Saturday, August 20, 2011

Does Size Matter?

In a rare show of common sense and with an unprecedented sensitivity to consumer wants and desires, the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch sent out a memo, dated April 27, 2011, announcing that they had increased the single serving size for draft beer in BC to up to 24 oz (680ml), eliminating the ridiculous conflict that existed between the old serving maximum of 500ml and the Federal Weights and Measures Act which dictated that if a pint of beer was served in Canada, it must measure 20 oz, or 568ml, in direct violation of the old BC serving size standard.

"Concerns have been expressed that the previous serving size rules did not allow for serving a pint of draft beer," the memo noted, so the LCLB, in what must have been a momentary lapse of reason, actually changed one of their arbitrary, nonsensical, antiquated laws and did a solid for the beer consumers of British Columbia. 

The 20 oz pint is now legal in BC
but still hard to find at least where craft
beer is sold
Hallelujah, rejoice, the pints of my youth could now be brought back from near extinction.

Now I know this is not exactly breaking news, but I have decided to chip in my $0.25 about the desire of some to bring the pint back to its proper place of prominence in BC so I figured I should give the BC LCLB props for actually paving the way for the return of the 20 ounce beer. Anyone who knows me knows I waste no time pointing out the LCLB's faults so it is only fair they get their due when it is warranted.

For whatever reasons (read profits for bar & restaurant owners), the "sleeve", which is basically the bottom half of a martini shaker in glass form, has become the glassware of choice for beers in this province over the past 15 years or so. These glasses can hold between 12 and 16 oz, depending on the flare of the glass, thickness to the glass and thickness of the false bottom and if filled to the brim, which they often are not. If memory serves me right and it often doesn't these days,  the sleeve became popular in Victoria about 15 years ago and the plague spread from there. At least that's what we say here in Vancouver. I am fairly certain that whoever the first person was to come up with the idea of serving a beer in a sleeve, if identified, would have been the most hated man in BC, in some circles, until Gordon Campbell came along with the HST.

Now I may have been asleep at the switch, but I cannot remember for the life of me any crusade by the BC LCLB, or anyone else for that matter, save my ex-wife, to eradicate the pint here in BC and shrink beer serving sizes. I worked in several bars and drank in even more and never heard of an establishment serving beers in pint glasses getting on the wrong side of the LCLB. The move to sleeves seemed to me, at the time, to be a cash grab by business owners who shrank their serving sizes by 20% and more, while charging roughly the same price and advertising falsely that they were still serving the full measure. It wasn't until a public uproar about sleeves being passed off as pints that sleeves began to be called sleeves, although you can still find places that try to pass them off as pints. Now it has become the norm and, for the most part, a sleeve is a sleeve, or is it due to the lack of standardization of size for this made up measure.

Since becoming president of CAMRA Vancouver this past May, probably what I have heard most from folks after, "can you change CAMRA into something more than a beer appreciation club," is the request to try to bring back to 20 oz pint here in BC.

It seems there is a segment of the local beer drinking population who dearly miss their friend the 20 oz pint and want the choice of being able to order one when they desire.

A noble cause, to say the least, but one that no one seems to want to lead. Sure, many, like those who come up to me to ask why CAMRA is not dealing with this issue, complain about the problem, but what are they doing to make their voices heard by those who have control to make the changes they so desire - the owners and managers of bars, lounges, clubs, pubs, restaurants.

For me, it is not the size of the beer that matters most. I personally do miss drinking from pint glasses but wonder, in today's craft beer world, if many beers offered are probably better off not served in full 20 oz glasses due to their high alcohol content. Most of the world I have visited and I have covered a fair bit of this planet, do not serve beer in pints. This tradition comes from the UK and Ireland mostly, where traditionally beers have been lower in alcohol, between 3.5-5 % ABV. Here in BC when pint glasses ruled, beer was a standard 5%, with a very few nosing up slightly higher. Now, in craft beer bars and restaurants, many of the beers are 7% and above, with more than a few weighing in at 9% and higher.

Tulip style glass popular with
many Belgian beers both
bottled and draft
As well, like with wines, many beer styles are now being served in specially designed glasses that enhance the tastes and aromas of those particular styles. This is just catching on here in North America, but in places like Belgium it is an essential part of the beer tasting experience.

What I feel is more of an issue than whether I sip my IPA from a 20 oz or a 12 oz glass is that the glass of beer I am paying for is not short poured or falsely represented. If I am paying for a sleeve of X beer, I want a sleeve of X beer, not 90-95% of a sleeve of X beer, especially with the prices we pay for good beer in this city. And I want to know ahead of time how much that sleeve holds. If it is a 12 oz sleeve, I want to know so I can make my decision as to whether the beer is over-priced or not. If an establishment offers "pints" of beer, I expect a full, 20 oz pint of beer, not a 90% full 20 oz pint, or a 17.5 oz pint, which, although it does not exist (no pint measures 17.5 oz in Canada), you see advertised at some establishments or a sleeve.

Now to me, that is something worth fighting for.

In 2008, CAMRA UK launched their Full Pint Campaign, where CAMRA representatives presented a petition, signed by 23,361, addressed to the British Prime Minister, to his residence at 10 Downing Street. The petition, which collected signatures over an 18-month period at CAMRA beer festivals and through an on-line site, urged the Prime Minister, "to take notice of the 23,361 people who have signed this petition calling for an end to short beer measures." It went on to point out that, "(i)t is unlawful for consumers to be short measured when buying petrol and it should be unlawful for consumers to be short measured when buying a pint of beer." 

Yes, it should be illegal. So should false advertising like stating you are selling a pint and serving a sleeve, or taking a mainstream, macro-lager and calling it an IPA.

To me, clear advertising as to what you are ordering is essential. And then it is just as essential for businesses to deliver on their promise and serve the measure they promised to serve. If a bar wants to sell a 12 oz sleeve, then state that and fill those sleeves to the 12 oz mark. At least consumers know ahead of time what they are ordering.

But if size really does matter to enough consumers who feel passionate about the right to have their favourite beer served in a full, 20 oz pint glass then they need to make their voices heard. They need to convince business owners that it is in their best interests to offer 20 oz pints. CAMRA BC, or more locally, CAMRA Vancouver could be the vehicle to help carry this cause forward, but they cannot do it on their own. Campaigns need organizers. Campaigns need supporters. Campaigns need action plans. What campaigns don't need are people criticizing others for not taking action while they sit back and wait for changes to happen.

There needs to be an organized plan of attack on how to convince those who serve the beers to do so in the vessels we wish to drink from, or at least give us that option. Maybe a petition, like the one in the UK, presented to bar and restaurant owners might persuade them to offer up the pint option at their establishment. There is always the option of frequenting only places that serve the 20 oz pints, but I don't see too many craft beer lovers boycotting The Alibi Room, St Augustine's, or the like, to prove a point. I know I won't.

So, if this is an important issue for you out there and you have any ideas of what to do, drop me an email at  with your suggestions and let them know how you'd like to help out. Although, for me personally, the size of the glass isn't the major issue, I can certainly understand the desire to see the 20 oz pint glass  make a come back and as president of CAMRA Vancouver, I would be willing to get a campaign going to try to make that happen.

And maybe while we are at it, we can make sure those 20 oz glasses get filled with the full 20 oz of beer promised.


  1. Hi Paddy,

    What we need to do is follow the following CAMRA Victoria Bulletin from September 2000:
    The following information was provided to all licensed establishments in June 2000 by the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch:

    Pricing your liquor

    Effective September 1, 2000, licensees are required to make a list available to customers showing the quantities in which liquor is sold, and the price at which each quantity is sold. All available types of drinks must by listed, along with the price and amount of alcohol contained. It is sufficient to categorize drinks by type, i.e., 'mixed drinks contain "x" ml ("y" ounces) of liquor' rather than listing the name of every drink served.

    • Volume must be given in both metric and imperial measures, and may also be described by common names (i.e., a sleeve of beer, which is 14 oz. or 398 ml).
    • It is suggested that the list state whether or not tax is included in the price, and what the applicable taxes are.
    • The list may be posted in the establishment as a printed list or on a board, or available at all tables, but it must, at a minimum, be available to customers on request. Specials should be communicated to patrons in the same way.


    John Rowling

  2. Interesting article paddy. I actually agree with you!! mis-representing beer sizes is definitely one thing that bars/restaurants should look at changing. In Australia we only have certain beer sized glasses, and its the law. Some bars state the serving size along with prices as we are too hot in Australia to drink 20oz pints.
    Glassware is definitely something I'm a big fan off after going to Belgium last year, as yes Goblets and Tulip glasses do make a difference to different beers. The whole time in Belgium I never drank from a 16oz Pint glass. :)

  3. Interesting timing Weights and Measures in the UK (I think that is the right branch) just introduced a 'Schooner' glass which at 2/3 of a pint would be approximately similar to a sleeve.

    Part of the purpose of this was with the move toward some higher alcohol beers it is desirable to see them served in smaller volume as you indicated above.

    I fully agree with the misrepresentation angle. I don't care what you serve in, I want to get what I ordered.

  4. Not many people know that the shape of a particular pint glass essentially makes beer taste better, when the oxygenation process takes root, very much like when wines are aerated to enhance taste.

    Personalized Shot Glasses