One area where metric units have been banned in the UK is draught beer and cider. This is despite the fact that bottled or canned beer and cider is mainly available in round metric quantities. Compared with most countries the restriction of draught beer measures to pints, half pints and third of a pint is very narrow. Recently it was reported that the National Weights and Measures Laboratory has included a proposal for a two thirds of a pint beer measure – the twother – to be introduced.
This has been variously greeted as offering more choice or as an attack on the traditional pint. However the choice of metric measures has of course not been proposed. This seems extremely short-sighted and will perpetuate the problem that using pints blurs an understanding of alcohol consumption.
Beyond the traditional pint
Because drinking a “pint” is a colloquial expression for drinking a “beer” many anti-metric campaigners have tried to represent any threat to the “pint” as taking away beer itself. Put the same beer in a 500 ml or a 600 ml glass and it will taste no different from a pint; indeed most pint supporters seem not to notice that when they order a “pinte” at a British or Irish bar abroad they are actually getting half a litre.
Traditionally the mainstay of British beer has been ale with about 3-5% alcohol with pubs tied to a brewery and offering a small choice of brews. However in recent decades there have been major changes and the public has been offered a much wider range of drinks. Some free houses offer a very wide range of real ales. Many more beers from abroad are offered ranging from Czech lagers to Belgian trappist beers. More exotic British brews such as winter warmers, Christmas Ales and barley wine are offered with a considerably higher alcoholic content (6-10%) than traditional ales.
It seems strange that the new and varied beer scene is constrained by the traditional pint measures. For example if somebody wanted to put on an authentic Munich-style Oktoberfest they would want to offer one litre jugs. However this is forbidden by law. A visitor to a pub with a large selection of real ales might want to order a set of small sampler glasses rather than to choose between a few pints or drinking too much.
It is a shame our weights and measures laws make no provision for this. The picture above shows a set of eight samplers (100 ml each if I remember correctly) offering the drinker a taste of many of the beers on tap. It should be possible to sample a wide range of drinks without getting sozzled.
It seems to me that abroad there are more creative approaches to serving beer. One is a glass supporting multiple measures.
In this case, the glass can be filled to either 0.33 litres or 0.4 litres – and was filled with liquid to the line!
Understanding alcohol consumption
An issue that has been ignored in discussions around beer and cider measures is the ability of the public to understand how much alcohol they are consuming. Advice is generally very opaque. For example the Times article on the “twother” states
At present a standard pint of beer contains two units of alcohol, while a high-strength premium beer has three units and a strong half has one and a half units
A unit of alcohol is one centilitre. An imperial pint is 56.8 centilitres so:
a) a pint of beer with 3.5% alcohol is 3.5% × 56.8 units = 1.99 units of alcohol
b) a pint of beer with 5.0% alcohol is 5.0% × 56.8 units = 2.84 units of alcohol
A safe level of drinking depends on both the strength of the drink and the amount consumed. Unfortunately working in pints or twothers means that working out alcohol consumption requires a calculator and a very clear head to understand.
Constrast this with a man in Munich drinking his half litre of WeiÃ?bier with 5% alcohol. He just needs to halve the 5 to know that he is drinking 2.5 units. A Dutchman drinking his 0.2 litre kleintje with 5% alcohol knows he is drinking a fifth of a litre; a fifth of 5 is 1 unit. A Belgian drinking a 0.33 litre glass of biÃ¨re trappiste with 6.9% alcohol just needs to divide 6.9 by 3 to know he is drinking 2.3 units of alcohol.
A way forward
Introducing the twother is a completely stupid idea – it’s complete twaddle! More measurement options are needed – especially for strong beers – but this one, at 37.9 centilitres, will help to continue to confuse beer drinkers about their alcohol consumption. Working with round metric numbers has the advantage the drinkers can compare prices easily with bottled or canned products and can work out their units of alcohol.
I would welcome introducing a few metric sizes such as:
half a litre – 500 ml
third of a litre – 330 ml
fifth of litre – 200 ml
tenth of a litre – 100 ml sampler
[Contributed by Roddy Urquhart]