Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Case For Marking Glassware

As many of you might already know, many bars in Vancouver (and other areas of Canada too) advertised their beers as "pints" when in fact they were not.  The standard "shaker pint" glass, so often used to serve beer (much to my disappointment - more on that later) is 16 oz when filled to the brim.  So pubs sometimes made the mistake of advertising "pints" of beer when in fact they meant a 16 oz glass (commonly known in Vancouver as a "sleeve").  A pint in Canada is 20 oz.

Pubs in Canada have to serve the volume they advertise; and because we don't have standardized drink sizes like the UK does, pubs also have to post (somewhere in the pub) the volume of every size of drink they sell (so you know how much beer you're paying for).  Many pubs failed to abide by these rules, though CAMRA Vancouver has had some recent success with their F.U.S.S. (Fess Up to Serving Sizes) campaign, and as a result many more bars are now posting their drink volumes as required.

So it's great that your expected drink volume is now probably posted somewhere in the pub.  But then you order a beer, say a "medium sized" beer of 14.5 oz, and your server presents you with a glass of beer.  You look at it a minute, then realize hey, I have no idea if this is really 14.5 oz or not, and I left my measuring cup at home.  It might be a 14.5 oz or larger glass, as might or might not be etched on its base.  But the beer was poured properly - with an attractive one inch of head - so you really don't know if the volume that ended up in the glass is 14.5 oz.  Plus, there's probably some variation depending who is doing the pouring, and  the second glass might not contain the same volume as the first.

Interesting example from Hoosier Beer Geek of something approaching fraud

Now let's look at it from the pub's point of view.  Let's say the pub serves beer in sleeves (16 oz shaker glasses) as is so common.  The pub can fill this glass one of two ways:
1) Right to the brim. This gives 16 oz of beer, which is often the amount expected by customers who are used to this common size and shape of glass.  But it doesn't leave space for head of any sort, compromising the aroma and attractiveness of the beer.  The bar will have to pour very carefully to eliminate this head, and will probably waste some beer spilling or shaving the head in order to squeeze the full volume into the glass, cutting into profits.  (This isn't a problem for beers that were originally served in shaker glasses - Molson, Labatt, Bud, etc. all have practically zero head, and not much aroma.  Some English bitters and a few other beer styles also have minimal heads.)  A decent craft beer won't look or smell as good as it could in this situation. 
2) Pour 1 inch of head on top of the beer.  The beer will look and smell good, but it will only be about 14.5 oz.  This is no longer a 16 oz sleeve of beer as your average consumer understands it.  The pub could post its glass volume as being 14.5 oz, but many consumers will say, "why isn't my glass full?" since they are used to getting a full, headless pour in that glass elsewhere.  Plus they are only looking at the sandwich board outside that's advertising the beer specials, and probably won't hunt for the posted glass volumes.  Also, most customers won't break out a calculator to know how the price of that 14.5 oz compares to 16 oz elsewhere, they will just know they're getting less beer here than at other pubs that do a brimming (improper) pour into that same glass.

Pubs could use a more interesting, better looking and better-performing vessel than the shaker glass, which avoids the Catch-22 of customer-expected pour volume vs. proper pouring technique.  But the customer and the pub still can't really determine what volume is actually being poured.  What's to be done?

I think the ultimate solution is to use glassware that provides some head space and that is marked with the fill volume - which is hopefully a nice, round number like a pint or a half litre, etc.

Such a simple thing, that little line near the top

Marking beer glassware is either the law or expected practice nearly everywhere in Europe.  The United Kingdom has had similar serving size frustrations but is still well ahead of Canada and the US.  Marking glassware is subtle, effective, and results in full pours without overfills, no wasted beer, good presentation, and no customer disputes.  The only possible argument against marking glassware is that it would "cost too much" for pubs to purchase it.  I don't buy that argument.  It doesn't cost too much for the Europeans, and if your glassware supplier is gouging you for having a couple of marks placed on your glassware, it's time to find another supplier - maybe one that also supplies European pubs.

So how about it, Vancouver - and BC - and Canada?  Do you consumers want to know you're being served the amount of beer you paid for, without suffering a brimming, headless pour?  Do you pubs want to reduce beer waste, present beer properly and avoid attracting customer dissatisfaction?  Then let's put some little lines on our beer glasses.

And please, we're a metric nation, so put the markings on a 100 mL interval.  Then we'll have at least a modicum of volume standardization.

1 comment:

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