Sunday, April 5, 2009

Honest Pints and the Strong Arm of the Law

In the last week and a half I've had two conversations about whether THE LAW should be involved with the notification or regulation of the discrepancy between the amount of beer nominally dispensed in a glass, and the ofttimes unsuitable amount actually dispensed. The first was with a well-known whisky and beer writer with whom I had the pleasure of entertaining at my pub last Friday. This was the point at which I first became aware that our elected lawmakers were even considering generating paper, perspiration and poo-poo over over this issue. Shortly thereafter I received a phone call from a writer for the Eugene Register-Guard over the same topic, which resulted in an article in the Register-Guard and a subsequent expurgated version on Fox News.

I had been aware of the Honest Pint Project for some time. It seems that a large proportion of beer vendors dispense a measure inferior to the stated amount. I know this is true, because a cursory scan of the standard shaker glass (16 oz. American pint) often reveals a large glassy bit at the bottom and a whitish foamy bit at the top, neither of which qualify as one of our favorite liquid refreshments (although the foam does contain trace elements). Maybe this is OK for some, such as the pitcher punters unaware that there is no volumetric definition of a pitcher, but for me it is just plain dishonest. Who, after all, would be satisfied with 19 gallons of gas for the price of 20, or a perceived inferior ratio of the so-called "berry" to the little yellow sugary pillows in my Cap'n Crunch Crunchberry box.

At first I was afraid that the State Gummint busybodies were going to attempt to turn this kind of behavior into a crime, much like the OLCC prohibiting me from enjoying a pint (proper, in a lined glass) of my own ale produced in my own brewery after closing time while I do the till, or allowing a youngster to come up to the bar and ask for another creme soda. If they were to take that approach, then the liberation of the proverbial worm-laden can suggests a tsunami of honesty legislation. Or maybe manners mandates? Hmmm. Now we're talking. I would love to have a law requiring customers to be polite, read signs, and say "Please" instead of "I'll have...". Violators would be clapped in irons without bail and sent to the pokey for three years until they can learn to wait twenty minutes for their food.

The second twang of uneasiness in the stomach was that they (The Gummint) might force every one of us to use exactly the same size glass. This would spark my own personal revolutionary insurrection. I already have a significant investment in my glassware, which I had custom-printed in the spirit of the British Imperial Pint, notably the 23 oz. overisized, lined glass. I like my glassware. I REALLY like my glassware. It feels good in the hand, and I know exactly how to fill it. It is eminently grippable and painfully honest. It is not to be messed with, Gummint or otherwise.

As I understand it, though, the proposed legislation takes the approach of certification. If your dispensed volume equals the stated volume, if you walk the talk, then you get a sticker or something. That might be alright, as long as I don't have to pay for it or otherwise waste taxpayers' money. I admit to really appreciating the Cask Marque designations at British pubs, but then I'm a snob for real ale and don't want to wander into a pub bereft of my favorite beverage. So, I'd put a sticker on my door, provided that it was free, large, and colorful.

Sadly, though, I'm not sure the American consumer, for the most part, really cares. Some do, though. My hope is that an awareness and appreciation for honesty and friendliness, for civility, for decent pubs and real ale and good music and nice slow-cooked meals, will continue to grow. Honesty is self-regulating, and the customers that appreciate these things will find us, Gummint or no.


Andy said...

I agree that on the surface that government involvement seems a little excessive, especially given the likelihood that involving a legislative body will dilute the intent (pun really not intended)and probably have unforeseen consequences.

However, it's an important bit of consumer protection. While not exactly the same, CAMRA did a great job of illustrating the scope of short pours a few years back when they totaled the annual loss to consumers. While it's easy to dismiss the loss when the beer is swill, I think that's where the biggest losses are, and just because you like ice cold beer with no flavor doesn't mean you are any more deserving of being short sold.

I have my doubt that pint sales of macro beer is of as much concern since a pint isn't a standard unit of measure for said product. But it's precisely a standard unit of measure, and when you order a pint, you ought to get a pint. And if you order a Scottish pint, you ought to ask someone to take your keys for you.

By the way, I like the Cap 'n Crunch analogy better than a gallon of paint given that the cereal is both edible and at some point involved grains.

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for this effort and being the first one noted to pa. If you state a pint, serve a pint.

If I ever get up to your part of the country, I'll be sure to stop in for an honest pint....

Jeff Alworth said...

This is why when I originally came up with the idea (or ultimately--the idea was stunted and poorly-conceived at the outset), I figured the standard should be general, not specific. The real goal should be transparency, not enforcement of a uniform standard.

I must make a trip south and meet you and try your full range of beers. Soon.

Evan said...

You're welcome to read the bill itself. There's an amendment clarifying it, but the function will stay the same: you can pay to get state-certified as serving pints that are at least 16 oz.


Andrew said...

Even if HB3122 dies, consciousness has been raised on the basic principle of an honest pint. Hopefully word of mouth can spread the word just as effectively as a decal in the window.


p.s. I just found out about BUL180 from my UO colleague David Baker. I'm looking forward to a visit in the very near future, accompanied by some Anglophile friends & family!