If you are like most beer drinkers, you drink beer by the pint, or so you think. How would you feel if your pint wasn’t actually a pint at all? Here is the truth – most of the pints sold in Vancouver, are not real pints. Chances are your pint is between 450 ml and 568 ml. But does this matter?
Outside of the United Kingdom, a pint is more of an informal term used for a large serving of draught beer. Most people order pints because it is fun to say, it is convenient and it connects beer drinkers to a time when beer was considered wholesome and healthy. The metric system being vastly superior to archaic imperial measurements is partially responsible for the decline of the proper pint across most of the beer drinking world. And fair enough – 568ml, the standard volume of an Imperial pint, is an oddly specific serving size.
The English are fond of tradition and have held on to centuries of rhetoric dating back to the Magna Carta, which provides guidelines and regulations for standardized beer measurements. From time to time beer drinker’s make a go of strengthening Canada’s imperial connection by lobbying our government to regulate the beer pint. CAMRA Vancouver’s FUSS advocacy campaign is leading the charge in British Columbia – fighting for drinkers rights to know the size of the beer they order. But again, is this an issue worthy of our concern and time? Do we want our government to add another regulatory layer to an already over regulated industry?
When beer was necessary for human survival, regulating the ale pint made perfect sense. Beer has always been a nourishing drink and was heavily favoured over water up until quite recently. Water was often contaminated with disease, and beer, having been boiled as part of the brewing process, was a safe alternative. The alcohol content and hops in beer also made it resilient to bacterial infection, giving beer an extended shelf life. Water made people sick and beer did not. Because beer and survival were so intertwined, regulating and standardizing beer measurements was critical to maintaining a sense of order.
Without standardized measurements and regulations the average consumer could easily be shorted on his or her beer, and this would not have been good. Prior to the industrial revolution, which was driven by the discovery of energy dense fossil fuels, the number one energy source was food. People did most of the work – humans were the primary means of production. Short a man on his beer and you are shorting him on his daily energy supply; he would be less productive with his time. If a pub owner was to repeatedly sell short pints, he would become wealthier at the customer’s expense. The pub owner had an opportunity to profit off of a lie that could significantly hurt the average consumer, and this was deemed unacceptable. Without regulation, brewers and pub owners held too much power. Standardizing and regulating this industry just made sense. If one individual or industry was to hold too much power, people would get angry, and bad things would happen.
Beer is no longer a necessary for our survival. The western world has a steady and safe supply of water, plus we have an abundant food supply. Fossil fuels make our days much easier than ever before and, for the most part, we no longer have to physically work for our daily bread. Our primary food concern is how to eat less, which is very much the opposite of how things once were. We now drink beer because it is fun, it is part of our culture – drinking beer is a good thing. But we would survive without it. Brewers and publicans no longer hold the same level of power they once had. If beer ceased to exist, we would be sad, but we would go on. My take on the proper pint is that it just doesn’t matter any more I am far more concerned with the quality of beer in my glass than quantity.
Let’s face it, the government does not do things well, particularly when it comes to alcohol. I am an advocate for decreased regulation. Regulating the standard pint, or beer serving sizes in general, in this country would be overly bureaucratic and expensive. We are not England, we are Canada, and in this country a pint is a big glass of beer. Technically, yes 568ml is a pint, but most drinkers do not know this, and I suspect they do not know this because they just don’t care. In the end if you feel that you are being had or sold a lie when you discover your pint is closer to 500ml than 568ml, the response is simple – stop giving the establishment your business.