Thursday 6 January 2011

Pint States: "Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated"

(this is the full article I wrote for Guardian Comment is Free - it was rightly ruthlessly hacked as it wasn't the right tone but I think it works in context of my blog so I put here instead - hate to see writing go to waste!)

It’s the mark of our nation’s attachment to the pint that the recent announcement of a 2/3 of a pint measure has caused quite such a stir, with some fearing we could be kissing goodbye our most beloved drinking vessel.

Please let me reassure you now that, despite reports both here and in some Australian newspapers that it’s last orders for this most-loved of pub institutions, don't panic - just like the Ashes, we’ll be retaining our national pride! This is a new addition to our existing legal measures and nothing more.

But why has the thought of losing our beloved pint created such a stir? Because January’s a quiet news month? Possibly. But it’s probably more to do with the sheer history of it as, for at least 300 years, we have been legally required to drink our beer in this measure and it’s become part of the fabric of our national identitiy.

In 1698 an Act of Parliament declared that ale and beer (the distinction then being that beer used hops and ales didn’t, a now defunct distinction) should only be served in pints, full quarts (two pints) or multiples thereof – so, we were big drinkers even in those days then!

And the 1824 Act, that decreed all food and drink should be served in Imperial measures, further cemented the pint’s place in our hearts, as did the 1988 Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order, which is what we abide by today and which states: “Unless pre-packed in a securely closed container and except when sold as a constituent of a mixture of two or more liquids, beer or cider shall be sold by retail only in a quantity of ⅓ pint, ½ pint or a multiple of ½ pint.”

Also, it’s not just history, it's common parlance and pure habit. We all say, ‘fancy a pint’ even if you are going for a cocktail and, if you’re anything like me, you probably either openly or privately have a preference for a particular beer glass too, and which also carry their own history.

For example, did you know the phrase ‘pint pot’ doesn’t refer to those god-awful dimpled jugs, which are seeing an annoyingly kitsch revival in try-to-hard quasi-cool gastropubs? It, in fact, refers to those made of china, which graced British bars up until the end of WWII and the demise of which was bemoaned by Orwell in the Moon Under Water essay in 1946.

And of course there is the second ugliest drinking vessel ever visited on the public, the Nonik with its bulging gullet, so-named as it was designed to stop the problem of straight sided glasses getting nicks on the from stacking.

I can only hope that designers the world over are putting their caps on for something a bit more aesthetically pleasing for this new-comer, which of course brings us to the point that the Government, and various trade bodies, have been quick to claim that this new measure will not only be good for the pub trade but will get us girlies liking beer more too – which is the opposite to the usual message that we’re all heavy-drinking slattens who fall over the streets and are dying to flash our knickers at the nearest camera.

Annoyingly, although I very much welcome the move personally, I think they might be right and I welcome the measure personally; and not even annoying that it’s true, research and my own experience of holding hundreds of beer tastings agree that lots of women don’t like pints but feel halves are a little too little – it’s just annoying because they will probably follow it up with something asinine like: “It’ll be perfect for those pink, fruit beers that all you girlies love!”

Anyway, before I head off on a rant, I feel it’s rather at odds with the Government’s plans to blanket tax stronger beers in the next Budget as well, because it would seem an eminently more sensible measure for stronger beers that have been a boon to the booming craft brewing industry in the UK, many of which have made their names (not to mention a lot of profit for the Treasury already) by producing the kind of big beers - alongside sensible, sessionable offerings - that people will spend hours in a pub savouring with friends and respecting as artisan products.

The Government’s argument is that anything in the beer sector above 7.4%ABV is a problem drink – but let’s face it, the majority of the beers that are being bought by people who actually care about their beer aren’t a problem and, in all honesty, it’s got little to do with the makers, it’s all to do with the retailers and their pricing policies – but I guess when you keep on putting supermarket chief execs on the honour roll for their generous ‘support’ of your party it’s difficult to do much about it...

The majority of high-strength artisan beers are financially prohibitive to 99.9% of binge or problem drinkers; let’s get real about that shall we? If you’ve got a drinking problem and limited funds what are you going to choose... eight 500ml cans (4litres!) of Frosty Jack White Cider at 7.5%ABV for £5.69 from Bargain Booze or one 750ml bottle of Meantime’s India Pale Ale at the same alcoholic strength for £4.63 from Sainsbury’s?

But, I digress, and there’s an important bit that’s been missed by all and sundry here and that’s the issue that this Order to introduce the 2/3 measure hasn’t yet passed as law; let’s not forget, the previous Government said they too would introduce a 2/3rds measure but ran out of Parliamentary time before the election to ratify it -  but hopefully the prospect of anarchic Scottish producer BrewDog sending another dwarf down to protest its lack of presence on our bars will pester MPs sufficiently to ensure it doesn’t slip down the Parliamentary roster.

But if this measure does become law I’d really like to have just one wish – stop calling it a bloody ‘schooner’! Partly this is because we’ve already taken everything we need from the Aussies in the past year and, secondly, because the pedant in me finds it irritating for no other reason than it isn’t correct.

Schooner is not actually a defined measure under Australian law and varies depending on where you are in the country, for example, I’m reliably informed if you’re in Adelaide the word schooner will procure you a half pint, whereas, it seems, pretty much everywhere else it means ¾s of a pint – neither of which correlate to our potential new measure.

So, I’d like to propose a brain storm, a whole new movement to name this new measure for generations to come – and I’d like to propose the word scoop!

Why you ask? Well, to be honest, because firstly, in a Stephen Fry kind of way, I find the word quite pleasing and, secondly, it brings to mind those fabulously kitsch moments where actors like Errol Flynn, playing some sort of dashing hero in tights, ‘scoops’ his beer out of a righteously stolen barrel and holds it aloft to his band of (soon-to-be) merry men with a resounding ‘huzzah’...

But perhaps that’s just me maybe... what do you, the possibly slightly more sane members of the public, think? 


Sid Boggle said...

Scoop!? How will the UK tickers with their halves manage if you hijack their lexicon?

ATJ said...

schooner has English antecedents: twas occasionally used for a glass of beer in the North so it shouldn’t frighten any Brits afraid of using it, rather like it myself, scoop suggests ice cream or something from the heyday of the Sun, allegedly involving Elton John ;-)

rabidbarfly said...

God awful dimple pint jug? Love it! lets make it a god awful dimple scooner! ;-)

Anonymous said...

We think you should scrap all legsilation except having clear lines on glasses stating the measure being served. Period.

Jason B. Standing said...

I quite like those godawful dimple mugs :)

As someone who learned to drink beer in Adelaide, I can confirm that "schooner" to me means a 285mL glass, and bizarrely what the rest of the country would call a schooner is known to us as a pint (despite being only 425mL). An actual pint is known somewhat more impressively as an Imperial Pint.

I'm sure it makes sense to somebody, somewhere.

Matt, the Palate Jack said...

In the States we never know what sized glass we're getting. Thanks to glass makers like Libbey who make standard beer tumblers in 14, 15, 15.5, 16, and 18 ounces US, etc. Unscrupulous publicans will shave off an ounce at a time. Sometimes makes me want to arrive at the pub with a calibrated cylinder. I'm with Knut - all glasses should have a plimsoll line.

Anonymous said...
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Melissa Cole said...

Anonymous spell checker, I have issues with another Anonymous leaving very unpleasant messages of a very offensive nature on my blog. Whilst I do appreciate your input and the fact that you're reading my posts can I ask you please to either identify yourself or don't leave random words that can easily be taken personally!

bedfont said...

I like the idea of a 2/3rds esp if I am in a pub with many beers. It's also a nice amount of a very strong beer.

Frankly I'd make it 400 ML to annoy the little Englanders and festishisers of measures.