Monday, August 29, 2011

Resurrecting the Pint is Not This Consumer's Priority

The past week I have been exploring, in my posts "Does Size Matter?" and "Size Does Matter: How Consumers Can Protect Their Rights", issues related to the misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes (stating you are serving on measure and actually serving less), the problem of short pours and how we, as consumers, can protect our rights. During the considerable discussions that have ensued, via email and comments, the issue of resurrecting the 20 oz pint keep rearing its head so I thought I'd dedicate a post to the beloved pint and weigh in with my thoughts and opinions.

There are many of you out there who feel strongly that all bars and restaurants in Vancouver who serve craft beer should be doing so in 20 oz (568ml) servings, otherwise known as the pint. Up until recently, it has actually been illegal in BC to serve 568ml because the maximum serving size for draft beer was capped at 500ml but that has been rectified with BC LCLB upping their maximum serving size to 24oz (680ml) this past April. With the legal roadblocks cleared it is now possible for establishments to serve real pints yet few seem to be taking advantage of this, a least few that focus on and feature craft beer.

Non-standardization has led to several types of beer sleeve
being used.
These three glasses look the same yet from right to left they hold
12oz (341ml) 13oz (369ml) and 14oz (398ml)

Now I am going to be unpopular in some circles for saying this, but I do not think resurrecting the pint as the standard glass for draft beer in this province is a major priority. The pint is one of only four standardized measures that draft beer can be served in in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and N Ireland), with the others being  the half-pint, the little used 1/3 pint and the newly introduced 2/3 pint (380ml), or schooner as it is being called. Traditionally, the pint has been the measure of choice for beer drinkers in the UK and drinking from a pint glass does add a certain something to the experience of sharing a few jars with friends. But most UK beers are low alcohol compared to here and traditionally between 3.5-4.5% ABV. It is true that there are some stronger beers in the UK that are becoming more readily available and more popular but that is one of the reason why the schooner has been introduced, so that beer drinkers would have a reasonable option of glass size if they choose to drink these stronger brews.

I am not sure if in our craft beer scene in BC if the pint glass is appropriate for many of the beers served as many of these beers are 6.5% ABV and higher. If you are a bartender who has a legal responsibility to "serve it right", which mainly focuses on not getting your patrons drunk while serving them intoxicating liquids, do you want to be pour 20oz measures of North Coast's Old Rasputin, which weighs in at 9% ABV, or of Moylan's Hopsicle, which is even stronger at 9.2% ABV? How about the ever popular Fat Tug, from Driftwood, which at 7% carries quite a wallop. Upping serving sizes of these beers from 14oz to 20oz will have some very major impacts on the sobriety of bar and restaurant patrons. It will also discourage some from having more than one or two beers, prohibiting them from sampling a wider variety of the great beers on offer because after one or two pints of higher alcohol beer, they will feel the effects. I have actually met some folks who would like to see smaller glasses introduced, in the 8-10oz range, just so they can enjoy a wider variety of beers at their local bar/restaurant without drinking too much volume or without getting tipsy too quickly.

It is true that there are many craft beers which are closer to the 5% ABV mark and more appropriate for larger serving sizes, but where do you draw the line if you are a business owner? It would become quite a pain in the ass to be constantly explaining to patrons why one person can have a pint of their favourite beer, because it has a lower alcohol percentage, while the guy next to him at the bar can't because they order a stronger beer. As well, most bars have limited room to store glassware and literally don't have room to store both pint glasses and sleeves.

Then comes the cost involved in serving pints. Are you willing to sell out $10 or more plus tax for your pint? If your local switches to pints from sleeves they are going to be attaching a cost to this convenience as the serving size is increasing by close to 30%. Many craft beers already cost in the range of $7 when served in sleeves. I think the price would get quite prohibitive for some or people if pints are introduced as the norm in some of the craft beer establishments in the city.
I am not against pint glasses, don't get me wrong, I just think that there are more important issues that consumers should be addressing other than whether their beer comes in a sleeve or a pint. I think getting some sort of standardized measure for a sleeve is far more important, so we actually know what measure to expect when we order a sleeve. It is the law that establishments have a list of their serving sizes and the prices for those measures, but standard measures do not need to be used. Because of this lack of regulation, sleeves range in size from 12 oz to 16oz (454ml) and all of these different sized glasses look very similar. Because very few establishments actually lived up to their legal obligation to supply a complete list of serving sizes and prices, we are never quite sure what we are supposed to be paying for. By forcing establishments serving draft beer to actually use an official measure, like a 20oz pint (no other size pint exists in Canada) or a 14oz sleeve, if that measure was standardized and notify us of what serving size they are selling, we would know right away what we are supposed to be served. We, the consumers of BC, have allowed misrepresentation of serving size to become the norm, have allowed establishments to serve "pints" that fall far short of 20oz and allowed different sized sleeves to exist. We allow our beers to be short-poured and do not insist we get the full measure we are paying for. We allow establishmwents to serve us mystery portions by not insisting on serving size lists.

To me, these are far more important issues than whether my beer comes in a 20oz glass or not.

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