Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - March 2003
We could learn from the Belgians about how to enhance the appeal of beer in the glass
A distinctive feature of drinking in Belgium is that each brand of beer has its own unique design of glass, which gives that brew an individual identity and brings out its own particular character. In contrast, in the typical British pub, everything from cider to Guinness is served up in the same design of pint glass, and most bottled beers now just seem to be guzzled straight from the neck. At a time when beer is losing market share to wine and pre-mixed spirits, and is often seen as having a down-market image, this does it no favours.
Last year, the makers of Stella Artois, that well known imitation Belgian beer, decided to do something about this by introducing a unique design of glass with an etched logo. Now the success of Stella in UK owes far more to marketing than quality, but you have to admit they have a point. Cask beer loses out even more than kegs because it tends to be dispensed from a one-size-fits-all handpump rather than a unique font. Itís naÔve to believe that a good product will sell itself, and it could enhance the image of cask beer in consumersí minds if the regular brands had their own design of glass with the appropriate logo. It could also encourage pub operators to take a more long-term view of serving real ale if they knew that dropping it would make hundreds of glasses useless.
A more flexible approach to measures could also improve the image of draught beer
While weíre looking at the design of glasses, perhaps the measures served should be considered too. Traditionally, people in Britain have drunk relatively weak beers of 4% ABV or less in pints, while most of the rest of the world has drunk beers of a standard strength around 5%, in measures of about a third of a litre, or three-fifths of a pint. Nowadays, even though many stronger beers are routinely drunk, the attachment to pints still remains. However, a lot of people who might be tempted by draught beer find pints a little overwhelming, in terms of both volume and alcohol content, while halves are just too tiny and namby-pamby. This must be a factor encouraging the drinking of bottled designer lagers and rubbishy pre-mixed spirits.
Currently draught beer can be legally dispensed in multiples of half a pint. It may also be sold in nips (a third of a pint), but for some strange reason not in multiples of a nip. But thereís a very good case for also allowing measures of two-thirds of a pint to be served, slightly bigger than the commonplace 330 ml bottles and almost exactly the same as the 12 US fluid ounces that is usual in America. It would have enough size advantage over a half to seem a more worthwhile drink, but be sufficiently smaller than a pint to leave you considerably more sober and less bloated. It would also be appealing to drinkers in multi-beer alehouses who want to sample a range of beers without ending up under the table.
While total deregulation of draught beer measures would be confusing to customers and give pub operators an irresistible opportunity to raise prices, permitting measures of two-thirds of a pint would make a lot of sense.