As enthusiastic consumers of good beer, and value-driven (I am the author of Houston Dining on the Cheap, to give one example), the issue of beer pours, specifically less-than-full beer pours, was one of much discussion for both my brother and I over the years. Longtime patrons of The Ginger Man in Houston, one of the very first, and, truly, still “one of the best beer-bars in America,” [i]a title accorded to it by the late great beer writer Michael Jackson, we often scratched our heads at the level of beer in our glasses which was, ostensibly, a pint. Too often the level of beer fell far short of the rim in what was a pint glass. “A Ginger Man pint” became a catch-phrase for a short pour. Later, I occasionally met up with my brother and his wife and friends at another very casual beer bar with an expansive patio in their gentrifying neighborhood. The very indifferent pours from their bartenders seemed to make the Ginger Man look generous, and that establishment’s name crept into our vocabulary in an unflattering way.
Pint sizes have made sporadic news in the recent years; Häagen-Dazs trying to downsize the measure, but, first in The Wall Street Journal in June, 2008,[ii] then on NPR in October[iii] of that year, both concerning a disgruntled pub-goer in Portland, Oregon, Jeff Alworth, who was publicizing small “pints” in his hometown. His actions actually resulted in a state law passed in May, 2009 regulating the size of pint glasses. That some establishments are selling extra thick-bottomed glasses that contain only 14 ounces rather than 16 ounces, the problem inPortland, is not much of an issue in my city ofHouston. Proper use of American pint glasses seemed problematic enough.
Initially, this piece was going to be a short exposé of sorts on the short pours at popular local pubs, centered on the thought of fairness; you pay for an advertised pint, and you should receive that. I had purchased a plastic measuring vessel that I hoped was not too obtrusive and surreptitiously began to measure a few pints at local beer bars. Then, I had a conversation about the topic with a friend, Bill Marchbank, a Brit and former owner of a traditionally operated English pub in Houston[iv]. It turns out that the size of pours is a serious matter to most British beer drinkers and a potentially sensitive subject involving the tax authorities, metric system, fluid mechanics, sparklers, biochemistry, EU mandarins, state alcoholic regulatory bodies, blue-faced Scots, the US Customary System, and other arcanum. I’m exaggerating, but it is less of a simple consumer fairness issue than it seemed from the outset.
Most beers dispensed on draft in this country are served in what are described as 16-ounce “pint glasses,” also called “shakers” or “mixers” because these are used to prepare cocktails. Most American beer drinkers don’t pay much attention to size of the beer vessel, or even the amount of beer in it. Those local bar-goers that really care about the level of the pour, or more accurately the alcoholic effect per dollar are typically young, those without much in the way of funds, but also many older beer drinkers, equally serious in the stupefying effects of beer, with the similar pecuniary attitudes. Confirmed with several Houston-area British-born pub-goers and publicans, this older group of post-collegiate age imbibers, quite often English ex-pats, is termed “cheapskates.”[v] That term might be unfair, as these Brits matured with fully poured glasses, especially if they were from southern England.