Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Measure for Measure


Weights and Measures Act 1985

It comes up every so often doesn't it, these arguments about pub measures and whether they should be standardised or not? We had this many years ago on Usenet where it got rather heated. More recently, Mark Dredge was on about it, though his concerns seem more to do with with needing smaller measures for his beloved strong beer. (In fairness, he would I think be happy to see wider use of the legal third pint measure.) Beer Nut too seemingly has a leaning towards metric rather than imperial and is keen to urge his Irish compatriots to abandon their traditional pints and half pints for more European measures. (He'll correct me if I'm wrong). I doubt if they will though, as European subsidies for such trivialities are no longer available. Woolly Dave also dabbles in this subject on the side of the reformists.

So what are the arguments? Well on one side you have a certainty with standardised measures. It enables direct comparison, allows you to know what to expect and to have redress if you feel cheated in some way. You can clearly measure your alcohol intake without tedious addition. It commands in the UK, considerable public support and you have valuable protection in law. On the other hand why shouldn't a pub be able to decide how much it charges for a measure it decides? Well, nailing my colours firmly to the mast, for the answer, see above and below.

One mustn't forget why measures were brought in in the first place. They were to prevent exploitation by the unscrupulous. If you go to many medieval German towns you will often see on the market place, iron sets against which a loaf could be measured, because bakers cheated their customers.These date back many hundreds of years and weren't brought in because of a love of regulation, but rather, because people were being being short changed and made a fuss about it. It isn't for reasons of altruism that in America, where no such regulation exists, that when the standard 16oz US pint is eschewed, it is usually in favour of a 14oz pour. These aren't known as "cheater pints" for nothing and are made with thicker glass bottoms to give a contrary impression to what they actually are.

My problem with this is I don't see where the advantage to me as a drinker would come in change, so, having put my position clearly, I'll throw it open and ask this basic question:

What advantage would changing the current regulations on liquid measure have and for whom?"

43 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

I agree Tand. Abandonment of weights and measures is a licence to rip off punters. Concentrate on your CAMRA full pints campaign!

Tandleman said...

I don't care about the CAMRA Full Pint Campaign, but I do care about legally enforceable measures for precisely the reason you state.

Cooking Lager said...

You are happy to buy a pint and get less than half a litre of beer + froth? I thought you were in a consumer organisation?

Or is it only a beer club for beardies that dislike the price of Tesco lout?

Tandleman said...

If I am unhappy with my measure in my pint glass I'll complain. Within reason, being a sparkler man, I regard the head an an integral part of the beer

Laurent Mousson said...

Seen from the continent and pretty much from a germanic part of the world to that respect, I guess the point, rather than be restrictive as to which measures are legal, would be to demand that all glassware used for beer, cider or whatever drink served in bulk form be oversized and lined with a clear mention of the volume to line.

Sid Boggle said...

I'm with you on this one, TM. Orwell mentions metric measures for beer in his article, 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' and we all know what kind of society he's writing about.

So, you'd like to see beer become the catalyst for our transition to a totalitarian state. Vote for metric measures if that's what you want, 'cos that's wot'll happen! ;-)

The Beer Nut said...

You're wrong :)

I don't care which measures are used: metric or imperial. I prefer session beer by the pint than by the half litre. And I agree that measures should be standardised: a half-litre should 500ml and a pint should be 568ml, consistently, throughout the jurisdiction. I've no problem with standardisation.

My issue is with the UK's outright ban on all but a handful of specified measures.

What advantage of deregulation?

Pub wants to hold an Oktoberfest. Pub gets in a few kegs of something nice and golden from Bavaria; the staff dress up, there's oompa music. Foaming mass-krug of beer? Sorry -- against the law :(

Pub gets some chi-chi glass from Sierra Nevada as a promo for getting some draught Sierra Nevada beer in. Pub dutifully seeks to get them stamped by the Weights and Measures Authority. Sorry -- against the law :(

Get back into your corner; drink your brown bitter; and stop thinking the pub should be fun.

Velky Al said...

Even with standardised measures it is possible to get ripped off - the number of times I have been in a Czech pub and had a glass half full of foam is beyond belief. Fair enough most places will top you up (a benefit of sitting at the bar, where the staff know you haven't touched the beer yet).

In the British context, I agree with the full pint idea, but I like to have head on my beer so I would advocate oversized glasses. I really don't see the point of the 2/3 pint glass, if you want a smaller measure of the strong stuff, then have a half. I guess a lot of people would have two 2/3 pints of a strong, so why not just have three halves, it would be the same thing.

Cooking Lager said...

I think I agree with Nutty. So long as the measure is clear, no ones being ripped off. We've lived with the confusion of 2 systems, imperial & metric for everything else all my adult life. Why not beer?

On a general note, though, I'd be happy to go 100% metric for everything. But I'd like to de-decimalize the currency so the term "10 bob" has relevance once more.

Tandleman said...

BN - "Get back into your corner; drink your brown bitter; and stop thinking the pub should be fun."

If your idea of fun is playing about with different measures, I will, you cheeky get.(-;

As for your oompah and Sierra Nevada guff, wrong again. Two pint masskrugs are readily available for such an event* and Sierra Nevada already produce imperial stamped branded glasses, knowing presumably about the law here.

Anyway two such minority examples don't address the question of advantage to the drinker and are readily disproven.

* We held a Bavarian night in the village hall near the THT a couple of years ago, that's how I know.

The Beer Nut said...

Fair enough on the two-pint stein. Let's go smaller then. The Danes have a standard-issue 100ml-to-line festival glass, lined also at 50ml. It's a great way to taste beer at a beer festival which isn't pretending to be Just A Big Pub. But it would be illegal in the UK, right?

Setting aside one's personal preference for beer tasting events of this sort, or the suitability of the vast majority of British beer for such serving sizes, shouldn't event organisers have the freedom to run something like this if they wanted to? (Creating, in turn, the freedom for drinkers to turn up and enjoy it.)

And, in the unlikely event of the answer being "Yes! Yes! Oh God Yes!", wouldn't it make more sense to deregulate the measures instead of legalising, say, the sixth-pint?

Tandleman said...

BN. No. Again you fail on the "what's in it for me" test and the minority test. Thirds cover it anyway.

Not seen any lack of support for pub festivals on the grounds that the government don't allow smaller measures than a third, but that pubs don't make them available.

The Beer Nut said...

I don't understand the tests. Is it just whether or not you think there's a demand for it?

Cooking Lager said...

Its a bit of a grim geeky festival that has small scoops of bizarre pong to imbibe whilst pretending to appreciate it.

Give me a stein of lout, pretty lasses with pigtails, whole chickens, fun banter with people from all over the globe any day of the week.

Why not have a beer festival that is a festival with beer rather than a festival about beer? Like our teutonic cousins do?

The Beer Nut said...

You already have one: all those pictures on the news of Binge Britain? That's what one of those looks like.

Mark said...

I think that the UK system of pint, half and third is fine and it works perfectly for the beers we have. Even the most gloriously strong are fine in a third. I would, however, like to see more pubs actually serve thirds if it is relevant for them (pubs which serve stronger beers, whether British or beyond). To be honest, that would affect very few pubs, but those few are the ones who should take responsibility for providing the lower measure.

I do like Beer Nut's points and I would like to be able to order a variety of different measures, depending on the beer and the occasion. The trouble is that there aren't many occasions when I only want a 2oz pour in the UK or when I want a litre stein.

Our beer scene is British and until every other brewer is making 12% imperial stouts and every bar has a tap dedicated to 9% Double IPAs, the pint and half are fine. As a tourist it's nice to drink beer from different sized glasses, whether in the US or Europe.

Ron Pattinson said...

"As a tourist it's nice to drink beer from different sized glasses, whether in the US or Europe." What?? Can you please explain what you mean by that?

Whorst said...

Government stamped, over-sized wine glasses, with Avery's face etched into it. That's the future of stemware in Britain.

Tandleman said...

Mark. I agree with your first and third paras.

Smarte said...

"Our beer scene is British" - you'd never think it the way some salivate over anything American, or in the case BrewDog anything faux American.

Cooking Lager said...

Our birding scene is British, Smarte, but I still salivate over a bit of Beyonce.

Barry M said...

I have to say, I don't quite get the arguments. Millilitres, fluid ounces, or multiples thereof, are all stadardised measures of volume.

What you're discussing here is Government-sanctioned, arguably arbitrary, but considered "traditional" unit of measure.

So, in Germany and many other European countries, there are 100ml, 200ml, 250ml, 300ml, 400ml, 500ml and litre containers, each clearly marked with a line so the consumer knows what volume they are purchasing. This gives more choice for the end user, I suppose, and in a place like Ireland where both the pint and halbe co-exist in peace and harmony, people still know what they are getting, and in places like The Bull and Castle, they aren't being ripped off.

It seems to me that The Pint is more an emotive topic than a logical topic really, and it's all down to personal preference. I don't see why the consumer can't be given a choice, where the publican wants to, and it makes sense.

I happen to prefer the metric system as it's simpler to use whole numbers than fractions when measuring "your alcohol intake without tedious addition". ;)

Not sure what you are suggesting by "I doubt if they will though, as European subsidies for such trivialities are no longer available"?

Velky Al said...

Does anyone actually care about units of alcohol when in the pub? Usually all I care about is having a few pints with my mates, and none of us are likely to be calculating how many units we've imbibed.

Tandleman said...

Barry. I think you do know, though it is tongue in cheek. (-;

Cooking Lager said...

That's pretty damn irresponsible of you Velky if you don't mind me saying. I shall be telling Don Shenker on you.

Velky Al said...

Must be all the strange compounds in the pongy ale I drink!

Gazza Prescott said...

Pints for supping, halves for scooping, thirds for strong stuff.

What more do we need? If I want 100ml I'd get a half, drink some, and chuck the rest in a convenient plant pot. if I want a mass, I'll call 2 pints one as it's only 136ml over.

But, thirds should be more available in pubs which sell stronger beer, totally agree on that one.

Anonymous said...

Whorst,as usual your comments are as fat and useless as your ass.Get back to your fantasy life and leave the left us fuck alone.

Mark said...

Ron, it's nice to drink out of unfamiliar glasses, different shapes and sizes. Drinking a 16oz pint of IPA in America is different to a 20oz pint in the UK, like that fancy glassware in Belgium, or litres in Germany... Grass is greener and all that and when you get a little nibble...

Gazza, that's the perfect description of measures.

Curmudgeon said...

I can't help thinking that if beer measures were deregulated, we would end up with lots of establishments, while keeping within the letter of the law, in effect passing off 500ml as the equivalent of a pint - and charging a pint price for it.

Also bear in mind that a US fluid ounce is 29.56ml, whereas a UK one is 28.4ml, so a 16oz US pint actually equates to 16.65 UK oz or 473ml.

The Beer Nut said...

If people don't like the price a pub charges for beer then they should go elsewhere, right? Surely that's all there is to it. As long as the pub isn't saying "Here Is A Pint" before handing over a half-litre glass then I really don't see the problem.

Tandleman said...

Rubbish!

Anonymous said...

Freedom of choice

Erlangernick said...

I have encountered unmarked German glassware from time to time, but I always forget to ask about it at the time, as well as to remember where these places are. They tend not to be memorable, I guess.

Not-oversized glassware is daft, if you ask me. Idiotic, actually. What the hell's the advantage of it?

Tandleman said...

One word; profit.

Tyson said...

BN

That is the most simplistic and frankly, silliest, definition of market forces. It's the sort of thing the pro-smoking lobby use to defend their position. It's not worthy of you. Do you really think that is all there is to it?

The pint issue isn't an emotive issue or about preserving "tradition". I'm not English and don't have an overt interest in maintaining "tradition" just for its own sake. As TM was getting at, it's simply about self interest. The current system is tried and proven and, most importantly, very simple. There simply isn't any incentive for me, or others, to support change. I do agree that 1/3 glasses should be more commonly available, even though personally I wouldn't be seen dead with one:)

"Freedom of choice".
Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose!

Barry M said...

"I think you do know"
Actually, I'm, afraid I don't. There are several ways to interpret both the words and tone. Perhaps you could elucidate?

Getting back to the original discussion which, in a nutshell, I interpret as: why (or why not) have a government specify which volumes of beer you can buy at a time?

You state that measures, or more correctly, standardised units of measure "were to prevent exploitation by the unscrupulous. If you go to many medieval German towns you will often see on the market place, iron sets against which a loaf could be measured". Absolutely! Which is why certification bodies and such exist, to certify that a marked vessel (the beer glassware equivalent of the iron sets) contains a labeled volume of liquid. So I guess I'm wondering, why get hung up on a pint, a half and a third, when in reality, it doesn't matter what volume of beer you purchase, as long as it's clear what you are purchasing. Fill it to the mark, pay your hard-earned cash, and done. As you indicate in your response to Erlangernick, not having marked, to the line glassware is not good for the consumer. By that extension, it shouldn't matter what the volume is, as long as it it marked. What is the advantage of sticking to just three Imperial sizes?

To be honest, single word responses like "Rubbish" just affirms my opinion that the attachment to a unit of measure is really an emotive, not logical thing. I suspect it's a case that The Pint is considered by some to be an emblem of British beer (and the Irish are also still attached to it, as it is, I think, the last remaining use of Imperial units), so there goes logic!

Barry M said...

"The current system is tried and proven and, most importantly, very simple".

Tyson, that I can understand, at a purely pragmatic level.

Tandleman said...

Barry / BN. Sorry for the "rubbish" remark, but I had had a few pints (or if you wish, a specified volume of liquid in a glass) and I supposed at the time it was short and to the point. Note to self - don't post when pissed.

My little (fond) dig at Ireland is its desire to be European in the hope of gaining EU funds. True in the past to an extent, but I guess there are more pressing cases now that get the largesse.

As far as I know, Irish peeps are nearly as fond of their pints as we are, so what's wrong with emotional attachment as long as it works? Best of both worlds there.

The Beer Nut said...

Tyson, I'm not saying that's all there is to it, I'm making an empirical observation based on what happens in my local pub.

Tandleman, you must be on your knees every day giving thanks to Maggie for clawing back your EU contribution so we can't piss it up the wall ;)

I don't think Ireland ever had "a desire to be European", and not just because it de facto is European. If anything, the boom years were all about the American Dream of conspicuous consumption. Closer to Boston than Berlin, as a senior government minister once observed.

Erlangernick said...

Nay, posting while pissed is to be encouraged!

It seems to me that the next legislation should be to require oversized glassware. It could even jumpstart the economy, ala "Cash for Clunkers" or whatever you lot call your British equivalent--turning in old glasses for new. Maybe not as big of a jumpstart, but still.

Curmudgeon said...

Both the Tories in 1992 and Labour in 1997 promised to make oversized glassware mandatory (or at least to insist that a pint was a full liquid pint) and both reneged on this promise. Realistically, there isn't a cat in hell's chance of it happening in the foreseeable future. But neither do I detect any widespread feeling amongst drinkers against brim measures. When Wetherspoons anticipated the 1997 change that never happened by introducing oversized glasses, they got an adverse customer reaction as pints no longer looked "full".

Eddie86 said...

I hope the over-sized doesn't become law - it's a big advertising pull for us that we serve a full liquid pint with head on top - and the increase in sales over-shadows the couple of pints less from a barrel you get.

I personally can't see the point of changing it - if it ain't broke why fix it?