Pint-sized beer and cider in British shops

Ronnie Cohen takes a look at the beer and cider on sale in his local shops and supermarket.

While the vast majority of beer and cider cans and bottles are sold in rational metric sizes, there are a few that are sold in pint-sized cans and bottles. What is going on here? Could this be something to do with the legal requirement to sell draught beer and cider by the pint? Has this influenced the packaging of some beer and cider products sold in British shops?

Here are some of the pint-sized beer cans I have found on sale in British shops:

The word PINT can clearly be seen across the tops of the cans though not all beer cans display the word PINT so prominently.

Here are some cider products sold in pint-sized bottles in British shops:

Unlike wine, champagne and spirits, the package sizes of beer and cider are not regulated. Despite the fact that there are no specified quantities for packaged beer or cider, beer and cider products sold in British shops are overwhelmingly sold in metric sizes. The images shown above are among the few sold in pint sizes. There is a possibility that the package sizes of wine, champagne and spirits could be deregulated after Brexit. If sales of packaged beer and cider are any guide, the prospect of finding large numbers of pint-sized wine, champagne and spirit bottles in shops after any post-Brexit deregulation is remote.

In a future article, we shall be taking a look at traditional ales and craft beers which, when not on draught, are normally sold in 500 mL bottles.

Editor’s note. With General Election polls showing the gap between the main parties narrowing, this might be a good time to let parliamentary candidates know your concerns about Britain’s continuing measurement muddle. Cheers.


16 thoughts on “Pint-sized beer and cider in British shops”

  1. Having seen these in recent years I did wonder on the legality of the word “Pint” being so prominent, more so usually than the metric quantity.

    We surely all know about the same thing with bottles of milk but at least there the pint markings are generally embossed in the plastic and so not so visible or prominent.

    I personally think it’s more a cheap marketing trick aimed at the Daily Mail/Sun reading public than a concerted effort to run roughshod over legislation, it’s merely a product where few if any people are going to actually make the call to their local TSO to complain (more so when the TSO or whowver is doing the job these days usually won’t even bat an eyelid over something like this anyway these days) hence why it seems to have lasted so long.


  2. I wonder what the legal position would be here in UK if that pint was only a US 473 ml fill? It is covered in law only by the metric fill. As the minister pointedly pointed out to me when I queried TV inches, it is ‘just a description’, so that applies to the pint of whatever liquid also. Many cups in fast food places are in US ounces with no problems. My efforts with TSA on getting US pints wrongly advertised in UK sizes changed, came to little. Confusion is the name of the game.
    From that I say that pint is just a description and has no legal definition. Thanks in advance for the thumbs down from ‘the other lot’.


  3. I want to compare this to the situation in China. All liquids are sold in metric sizes here, although some are very bizarre.

    Beers are usually 500 mL and 1 L, and so are most drinks.

    Some mineral water use 310-mL and 550-mL bottle, which I do not know of the origin.

    Coke cans have a capacity of 330 mL, which is the same size as their counterparts in Europe.


  4. David,

    330 mL is meant to be 1/3 of a litre (333.33 mL) rounded to 330 ml. The 310 and 510 mL maybe meant to be 300 and 500 mL with a 10 mL bonus.


  5. BrianAC asked “I wonder what the legal position would be here in UK if that pint was only a US 473 ml fill”. I think that Trading Standards would be onto them quickly for “short measure”. It would put the editors of the Daily Express and Daily Mail in a spot – would to be wise to highlight the brewers short-changing their customers at the expense of highlighting the absurdity of continuing imperial units of measure.


  6. I have an old brim-fill pint glass at home which, if the mood takes me, I occasionally fill up with beer or cider from a 500 ml can. As the liquid invariably froths up when I open the can and pour it in the glass, the pint glass is virtually full to the brim by the time the can is empty, with just a nice little head of froth or foam between the top of the liquid and the top of the glass. I can carry the glass through my living room and there is no spillage. I hate to think what would happen if I tried pouring the contents of a pint can into the pint glass. I’m sure I would immediately have an overflowing glass and a mess on the floor.


  7. Jake,

    I’d be curious to know if that glass will hold 570 ml. If you put the glass on a balance and fill it with water to the brim, what is the mass of the water?


  8. @Daniel Jackson:

    Our scales are only accurate to 10 g, but the mass of the water seems to be about 570 ml. Is your point that a 568 ml pint should fit in? English beers from cans tend to be very frothy. The froth needs to go somewhere too, unless you let the drink go flat before pouring it. Perhaps that’s the mistake I’m making.


  9. Jake,

    My point is that there is no 568 mL pint and the true pint is 570 mL. At least as far as all the glassware is concerned. 570 mL may not be 500 or 600 ml, but it is a round number and divisible evenly by 3, such that a third of a pint is 190 mL.

    The definition of a pint in the UK should be defined as Ireland defines it and that is 570 mL.


  10. I have a different take on the word ‘Pint’ being so prominent on the cans: we know that, as pubs close across the country due to changing drinking habits and strict drink-driving laws, with more people drinking at home, pub goers are subtly being reminded that they can have the ‘pub experience’ in their own home from a ‘pint’ can. You don’t need to ‘slip out’ for a pint any longer, you can get one from the fridge. So I would agree with the poster who thinks it is a marketing gimmick. Plus the fact that if you sell a bigger can, you can demand a higher price.


  11. Gin, a foul drink that can turn even the most respectable men into complete scoundrels. One thing about Duty Free (although not profit free), only litre bottles are offered, thus to save you the effort of calculating when intoxicated.
    I trust I haven’t offended any of you over-sensitive Internet correspondents on this occasion.


  12. I am back here in summer vacation.

    Water bottle has really many sizes. For the areas near 500~600 ml (the most common serving size), there are 473 (US company), 500 (Mainland Chinese and continental Europe), 510, 550, 556 (probably for 5/9 litre, although Chinese does not have the habit of dividing volume/weight by 9), 570 (Hong Kong), 600.

    Similarly, a bag/carton of milk is often 200, 236 or 250 millilitres.

    I would think some (even Mainland Chinese) company use English measure to secretly decrease package size from rational metric sizes, like using 1 lb (454 g) instead of 500 g, or 1 pt (473 ml) instead of 500 ml.


  13. @David Fang:

    Some of it might be less cynical than you suspect. They might simply have worked out that e.g. 556 ml bottles stack more efficiently in a standard crate, pallet or shipping container than 500 ml, etc. In the factory, for low value commodities like water, that matters more than the individual bottle size. It’s the same back in the UK with our ≥789 g boxes of eggs—the hens get into trouble if they lay them too small to support the load above! The 473 ml, 570 ml (generous 568 ml) and 454 g are obviously USA/ UK soft metrication like you say, 600 ml one third of a metric Japanese shō and some of the others might be conversions of other traditional units from elsewhere.

    What units do the Chinese use in the street markets 😱?


  14. @Mark Williams,
    Now it is almost always “Yuan per 500 grams”.

    We began indirect metrication in 1920s by redefining old units with round metric values, since the weight and measures differed throughout whole China then. A chi can be from 32 cm to 35 cm, and it finally settled to 33.333 cm (1/3 metre); similarly, A jin is 500 g and a sheng is 1 litre.

    In about 1950s, the measurement for grains shifted from volume to weight/mass.

    Since around 1990s, the direct use of non-metric units are banned from formal presence, so they just use “Yuan per 500 g” instead. Annoyingly, all electronic scales are always in kg/g, so it makes my mental arithmetic harder.


  15. That is for unpacked goods; for packed ones with uniform measurement, the direct “Yuan per box/bag/etc.” is used.


  16. “Annoyingly, all electronic scales are always in kg/g, so it makes my mental arithmetic harder.”

    Why is this annoying and what is harder? If something costs 100 yuan for 500 g, that’s 80 yuan for 400 g, 60 yuan for 300 g, etc. That is why metric is simple. It makes the calculations simpler and takes the annoyance away.


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