane drinkers would be supportive.

So why did they want someone who was against it then?  For editorial balance, of coursee.  But who on earth could be against it?  That's what startled me.  And on what grounds? I couldn't think of any reason to oppose it.

Of course, I soon found some.

The telly people thought I might be against it because of my stance on neo-prohibitionist measures, and because I've spoken to them before about the campaign to ban glassware from pubs.

But I don't see this as a neo-prohibitionist move at all.  A move that might encourage responsible drinking, sure.  But those are by no means the same thing.

Some government people have said it will curb binge drinking, and when governments start saying that, it does set alarm bells ringing.  But no one is saying anything about banning the pint.  (And please, conspiracy theorists, don't start with any of that 'thin end of the wedge' crap.  The pint is not going to be banned.  It's not going to happen.  OK?)

That brings us on to the traditionalist argument.  The pint is a great British icon.  The two-thirds measure or schooner undermines it, threatens its existence.  Why?  Does the presence of 175ml wine glasses, or 125ml, threaten 250ml glasses?  Hardly.  The point is, there's a choice.  Many people will still choose a pint.

This is why I don't think it will do that much to curb binge drinking.  The worst binge drinkers don't do it on beer anyway.  Those who do, who still want to get pissed, will still order pints.

What's good is that it will give drinkers greater control.  Someone driving, say, may be worried about having two pints, but can drink two schooners without worrying.

Closer to home, I think it's a brilliant idea for stronger craft beers.  I would never order a half of something like Thornbridge Jaipur (5.9%) because it feels like a cop out.  But when I drink beers like this by the pint, it feels like too much.  And if I do this on a session, that's the only time I get drunker on beer than I would like.  There are people who would never drink halves, but who would consider a pint of something above 5% ABV to be 'loopy juice'.  The two-thirds measure will actually make stronger craft beers more accessible to a wider audience.

Apparently some people have argued that unscrupulous publicans will use it as an excuse to rip people off, charging considerably more than two-thirds the price of a pint for two-thirds of the volume.

Well first off, that's a classic example of that negativity I was talking about: could you at least wait and see if that happens before you start complaining about it?

Secondly, on the rare occasions where this happens with a half pint versus a pint, the difference is rarely more than a few pence.  If you think that's a rip-off, don't buy it.

My final word on the whole subject: if both Brew Dog and the British Beer and Pub Association, so often at opposite ends of various arguments, are both delighted by this move, it's kind of hard to imagine who could be vehemently against it.

This is the first bit of good sense we've seen in drinks-related legislation for some time.

17 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

Yeh but anyone that doesn't neck a pint has got to be a bit of a poof, surely?

Andrew Bowden said...

I once saw a half priced at 40p more than it "should" have been. But thankfully such nonsense is rare and will be rare with a 2/3rds pint.

Personally I think introducing the 2/3rds is just ridiculous - not because there's anything wrong with it, but because it's a pointless restriction. Why even have these rules? If a publican wants to sell 330ml of beer in draft, why shouldn't they be able to? As long as they're not passing off half a litre as a pint then where's the problem? Lined glass with 450ml on it? Well why on earth not?!

Tandleman said...

Seems to me that one man's negativity is another man's balance.

It is one thing to see the world as you'd like it to be, but quite another to think that's the view everyone ought to take.

Curmudgeon said...

I agree – it won't disadvantage anyone, and it will potentially widen choice and open up opportunities for a wide range of drinkers. Like it or not, drinking a half is often perceived as a bit wimpy, but drinking a 330ml bottle isn't, and neither will drinking a schooner.

BLTP said...

yes love fancy glass all except jugs with handles and dimples which seem to have made a retro return in some of the pubs in that there London. One of the few benefits of flitting north avoiding heavy lumpy handled glass.
But having choice especially of stronger beers is great. Some beers can die a little in the glass if you're drinking a pint so smaller measures much better.

aTj said...

Talk about synchronicity, I was reading this very afternoon in Michael Jackson’s The English Pub that a schooner was the name northerners sometimes gave to their glass of beer

Tandleman said...

And stop calling it a fucking schooner!

Cooking Lager said...

Yeh Tand, schooner, twother? It's a bit naff. Think of a better name.

How about "Can I have a retard of old crudgie, please?"

Because, you know, it isn't the full pint.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Size matters, and in the beer trade - nothing's getting bigger.

The new wave of craft brewing (a good thing on the whole) is ushering in an entirely new order in terms of bottle sizes.

Nearly all American beers come in 35.5CL sizes - and it's catching globally like some shrinking disease, except over here it's even smaller at 330CL (BrewDog et al). These beers are seldom available in larger sizes, so the greater choice argument is defunct.

All it means is a proportionately larger amount of money spent by us for proportionately less beer. I personally don't believe anything else is fuelling the craze.

The Pub Cat said...

For me personally the 'tooth' will be the perfect measure, a half of good beer is a waste of time - couple of mouthfuls and it’s gone! But somehow, a pint is too much, it certainly takes far more than twice as long to drink (sometimes a good thing!) and is warm by the time I get to the end (never a good thing!)

From a licensees point of view, it's always a pain when you need to find room for more glassware...but I don't know any that would use that as an excuse to charge more.

Greig McGill said...

As a kiwi, on the outside loooking in as it were, I often shake my head at the sheer amount of legislation you guys have to deal with around pubs and drinking in general. Nanny statism seems so ingrained in the national psyche (as it is becoming here too) that the answer to every problem is a call for more legislation - even when the problems in question were caused by legislation in the first place, via the law of unintended consequences!

It's great to see you and almost everyone else taking a positive attitude here Pete. This is actually erasing a little piece of legislation, thus allowing everyone more freedom, not less. The only negative consequence I could see is if the proposed law is worded in such a way as to make the "scoop" (apologies to Melissa Cole, and to make Tandleman feel better) a legal requirement, thus forcing another cost on already struggling pubs.

So long as the law increases choice and freedom in general, and forces nothing, how could it be bad?

That said, on my next visit to my favourite country in the entire world, I'll probably still be drinking by the pint. It just feels right! ;)

Gary Gillman said...

I guess I have no problem with it provided pubs can still serve beers in pints and half pints. The consumer will just be given a third option. Still, isn't 10 ounces close enough to this new measure? Is legislation really needed here? I think the focus to control over-drinking needs to be education (including public campaigns).

I have not found by the way that smaller measures are characteristic of North American craft beer. The pint, and half, are well-established in many parts of Canada now and craft beer goes in those too. In the States, the practice seems to vary, the 16 ounce glass (the old English pint in fact) is still quite common.

Gary

Curmudgeon said...

If publicans were allowed to sell draught beer in any measures they chose, it would make price comparison between venues very difficult, and inevitably lead to some seeking to gain an advantage by making their "big glass" 500ml or 450ml rather than a full pint. Also it would make it hard to work out exactly how much you'd had.

Dan said...

Us British are lucky in one regard - at least when you order a pint you will get (most) of your 568ml. In Canada, where I now live, pubs will variously serve you UK 568ml, US 480ml, and even somewhere less than that, and call it a pint.
"This isn't a pint," I said, the other day. More perplexed than upset.
"Oh that's what we call a pint" said the barman.

The "sleeve" is another utterly indeterminate measurement over here. I take it to mean something between a pint and a half, but some barmen tell me that it actually means a pint, whereas others take it to mean any sized glass so long as it's larger than an egg-cup.

I'm all for different sizes so long as you know what you're getting. And, as Mr. Brown points out, with the vast array of ABV you'll find in pubs, it's common bloody sense that we have a few more sizes of glassware to choose from. I for one would appreciate a nice session IPA in a giant a├čkrug, but I'd have no idea how to actually ask for one...

Andrew Bowden said...

Blogger Curmudgeon - if you have lined glasses, not knowing what you've had and whether the landlord is selling you short, wouldn't be a problem. And such a practise can only exist with lined glasses.

Sorted. Problem solved.

Mark Hensby said...

Pete, A brilliantly balanced argument (I use argument in the Greek sense). I run Liverpool Organic Brewery and we are always nervous about brewing strong beers because pubs in the main don't want very strong beers, but we would live to produce more.

Publican Sam said...

As ever, spot on article.

As a publican I welcome the opportunity to offer customers more choice, however, there are limits to what a small business can achieve.

I won't mind reprogramming my tills, re-jigging my stock-take reports, training my staff, selling the concept to customers ... what I will find a tad difficult is finding all the space for the ever increasing types of glasses I will have to fit behind already cramped back of bar shelving!

Great idea for the stronger beers (be they premium lagers or craft beers) and for those who simply don't like quaffing pints.

For me the schooner tag is annoying (with connotations of sweet sherry etc ) but I am sure some clever marketing guru will come up with a snappy name.