Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Big is a Victoria "Pint"?

Two recent articles have reminded me of that great bone of contention for anally-retentive drinkers and tightwads the world over: the size of a "proper" pint.

The first article was Pete Brown's take on the possible introduction of a beer glass somewhere between the pint and the half pint in British pubs. I buy his argument: given the variety of alcohol content in contemporary beers and various levels of inebriation we seek out for medical, practical and hedonistic reasons — it makes perfect sense to allow us to binge drink in increments of our choice.

The second article hit closer to home and raised more irk in me: the OnBeer blog article about the interpretation of "pint" in Canada. The argument in this article is that, unlike in Britain "serving sizes are not regulated in Canada – a bartender can serve beer in whatever size glass suits their fancy."

Now Jason from OnBeer is not endorsing this sorry state of affairs. He is making the astute observation that Canadian pubs are not obligated to serve beers in specific sized glasses (fair enough), but also that some of them may actually offer "pints" or respond to orders of a "pint" with a serving that is anything but a pint (not fair enough).

Most Canadians seem to have bought into this conspiracy that "pint" just means "big glass". Most probably don't know that the Canadian Weights and Measures Act explicitly defines a pint as 1/8th Gallon (568ml = 20 imperial fluid ounces), which is the same as a British pint (as opposed to a US "pint" which is only 473ml = 16 US fluid ounces). Most don't care, they just drink the stuff. But you'd expect a barman to know, wouldn't you?

Being a smartass, smallbeer conducted an experiment to see how knowledgeable and scrutable our city's fine publicans are when it comes to selling stuff to drunk people.

To discover whether Victoria publicans know what a pint is, and whether they sell pints that are actually non-pints.

a. I put on a telemarketer's voice and phoned 16 of Victoria's pubs
b. I asked to be put through to the bar manager or a member of bar staff
c. I asked these three questions:

1. What serving sizes do you sell your beers in?

(If any of their answers were "pint", then:)

2. How many millimeters or ounces is in your pint?


3. Are you aware of the legal definition of a pint?

Missing data: Now, some of the bar staff either refused to or could not answer 2 or 3. Some also just said "16oz" or something other than "pint" in answer to question 1; god bless them for their honesty, but they ruined the rest of the research design. Some of them got upset when I said the word "legal" and hung up on me. Chillax people!

I decided therefore to keep the pubs' identities anonymous, as my intention was not to embarrass or annoy anyone. (However, if you're interested in the sample range, all but two of the pubs are listed on this site).

Here are the answers from each pub. (Just to be clear, a legal Canadian pint is 568ml = 20oz)

[[[ Before I discuss the results, I should remind you of one TOTALLY CONFUSING FACT: serving a federal legal pint (568ml) in BC is ILLEGAL, as the maximum allowable beer serving size in BC is 500ml (17.5oz). 

Isn't BC fucking WEIRD?

Only it isn't… it appears that is either an old rule or pure lies, as the new guide for primary liquor licensees actually states (p. 26):

Draught beer: You may serve draught beer in single servings
of no more than 24 oz (680 ml) or smaller servings of multiple
brands, provided the total served at one time is no more than 24
oz (680 ml).  For reference, a Canadian pint is 568ml.  Pitchers
or other multiple serving containers shared by two or more
patrons may contain no more than 1.5 litres of draught beer. 
But that doesn't deter many BC publicans from thinking that 500ml is the maximum they can serve, as this study partly shows…

Oh, and the same document clearly defines "sleeves" (that other massively variable measure of beer) as 14oz, so go figure. ]]]

Serving a "pint"
Well. Bearing in mind that the legal "pint" is 568ml=20oz, Victoria pubs do a fairly poor job. Of the 7 pubs who claimed to serve a "pint", only 2 served a legal pint. In a Victoria pub, a drink that is described openly as a pint may be as small as 14oz, or as large as a 20oz. Both pubs that claimed to serve sleeves (14oz) are guilty of under-serving (both serve 12oz).
Defining a "pint"
Out of 16 pubs, only 10 pubs agreed to guess what the legal definition of a "pint" is. 2 Pubs got it correct, but one of those pubs admitted to deliberately serving 2oz less than a pint. One pub thought that a 20oz serving was illegal, although I'll put that one down to the alleged older guidelines in BC pertaining to a 500ml upper-limit.

Draw your own… I'm not one of these die-hard Englishmen who insists on a "real" pint of beer. But I'd like to get a pint if that's what's being sold to me. OnBeer are correct — the size of a pint is legislated, but it probably isn't regulated too actively, judging by the scope of serving sizes that are passed off as a pint in Victoria.

Of course, the saddest and most upsetting part of this whole study is that I have learned over the last two hours that I am almost completely incapable of operating a spreadsheet program, and most certainly crippled in my ability to publish a spreadsheet to the internet in any sort of readable form.

I blame the BC Liquor Board.


  1. Interesting! Some reporters did a similar study in Vancouver about a year ago, with the same conclusion, a)that BC pubs consistently underpour and b)no one knows what a pint is. It would be interesting to know where one is getting the best bang for their buck, or rather, the largest 'pint' for the price.

  2. Dan! Brilliant post. I can't believe someone hung up on you!

  3. Allowing for erroneous responses, I see no harm in letting you know that Garrick's Head and Christie's are fine places to get a pint.

  4. Great post! This is something that has pissed me off since I started going to the pubs, I hate ordering a pint and having no clue what Im going to get. I think the British take the whole weights and measures thing a bit too seriously, but I respect their dedication to accuracy, at least when it comes to booze. We should definetly have some sort of standard.

  5. Well, the way I see it is this. If people buying a litre of gas are randomly given 900ml, 800ml or possibly 600ml, there'd be a riot. I'm just curious as to why this particular consumable is given such a special ambiguous status.

  6. I don't know, it seems to me that more drinker in Victoria (and maybe the rest of BC and Canada) aren't particularly aware that "pint" is a specific measurement, or just don't care. Personally, if a pub serves a 20oz pint, it earns a special place in my heart, but it doesn't bother me if I order a "pint" and I'm given a sleeve (or even really how big that sleeve is) as long as the prices vary accordingly. If a 20oz pint is $7.50 and a 14oz sleeve is $4.25, well, that's more or less reasonable.

    That said, I would be completely in favour of a "Campaign for True Pints" movement bubbled up in Victoria. Where hall we have our first meeting?

  7. Moon Under Water also serves a proper pint. Personally when I'm paying as much as we do in this city/province for a pint I expect a pint.

    How about a survey of proper serving temperatures? One thing that turns me off many places to drink is when I order an ale or any other beer that should be served at around 10 celcius and it comes to me very cold or worse in a frosted cold glass. Do these publicans not know that you lose most, if not all, of the flavour when a beer is poured to cold?

  8. Doing a serving temperature one would be tough as opinion is divided. I once had a pint of Driftwood White Bark, which should be served cold of course, in a pub in Victoria, but it was so FUCKING cold my lips went numb. It was literally half a point above freezing.

    I could go round pubs with a cooking thermometer, or my kid's fever electronic temo taker, but I'd look like a churl.

  9. I live in Whistler, and went on holidays to the UK and wondered why I got utterly smashed on 4 pints.

    I had got so used to 'sleeves' being my pints that I forget what it is like to have a real beer.(I am another ozzie in Whis yes, and home we serve pints as 20 ouncers)

    After this, any pub advertising a pint in Whistler-beware. I will be getting my 20 ounces whether you know or like it. I now know the rules, so you better catch up!

  10. As a Brit living in Victoria, I find the concept of "sleeve" totally weird. Great post, by the way. I'm wondering whether the pub that told you: "20oz, but we are trained to pour under – about 18oz”, was Spinnakers? At least that's what actually happens there. Super beer though. I live near Christie's - they serve pretty full 20oz pints. Swan's also. Can't stand the Strath - not a real pint in sight.

  11. Hello Mike C. Not Spinnakers, no. Thanks for the comment. I can email you the results in private if you like; I just think that publicizing them is a bit rude.

  12. As it relates to beers / ales, I truly hope you get all this "weigths & measures" stuff this fixed before I retire to Vancouver Island (~ 2015).

    It occurs to me that the "tide's out" more than it's in !!

    (People's Republic of Ontario)

  13. Legal Draught serving size in BC is 24 ozs or 680 ml...may have changed since this article was published. In general I do agree though...if you say you serve a pint, serve a queens pint

  14. I'm from the UK and just spent 2 months in Halifax N.S. Beer measures are crazy you don't know how much your drinking. Buy a litre of gas and that's what you get, glass of beer who knows unless you ask ! UK it's a 20 ounce pint/10 ounce half and that's the law everywhere for draft beers.

  15. "anally-retentive drinkers and tightwads the world over: the size of a "proper" pint."

    A pint is a unit of measurement. Are you telling me that if you purchased gas for your car and only received 0.7L for every litre, you'd be happy?

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