It is sometimes claimed by opponents of the metric system that any interference with “the British working man’s pint” would spell political death for any party that dared to touch it. Leaving aside the sexist assumptions behind the claim, let us examine whether there is a practical solution that need not be controversial.
Firstly, let it be said that it is not the beer itself that we are talking about – but simply the size of the glass in which draught (but not bottled) beer is served.
Secondly, the purpose of any regulation should be that customers get what they pay for – that is, the full amount (however measured) that they have ordered.
The current position is that draught beer and cider must be dispensed in amounts of one pint (imperial – not US), or a half or a third of a pint. Metered dispensers are rarely used, and the glasses in which beer is normally served may be either brim measures – that is, the glass must be completely full to the brim, or the glass may have a lined mark (etched, printed or moulded) indicating the amount. Overwhelmingly, British pubs use brim measure rather than lined glasses.
There are two unfortunate consequences of this use of brim measure glasses. Firstly, much beer is spilt as glasses are carried from bar to table, resulting in sticky carpets, and the customer not getting to drink the full amount. Secondly, because beer has a “head” of froth, the glass cannot actually be completely filled. In fact, the brewing industry claims that the froth is part of the beer and may be up to 5% of the glass by volume. In other words, even when the glass appears to be full, you only get 95% of the stated amount. Furthermore, trading standards officers will normally not prosecute for short measure if the shortfall is less than 5%. This means that when you order a pint, you are only guaranteed a minimum of 90% liquid beer.
CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) has long campaigned on this point (see
http://www.camra.org.uk/page.aspx?o=campaigns)*, and LACORS (the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services) have also argued strongly in favour of the customer being entitled to full measure (See http://www.lacors.gov.uk/lacors/ContentDetails.aspx?id=2432).
However, following a consultation carried out a few years ago, the DTI placed more weight on the views of producers than on those of consumers and did not accept the argument that a pint of beer should be a full pint of liquid.
The obvious solution is to outlaw brim measure glasses and require beer to be served in lined glasses so that the customer can see whether the glass contains a full measure of liquid, with the froth above the line. This would then give the opportunity to deregulate the quantities that may be served and allow for glasses to be marked with more than one line indicating different amounts – as happens in some other countries. Pubs would then be free to sell in any amount (e.g. 1/2 pint, 300 ml, 500 ml, one pint, 600 ml, 1 L) provided that the liquid filled up to the line. It is also desirable that the “unit price” (price per litre and pint) should be shown (so that you can compare the draught price with the bottled or canned price).
Objections on the grounds that replacement of glasses would be too expensive may be discounted. The average life of a beer glass is only a few months, and the cost of gradual replacement over a transitional year would – if noticed at all – be trivial in relation to the overall cost of running a pub.
The following illustrations show how glasses might be marked. The first is a glass produced by CAMRA itself for use at one of its festivals. It shows how a glass can be marked at (in this case) three different imperial levels.
The next illustration is of two glasses as used in some other countries – one marked at the 300 ml level and the other at 400 ml. Note how easy it is to see that the level of liquid is below the line (presumably, the owners couldn’t wait to sample the beer before taking the photograph!).
Finally, we give below a diagram to illustrate how the current legally permitted quantities compare with some possible proposed metric quantities.
*CAMRA says: Pints of beer are regularly served up to 10% short because the Government will not legislate to give beer drinkers the same rights as other consumers. If you buy a litre of petrol you can expect receive a full litre of petrol. If you buy a pint of milk you can expect to receive a full pint of milk. Beer drinkers are denied their basic consumer rights and as a result are frequently served short measures.