Monday, 25 June 2012

What is a glass of beer?

It sounds a very philosophical question. Whereas in fact it's far more prosaic. About short measures, really. A recurring theme in British pub life.

I was quite surprised at the first sentence in this article. I'd thought that draught beer could only be sold in a third, half or pint or quart measure.

"What is a Glass of Beer?
"It is the custom to go into a public-house and ask for 'a glass' of beer or bitter, and, in that case, the publican entitled to serve what he likes and charge what he likes, but the point at issue is this, that if anyone asks for a set quantity, they must have it, and it must be in a stamped glass."

This was the explanation by Mr. Albert Edward Waller, Inspector of Weights and Measures, when he appeared to prosecute at Oundle Petty Sessions, last month, against Walter Dixon, publican, of Harringworth, who was summoned for selling, by his servant, or agent, Elizabeth Dixon, intoxicating liquor of less measure than was purported to be sold.

Mr. Waller said that on Tuesday, April 17th, he went into the public-house, and Mrs. Dixon came into the bar. He asked for two half-pints of bitter. He poured the drinks into some half-pint measures that were there, and pointed out to Mrs. Dixon how much short they were. The glasses actually held 8 oz., whereas a half-pint was 10 oz., so that, in serving a quart, there would be five of those glasses required instead of four.

Mrs. Dixon said : "I am sorry if I made an error, but I was unaware that it was an error at the time."

The Chairman (Mr. G. H. Capron): There is no doubt that an offence has been committed. You did not serve half-pints when you were asked in properly marked glasses. At the same time, we do not think you had any intention to defraud."

A fine of 5s, was imposed.
Brewers' Journal 1934, page 343.

I bet they loved those Weights and Measures inspectors calling by, trying to catch them out. Do you think that he was just in that pub by chance, or that he had been tipped off? I bet someone had told him they served short halves.

Getting back to the glass of beer, I know that pubs served beer in that highly indeterminate measure in WW I. And that there were five to a quart, around 8 fluid ounces per glass. I'd assumed it was one of those weird WW I practices. Now I can see it did exist in peacetime, too.

Now I think about it, the title is incorrect. It should be What is a Half-pint of Beer?


The Beer Nut said...

In Ireland, "a glass" is the normal term for a half pint, so there must have been a divergence during the 20th century between practice in the UK and Ireland. Technically, I suppose, an Irish pub still could serve any measure and call it a "glass", as long as it's advertised as such, but customer expectation means a glass is always half a pint.

The earliest reference I can find to the UK's insistence on prescribing beer measures is the 1963 Weights and Measures Act. The 1830 Beerhouse Act, conversely, says "every person under this act licensed to sell beer by retail shall sell or otherwise dispose of all such beer by retail (except in quantities less than a half pint) by the gallon, quart, pint or half pint measure": if you just want your whistle indeterminately wetted, you takes your chances on quantity.

Gary Gillman said...

It's a problem that never really goes away...


Ed Carson said...

Maybe Mrs Dixon was using US glassware?