Friday, 23 September 2011

Short Measure Riles

There are quite a few siren voices that complain about CAMRA's stance on full measure pints - a policy I don't particularly see the need for when there are bigger priorities - but I didn't know the Germans were concerned about this aspect too and that there is actually an organisation that you can join to combat it. Even more astonishing, to me at least, is that the group concerned is over 100 years old.

I have noticed a fair bit of short measure in Germany, even though oversize glasses are always used. Like most I have just put up with it, while noting grimly that the benefit of the doubt almost always seems to fall to the server of the beer rather than the customer. It varies a lot of course, with Cologne to my mind, being the worst culprits. Now the Oktoberfest is notorious for short measure. You just have to look at the photos to see that. It seems though the the VGBE (League Against Fraudulent Pouring) - don't the Germans just love a snappy title? - are kicking up a song and dance about it. With the price of a litre of beer at €9 each on average, it seems that many maßkrugs are only being filled to 90 percent. This is because Munich’s government allows a variance of up to 0.1 litre. I think it fair to say that this variance is rarely in the customer's favour.  Anecdotally according to one commentator, a kellner (pourer) can squeeze up to 200 litres out of a 100 litre cask,  though that seems more than a tad optimistic to me I have to say.

“The tolerance level has to go,” said the VGBE’s president, Jan-Ulrich Bittlinge, who called the results of the test “sobering.” “We ordered and paid for seven mugs in every tent. But, in fact, we received on average only six litres of beer.” Some results were particularly bad: In one tent the mug only contained 0.73 litres of beer, meaning the customer was cheated out of €2.43 worth of beer.

So, a couple of things.  Doesn't seem that the VGBE has been that successful in the last 100 years does it? And secondly, if you didn't have a good enough reason not to go to Oktoberfest (the only valid one to go is to see the lasses in dirndls) then you have now.

I like the sound of this though. The Beer Inspectors use a mobile phone app that measures the beer content by photograph. Handy. Pun intended.

Gratuitous dirndl photo and story details courtesy of the


Cooking Lager said...

Pretty girls, the blog is getting better.

My experiences of the fatherland are that most of the time the beer is over the line but heh ho, maybe I've been lucky. Certainly in self serve beer gardens with queues where you pick up a glass and go pay at the till, many are short.

On a basic level, our German cousins have it spot on with lined glasses & it's an area I think CAMRA ought to bang on about more than the price of tesco lager.

When I pour 500ml into a nicked pub pint pot I appear to get more beer than a pub pint and that's a shocker.

We would be better off with half litre lined glasses than pint to rim glasses.

Tandleman said...

Try telling that to the headless flat beer drinking South.

Saga Of Nails said...

We do NOT drink headless or flat beer in the South, Tandleman, at least not in Bristol. Come on, that stereotype should have gone out of the window years ago. If I served flat beer than my customers would complain and go somewhere else. Some people like their Bass without any head on, but that's just mental in my view, but each to their own. (I won't be serving it) Actually, the one place where I was repeatedly asked to serve beer with no head was in Yorkshire, many years ago, but that is a different story.

Anyhow, as I said somewhere last week; If the still-on-the-books policy of lined glasses were to come into play next week, it would mean that all pubs would have to bin their entire draught stocks of glassware, and purchase or be given new stocks. coming in at 50p a glass, this would mean an expense of at least a few hundred quid for the smaller pubs, and up to a thousand for the larger ones. Breweries will help to a certain extent, but only with their own branded glasses.
AND, pubs across the land would have to put their prices up by a certain amount, as they would be forced to put more liquid into the glass. If 5% more liquid was served with each pint, this might work out at 15p extra required per pint (assuming 3 quid a pint) to make the same GP percentage. As we know, many pubs across the country are struggling to make a profit and a record number are closing down.
So within this climate, the policy if implemented would definitely force pubs to spend a few hundred quid on new equipment, and probably force them across the board to put their prices up by at least 5%.

It just seems like a stupid policy to bang on about when pubs are in such trouble. Making the practice of asking for short pints to be topped up seems a fair less expensive thing to do.
So Cooking Lager, it's OK to steal pub property, but you are unhappy about pubs short measuring you. You're happy to steal off them, but when they steal off you you become upset and want the law changed ?
If people didn't steal so many pint glasses, then perhaps pubs would be able to put their prices down a tiny bit. Even tiny pubs probably have to spend a hundred quid a year in glassware.

Tandleman said...

As you say, SoN. At least not in Bristol. The rest I agree with basically.

Saga Of Nails said...

Sorry Tandleman, I get would up by that one quite a lot as you can see. The funny thing is the people's perception of whether beer is flat or not can largely be a visual thing. If I took a pint of beer, poured very slowly straight from a barrel, it wouldn't have much of a head at all, but it would still contain much of it's condition. If I then shook that pint for five minutes and returned it to a pint glass, it would look like it had a lot of life, but of course I would have shaken all of the life out of it.

Tandleman said...

You see I have had a LOT of flat beer in the South. I know of what I talk.

Anyway. Bristol is in the West. You should therefore sparkle your beer as God intended.

Bailey said...

Just read in a homebrewing guide that some people hate having 'foam' on their beer so much they "rub oil from their nose or face along the rim of the glass to disperse it". Urp. Feel a bit sick.

Again, sort of understand the problem but tend to think of myself as paying for 'a drink' (i.e. a reasonable amount of beer, loan of the glass, premises, service, entertainment, etc.) rather than a voluem of liquid. If the place consistently rips me off, especially if I suspect they're doing so cynically, I'll have a word and/or go somewhere else.

No need for anyone to campaign on my behalf.

TIW said...

I mentioned on Twitter about my mate getting booted out of the Hofbraukellergarten for complaining about their short measures. The HBK's usually-invisible ghosts of bouncers suddenly appeared and quietly escorted him off the premises.

Munich's beer gardens went through a phase a couple of years back where they actually did seem to reliable fill up to the 'magic mark' for a change - presumably the VGBE had been doing the rounds.

And here's summat else: On my first trip to Oktoberfest I am absolutely positive that there were taps dotted around where you could top up your maß if the waitress plonked a short one down. Can anyone back me up? Nobody believes me.

Barm said...

To be honest I've never noticed systematic short pouring anywhere in Germany other than at Oktoberfest, which as you say is notorious for it. It's just unacceptable especially when a Mass is so expensive there in the first place.

Tandleman said...

TIW - It sounds unlikely. After all, it isn't only short measure that would be topped up. Can't see it myself.

Tandleman said...

Barm - You haven't drunk in Cologne obviously. It isn't alwways a problem, but it does happen more than it ought to. I suppose that's why the VGBE exists?

Neville Grundy said...

What Saga is basically saying is that, while beer is priced at so much a pint, if pubs had to serve full measures, they'd need to put their prices up. So the prices given are unsustainable. I'm not sure that it is healthy that businesses are run on such "nod and wink" deception.

I can see why people like handpumps for aesthetic reasons, but metered electric pumps serving beer into oversized glasses, which were the norm in pubs in the early 70s, even for real ale, meant that short measures were extremely uncommon. We would never have been in the present situation where, should we collectively ask to be given what we've ordered and paid for, we'll threatened with price rises. It wouldn't be so bad if beer was a cheap commodity, but it isn't nowadays.

Erlangernick said...

Even at the Stiebarlimbacher Bierkeller (Brauerei Roppelt), where we normally enjoy over-pours, it can happen. Normally when a pretty young Mädchen is pouring rather than a crusty old Kerl, and it is accidental. But I have seen people go back and get topped up. I've done it myself at other places on exceedingly rare occasions. 3,50€ a litre -- got to get my Euro's worth.

Yet another reason why Steinkrug(s) are dopey.

You lot should get on that oversized glass business just for hygienic reasons, not monetary ones though. Yeah, it's great carrying dripping pints around and having the tables and bar counters permanently slopped up with beer.

Have to remember to bring a couple pockets' worth of coasters along for the upcoming Manc piss-up.

Erlangernick said...

And just to nitpick, to save you potential trouble on future visits, the Kellner/Kellnerin is server/waiter/waitress. "Schankkellner" exists in the dictionary as "barman", but I've never heard it used before. I'm not sure what they call the guy who just fills Krug(s) at the Ofest or tends the Ausschank at the Biergarten; I shall strive to remember to ask whilst at the Bierkeller today.

Erlangernick said...

One other quick note...fairly damning evidence from this year:

Nein, danke.

Tandleman said...

Well Nick you will have to take the incorrect use up with the contributor to the who used it. I assumed he knew his terminology. Either way it doesn't detract from the message.

Erlangernick said...

Yes, yes, all in the interest of further learning. Of which I did naught today at the Witzgall Keller, as I didn't remember to ask, and anyway, the family running the place as of this year is new to the trade, as he's a butcher by day. And on Saturday, their last day of the year, they're doing a Schlachtschüssel, or "slaughter bowl", where they'll conjure up some Blut- und Leberwurst fresh out back in big kettles starting from 14.00. (But the actual slaughtering won't be done on site, fortunately or not.)

Beer there is dry and hoppy, unsparkled, from gravity.

Whatever, just don't call the crusty old cigar-chewing bloke at the tap in Stiebarlimbach a "Kellner". I'll be there tomorrow FWIW. And hopefully every afternoon the rest of the week.

Saga Of Nails said...

RedNev, are you really willing to substitute the experience of a beer poured properly in the best fashion, by a trained member of staff for one measured electronically and pumped using an electric pump, just for the guarantee of getting an absolute full measure each and every time? It just seems like cutting your nose off to spite your face. I've mentioned before here about the lack of quality of electrically poured pints. There's no flow control, so the barman has little control over how the beer is poured. So in general the customer will get a worse poured pint then using electric pumps. Electric equipment used power which costs money, is liable to need maintaining and fixing pretty regularly to time, and would cost a pretty packet to install. In the 'Nubes, we were using a beer engine which was installed in 1948. I don't think many electric pumps would last that long.
And plus, using metered dispense, if there is an issue, then the bar staff are utterly unable to rectify it unless they pour a whole new measure out. The whole thing is a massively stupid idea.
The only time that I have had a metered dispense was in Yorkshire, when I ordered a pint of Guinness. The girl plonked a pint glass on the drip tray, and pressed a button; a half was dispensed, then she pressed the button again, and the pint was filled. The head was getting on for two inches high, but she still offered it to me for sale. I naturally asked her to top it up where she said that she wasn't able to. She was only able to dispense half pints of beer. I refused to pay for it and the whole scene became a very difficult. Eventually she offered to give me an extra half on top of what she had offered me, and so I embarrassingly ended up with more than I had paid for.

I'm not threatening anybody with prices rises, I'm just telling you what would definitely happen. Prices would go up by twenty pee, and more people would choose to drink at home, and more pubs would close down. This is not a threat, it's a fact.

My recommendation. Drink somewhere where you know and trust the management and staff not to rip you off, and just relax and enjoy decent beer in a decent pub without worrying whether you have been ripped off by ten pee or not.

Saga Of Nails said...

I've just thought of another excellent side effect of metered dispense. No free tasters. That would be impossible. I'm always completely happy to give out free tastes of beer, and frequently ask for them myself, but over the years I have noticed that many of the people that complain about beers not being topped up to the brim are also the ones who on other occasions ask for a free taste of a beer before they buy. How does that work then ? I give you free beer, then you complain that I'm giving you a measure that is at the 95% margin that I am supposed to ?

Erlangernick said...

That's a nice point about tasters v. full pours, one I as a punter would never've thought of.

Speaking of offering tastes or not. During our week in Scarborough last month, we encountered a CAMRA-listed brewpub where the landlord certainly offered us tastes on our first visit, but then on our next visit, his son refused, saying it was official policy from his dad. I don't think I've ever encountered a place where they wouldn't offer or give tastes on polite request.

Cooking Lager said...


The weakest argument against running an honest business with honest measures is to threaten a price hike. How many others retailers would argue "If I was forced to be honest I'd have to charge you more?"

Neville Grundy said...

Saga asks whether I'd be prepared to substitute "the experience of a beer poured properly in the best fashion, by a trained member of staff for one measured electronically and pumped using an electric pump". Well, put that way, the answer is clearly no. However, that's often not the choice, which can be a short measure badly poured by staff whose training was virtually non-existent. In the worst instance, I stepped behind a bar to show a barmaid how to pour a pint of cask beer - "I'm new and they never showed me how," she told me - and I've occasionally advised bar staff who are clearly struggling from the other side of the bar. A lot of bar staff do know what they're doing, but too many do not.

Only go into pubs you trust? You'll end up going into the same few pubs and, besides, I like exploring.

I do ask for top ups when I feel they're required, but that can be tricky when there is an inch of head on your pint and it's 5 deep at the bar, especially just before closing time.

And sorry, I remember metered electric pumps with which it was possible to regulate the flow, so that argument doesn't apply: my uncle had them in his pub in Bootle 30+ years ago.

Saga Of Nails said...

Cooking lager, it's defined in law that a head of up to 5% is legal and honest. I'm saying that if the law was changed so that the 5% was not allowed, the prices would go up. I'm being perfectly honest here. It's the truth, not a threat.

Lined glasses would cost a lot to implement, and this is money that many pubs just do not have at the moment. It would almost certainly send a few more pubs out of business. Electric dispensers would cost even more to install and maintain.

RedNev your argument is more about badly trained bar staff than it is about lined glasses. You are under no obligation to hand your money over until the staff have served you a satisfactory pint. I just don't see the problem.

You can regulate the flow with all electric pumps, but how do you do that while you are pouring the pint ? One hand is holding the glass and another the pump. In cases such as Erdinger, which has an easily changed flow, most managers rightly tell their staff to never touch the flow as inexperienced staff will completely bugger it up, not just for them ,but for the next four people to use the pump. Ale is more subtle than lager, and the current beer engine dispense is perfect fro it. A barrel of ale will change subtly from top to bottom and depending on how long it has been open. It's been a long time since I have heard anybody hark back to the glorious days of the seventies Real Ale scene.

If you are being offered pints with an inch high head on them, then I suggest that you are drinking in the wrong kind of pubs. (Or the wrong parts of the country.) /ducks.

Tyson said...


Your rhetoric is pure scaremongering of the first order. It reads almost word for word the same as a press release I read from the trade some years ago. I’m sure, in reality, the price would go up, but the question is why? Certainly not for the reasons you give.

Replacement of glasses would be a gradual process over a lengthy period of time. This would incorporate stock losses due to damage, and replacement of stock with sponsored glassware etc.

Costs to the publican would be minimal and actually, in the majority of pubs, non-existent as they are owned by pubcos. These could, of course, easily absorb any costs, but would naturally use this as an excuse to put prices up for the customer.

The bottom line is that there are no compelling reasons for the trade to refuse to change. Other than it likes things the way they are. Oh, and these aren’t my views, by the way-although I agree with them, but a certain Tim Martin.

As for electric pumps, you seem to be harbouring a grudge there, even though you admit to having little experience of them. They don’t cost much, are very reliable and are the antithesis of poor barmanship and short measures. The law doesn’t define beer as 95% liquid; that is the whole problem. That is merely trade guidance and the reason why some 20% of pints are served short.

Another great thing about electric dispense is that it comes in a wide variety of formats. Including free-flow options. These readily allow you to serve tasters-I know, I was using them 25 years ago.

Saga Of Nails said...

My view on Tim Martin is unprintable in such a nice blog. (And by the way Tim, in the unlikely event that you are reading this, you are banned from my pub.) If you hadn't noticed, JDW's are one of the reasons why your community local is closing down. I consider them to the the Tesco of the pub world.

So Tyson, can i take it that in the future you still want to enjoy the benefits of free tasters, while ensuring that all pints are over 568ml liquid ? But I assume you also don't want or expect the price to go up at all ? That would be yet another cynical ploy by the landlords to swindle the unsuspecting customer again.

I have very little experience of serving real ale through pumps, but I have served hundreds of thousand of pints of lager through them. I am very familiar with them.

Not every pub is owned by a pubco and many of these pubs are struggling heavily. I suggest that this is entirely the wrong time to be banging the same old drum.

Try reading the annual cask report and see some of the reasons why people are making the choice towards Real Ale these days. Many of them are the exact opposite direction from electrically dispensed pumps. People like the retro quality of beer engines, and they like the fact that ale is served in a different fashion to other drinks. The perceive ale as unadulterated as opposed to lager. Electric pumps go completely against this perception. Almost nobody in the trade would want to return to them. Why would anybody want to take pubs back to how they were 20 years ago ?

Neville Grundy said...

Oh dear, Saga. You must only drink in pubs with trained staff who pour perfect pints every time, which will be handful of pubs at best in a single locality. I don't drink in the wrong sort of pubs: I drink in pubs in the real world. Unless I only ever sup in 2 or 3 pubs where I KNOW I'll be properly served, I am sometimes (not always) going to find bad service. The "go only into pubs you trust argument" only works if you never stray from what you know.

I wasn't harking back "to the glorious days of the seventies Real Ale scene" - that's a stupid comment and, if you're honest, you'll agree. I was pointing out that an alternative does exist which would be better in some pubs that don't pour real ale well, BUT I also agreed with you that a hand-pulled pint served well by trained staff would be better than measured pints into oversized glasses.

Also, I don't accept your defence of the legalised short measure of up to 5%. That was intended to allow for the head - it wasn't intended to subsidise pubcos that have a pricing system that is basically a lie, and it wasn't intended to institutionalise short measures. Perhaps if the pubcos didn't rip off their own tenants by charging more than the market price for beer, we could have full pints without the need for a price rise.

You're not a spokeperson for the BBPA, by any chance? Because, believe me, you don't half sound like one.

Saga Of Nails said...

RedNev, I fully admit that I'm a pub snob and a drinks snob. Saying that, there are about forty or more good pubs in Bristol that I regularly visit, every six months or so. I visit a pub on most days that end in a 'y'. The last time that I was served a pint that had an inch high head was five years ago, in the Tobacco Factory. (Ironically, it was using an electric pump.) It's perfectly possible to trust a pub that you have never been into before of course. Isn't that the whole point of the GBG (and BITE) ?

What you are talking about is bad pubs and lack of staff training, not the full-pint measure. I don't know what the BBPA is, but if I represented them, do you think that I would publicly call Tim Martin a cynical, greedy ****. You are saying that some pubs would benefit from electric metered dispense, but any law would be sweeping, and while it might well up the experience quality of the worst pubs, it would also reduce the quality and experience of the very best pubs. It's completely contrary to what the public expect of Real Ale these days.

You are further muddying the waters by bringing the pubcos and their motives into this. Again that is a different issue. I have never worked for one of the major pubcos, but I have worked for many of the smaller micro-breweries in this area, as well for small independent companies. Myself, I have just taken the long term lease on a famous local freehouse, with the property owned by the council. I just don't see why you are bringing the pubcos into this at all. I can't stand the big pubcos, but that has nothing to do with this argument at all.

The impression that I get is that you think everybody who runs a pub is just trying to rip you off and make more money out of you. Ripping off the customer is not good business sense, because you actually want them to come back time and time again. It's counter-productive, and not even in the long run, because an aggrieved customer won't stay for a second pint, let alone visit again.
I plan on getting customer to return by offering them excellent Ales, ciders, lagers and spirits that they won't find elsewhere, and offering them a unique, fun experience. If any of my potential customers start feeling ripped off even slightly then they shall revert to one of the many great pubs less than half a mile form mine.

Tyson, what if I don't want sponsored glassware ? Say, if I'm a genuine freehouse who changes ALL of his ales at least once a week ? How long would I get to change my glasses ? What about the dimpled Ravenswood jugs ? Who is going to supply those to me for free? Those things last for years and years, and I would have to throw my personal collection of them into the bin. What about a microbrewery that has just placed an order for 20,000 branded glasses ? They have to go in the bin too. You are all just not understand the practical implications of such a law, and dismissing very legitimate points as the usual trade gripes. I have a customer who drinks out of his favourite 70's Courage glass tankard. I have to tell him that he cannot do it any more ? People cannot use their old beer festival glasses any more. What people is proposing is actually taking away choice from customers, for no good reason.

How about the government start sending 'weights and measures' bods into pubs and giving warnings to pubs that are short changing the customer. That would stop the practice straight away, and cost a whole lot less then an expensive law that people are proposing. (I estimate that more than 25 million glasses would need to be changed)

I'm not standing up for customers getting sort changed here OK, I'm saying that a change in the law would be unnecessary, reduce choice for the customer and be incredibly expensive to implement.

Erlangernick said...

Word from the Roppelt Keller today is that those who just pour beer without serving it are "Zapfer(s)", from "anzapfen", to tap (a cask).

Perhaps even more remarkable than my having remembered to ask is that I'm not the youngest here auf dem Bierkeller today.

alina said...

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