I recently read an item about pint sizes that got me thinking.
Adam McDowell, writing in August for the “booze newsletter” Moose Milk, which he cofounded with drinks writer Christine Sismondo, opined on the strict and seemingly seldom-observed definition of the word “pint.” As he noted in the article, the term “pint” has essentially been bastardized to the point where it now basically just means “a large glass.” In reality, of course, the pint has an actual exact measurement. In Canada, it’s 20oz.
McDowell’s premise was that bars advertising a pint are all too often not serving actual pints. You’re more likely, he posits, to get 18oz or 16oz. He also noted that bars and restaurants are actually legally required to serve correctly-sized pints. In a conversation on twitter that followed after I shared his article, McDowell also informed me that the Government of Canada has an official complaint mechanism to report measurement-related complaints like improper pints — which might be the most Government of Canada thing I’ve ever heard.
At first blush, this seems like the kind of thing I’d get my manties in a knot about, so I happily shared the item on social media: Getting shafted on beer? Shady advertising? Where’s my torch and pitchfork?!
But then recently I thought…is this actually an issue? How many bars actually advertise “pints?”
Very few, I’ve found in my highly unscientific research. Maybe it’s that I don’t often go to places that need to promote their wares based on volume, but almost every decent bar seems to indicate the size of the pour you’re getting alongside the price. So are people really ordering “a pint” then shitting themselves when they notice the glass they receive is actually 18oz? I don’t think so. And, realistically, if you’re ordering anything with a higher ABV than 5%, should you even really be getting 20oz servings?
Matt Bod, the Beer Program Manager at Toronto’s Bar Hop restaurants and bars, thinks the proper pint argument might all be a little silly.
“You are 100% entitled to get the volume of beer advertised for the advertised price,” he says. “You are not entitled to get an imperial pint based on your arbitrary opinion that an imperial pint is the ideal serving size.”
I have previously championed the idea of a “full size” drink as opposed to a tasting size — and I still loathe the miniature servings offered up at most beer festivals — but Bod makes a strong case for lil’ beers. “There are many people who prefer smaller pour sizes. I’m one of them. I generally don’t drink beer particularly quickly and the last 25% of an imperial pint is usually warm and flat by the time I get to it. I can assure you that this is not an uncommon opinion. I can’t really prove it to you though, because as far as I can tell, people who feel the same way I do seem to spend their time doing things that don’t involve complaining about beer on the internet.”
As a semi-professional internet beer complainer myself, I can concede the point that some people might not in fact drink beer as quickly as I do.
The other issue seems to be that, while the beer-drinking public would like a Proper Pint, please, they/we seem to simultaneously lament the rising price of a glass of beer. In other words, it’s a bit hypocritical to bitch about the size of your drink out of one side of your mouth then complain about the bill when it arrives out of the other.
Sure, you could probably get a Government-of-Canada-approved pint of a Russian Imperial Stout, but are you prepared to pay $11 or $12 for it? I think you probably aren’t. Bod concurs. “In my experience the vast majority of customers have no real attachment to the very English idea of a ‘proper pint’ that needs to be strictly regulated for the good of the consumer but, man oh man, they are definitely not happy when they have to pay more than $10 with tax & tip for a beer.”
There is also a compelling argument to made that bickering over the cost of the two ounces of beer you might be “missing” is a little tacky. I mean sure, if you walk into Crabby Joe’s and they’re advertising $5 pints of Rickard’s but you get an 18oz glass, you might reasonably complain. You probably just came in there for cheap shit and if the shit isn’t actually cheap, then it’s just…well, shit. So by all means mention it to your server to try to wheel some extra mozza sticks for you and the boys. But if you’re in a good bar, the money you’re putting toward that full-sized beverage is almost certainly being put to use to improve your drinking experience.
“Top tier beer bars invest considerable resources into cleaning every component of their draught system on strict, industry-standard schedules,” Bod says. “They invest in expensive equipment to serve draught beer in the condition the brewer intended. They have their glass washer serviced regularly to make sure your glass isn’t alternately filthy or stinking of chlorine. They don’t take keg deals and they don’t trade draught lines for umbrellas or Leafs tickets or vacations. The price of kegs and real estate has risen dramatically and if you think the second and third tier beer bars are doing all these things while selling you imperial pints for eight bucks then there is a bridge in Brooklyn I would be happy to sell you.”
So it seems to me that, for the most part, informed consumers are getting both what’s advertised and our money’s worth when we order a full-sized pour.
Sure, maybe it is isn’t really a “pint.”
But maybe that’s OK.