Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Pint of Ale. Or Is It?

The Tavern serves fine Ales, in Gentlemen's glasses. And Tankards. Occasionally in Horns or Pots. It is usual for customers to ask for a pint. A pint is an honourable amount; easy to carry, especially 'tucked' to the chest; and consumed easily before it becomes too warm, even by a slow drinker. 

Being here deep in the wilds of Oz, in fact at the very bottom of the world in Tasmania, it is not at all usual to find pubs serving pints in the traditional manner. And at room temperature. Hilary's Village still lives beyond the hedges and they freeze their drinks. Peasants ! But we likes our traditions. Many pubs have ladies' glasses. Yes, we do too, but usually sought by ladies.

We also have customers bringing their own Tankards in. That is traditional too. And I hang those tankards above the customer's favourite bar (we have many bars as you know) ready for when they drop in. With many regular customers amongst the 330,000 odd we have seen through here in the past few years, they find many a mug and tankard to keep their's company.  I only allow Tankards that hold a pint though.

Its a Tavern custom.

Mind you, we do not have quite as many in one spot as in the picture. That's in another place.

Go to the Mainland though, the Big Island to the north, and you find some very iffy customs. There, for instance, they insist on washing glasses after every drink ! Bloody socialists ! Here I pull a pint into a chap's tankard and refill it at his call.

We had a chap in the other day gasping for, as he put it, 'A Real Pint'.  Braden Earl is an Adelaide local currently living in London. He's an avid traveller, having ventured to 35 countries, and says the pint glass question has always intrigued him. He describes himself as a sports fan and, unsurprisingly, an enthusiast for craft beer. He had some serious problems with what passes for a pint in Adelaide, in South Oz. 

His mate Daniel Keane, explained a bit, to the guffaws of several others in the Oz bar.
Getting to the bottom of the pint: 
the bitter problem of Adelaide's beer glasses
"When is a fraud not a fraud? When it becomes a custom,"
When is a pint of beer not a pint of beer? When it's served in Adelaide.
Anywhere else in the country, ordering a pint will get you 570 millilitres of amber ale, but in Adelaide it results in a paltry 425ml.
Such is the concern about the discrepancy, Braden asked me to investigate this question >>>
"Why does SA have a different measurement for beer and why is it called a pint if it isn't an actual pint?"
According to Adelaide publican and craft brewer Jade Flavell, consternation about glass size is as predictable as someone yelling 'taxi' at the sound of a glass smashing.
"You can pretty much put money on the fact that an interstater will say 'that's not a pint'," she said.
In addition to our pint anomaly, our schooners are similarly slighter than their Sydney counterparts, and the evolution of our 'butcher' glass is a story in itself.
The truth, it seems, is as elusive as a teetotaller at a craft beer convention.
In my quest for an answer, I've delved into dusty tomes in library collections, conversed with brewers and expat experts, trawled internet backwaters, scoured old newspapers and, of course, enjoyed a pint or two along the way.
What I've found is a cocktail of myth and legend, a hearty brew of fact and folklore.
Size matters
There are several theories about South Australia's pint-sized pint. One involves the Temperance movement. According to this hypothesis the movement, which succeeded in bringing about early pub closing, lobbied for smaller glass sizes to reduce public drunkenness.
Another theory involves the Great Depression and the idea drinkers could only afford smaller serves, thereby pushing the larger glasses out of fashion. Someone else told me it may have been for tax reasons.
Hah! Cost is no problem in the Tavern. 
But these are all tantalisingly incomplete, and I could find very little corroborating evidence.
I'd barely begun my mission and already felt adrift. How do you solve a mystery that has defied the most dedicated and, I imagine, well-lubricated social historians for decades?
The South Australian branch of the Australian Hotels Association seemed like a good place to begin. But I quickly got the feeling I was far from the first person to ask.
"We've gone through our archives many times over this issue," lamented general manager Ian Horne, with a touch of amusement but also regret.
"Why South Australia for so long stopped at the 15 fluid ounce glass (425ml) as the largest glass is unknown to us."
Historian Alison Painter is also intrigued and baffled by the question. Ms Painter started working for Coopers Brewery in 1960 and has written the company's official history, and a book on South Australian brewing.
"Whether it happened at the time of World War One when there was talk of reducing drinking so that more money could go into War Bonds, or whether it happened in the Depression years of the 1930s because people were short of money — who knows?"
A recurring name in my ongoing research was Dr Brett J. Stubbs, a prolific writer and leading beer historian currently residing in France.
His email address, which contains the phrase 'Tankard Books', suggests a scholar and antiquarian of some pedigree. The fact that I was unable to speak directly to Dr Stubbs only enhanced my image of him as a man of mystery and importance.
During our email correspondence, he told me the variation in glasses was probably a flow-on effect of differences in the way the amber fluid was bottled.
The 'Reputed Pint' 
"Breweries began mucking around with the sizes," he said. "The large bottles became known officially as reputed quarts (they contained much less than an actual quart of 40 fluid ounces), and the small ones as reputed pints (less than an actual pint of 20 fl. oz.).
"The glass size in South Australia that was used to contain somewhat less than a pint of beer ... became known as a 'reputed' pint glass.
"The confusion has arisen because South Australians have dropped the word 'reputed' from the name and just referred to them as pint glasses, in contrast to other states where actual pint measures are used."
According to Dr Stubbs, the reputed pint has itself changed over time, from 18 fluid ounces to 17 and then, in 1951, 16 — a volume fixed by the Prices Commissioner. By the early 1980s, the reputed pint had shrunk further to 15 fluid ounces, and has remained that size since then.
Seeking clarification, I asked Dr Stubbs whether all of this meant it was just a quirk of history that South Australia has ended up with its idiosyncratic pint size.
"[I'm] not sure I would call it an historical accident, but maybe a hangover from, or vestige of, our colonial past," Dr Stubbs replied.
It certainly gives my customers a hangover thinking of what size the poor sods in Adelaide will be drinking a hundred years hence. 10 Fl oz ? 
"There are still many ways in which the states differ, reflecting the fact that the pre-federation colonies were essentially separate countries, and still do things differently in many areas.
"It is not that SA drifted away from the other states with regard to beer glasses [but] more the opposite, that the different states have not all equally drifted together."
But Dr Stubbs hinted that a more complete answer might be lying in wait in an archive somewhere.
A more recent addition to local glassware is the 'fancy', a 300ml container pioneered at the Wheatsheaf Hotel. It is so-called because of its delicate, tulip-like appearance. 

Jade Flavell remembers it took a while to catch on, but is now one of the pub's most popular glasses. The fancy proves that innovation is still very much alive where drinking is concerned.
"The shape funnels the aroma," she said. "In a straight-edge glass, it tends to dissipate."
Well, its a ladies' glass, innit! 
According to Jade Flavell, who co-owns The Wheatsheaf Hotel at Thebarton in Adelaide's inner west, imperial pints became popular during the British and Irish pub craze of the 1990s. Prior to then, it was very difficult to get your hands on one.
But they were not entirely unknown in South Australia. In fact, historic newspaper articles suggest they may have once been fairly common.
A 1855 letter to the editor of an Adelaide newspaper, complaining about the high price of beer, suggests imperial half-pint glasses were commonly used at the time.
In 1937, Port Pirie's Recorder reported on a so-called 'beer strike' in which locals stopped going to pubs in protest against the rising price of beer. 
Many were unhappy at the cost of both imperial pints and reputed pints. 
The strike ended when publicans agreed to increase the size of their smaller glasses.
But the rapid decline of the imperial pint seems to have been caused by World War Two.
In 1940, the Federal Government imposed higher taxes on beer as part of the war effort. While New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia decided to charge more for their beers, South Australia kept prices the same, but reduced serving sizes.
Heresies start like this ! 
This was not the first time beer glasses were made smaller as a result of taxation. It also happened in 1904, and a parliamentary report from the time notes the Prime Minister "expressed sadness" at the downsizing.
Skulduggery was probably also at work. 
Crafty publicans might have tried to convince unsuspecting, and perhaps sozzled, patrons that what they were serving were genuine pints.
A report from Adelaide's Register newspaper from 1905 suggests this was indeed a very real problem. 
Entitled 'Reputed or Imperial Measure - Which?', the article reveals that having different pint measurements was causing just as much confusion more than a century ago as it does today.
"When is a fraud not a fraud? 
When it becomes a custom," 
the article begins.
The fraud in question was the sale of reputed pints, and the report details a hearing and apparent cross-examination at the Tariff Commission.
"A long discussion ensued relative to reputed half-pints, pints, quarts, and gallons, as well as similar imperial measures," wrote the anonymous and presumably puzzled journalist.
"Matters ultimately became so involved that the witness had to give several explanations to make his meaning clear."
The 'Butchers' 
Another enduring oddity in South Australian hotels is the butcher glass — a 200ml (7 fl. oz.) vessel that is still on offer at some establishments.
The most common theory about the evolution of its name involves the historic Newmarket Hotel on the corner of North and West terraces in Adelaide's CBD.
The Newmarket was near an abattoir or cattle yard, and it's said the smaller 'butcher' glass was a favourite with the local workers. Some have speculated that the slaughterers needed a glass that would not slip through their bloodied fingers. Others say the smaller size prevented too much intoxication before they returned to work.
Dr Stubbs has concluded that the butcher has a contested etymology, to say the least.
"The term seems to have 'originated' in many different pubs," he wrote.
The pubs in question were frequently close to butcher shops or meat works, and the term was in use at least as early as the 1880s.
A letter to the editor from 1954 claimed the name came from butcher boys, who were given the glasses when delivering meat to pubs.
A spanner in the works is the fact that butchers were not always small glasses, casting doubt on the belief that they were intended to be consumed in a hurry. 
And there is also the possibility the word is a corruption of the German word 'becher' — a generic term for a drinking vessel.
Answering Braden's question has led me down several blind alleys but, like a heavy brew, also yielded glimpses of truth. For what it's worth, I agree with Dr Stubbs that our pint is different not by design, but because of our history.
But Ian Horne suspects there may never be a decisive answer.
"There's lots of mystery and rituals around pubs and alcohol, and history says we didn't record them particularly well, particularly on these sorts of fringe issues," he said.
"Because alcohol is involved, you're not sure those that did record it did so before or after they'd enjoyed their schooner or their pint or their butcher."
Jade Flavell believes the mystery is all part of the fun.
"There's some sort of local pride in the fact that South Australians call their glasses something completely different to every other state," she said.
Tackling the problem has been thirsty work, and at the end of it all I feel I could do with a drink. But I'm left with the question... in which glass?
Any glass you like, I say, but you will find more pint glasses and tankards here. 

But drink up before the befuddling terminology goes to your heads.

And let us finish with a song.



  1. Belgium beers are of varying strengths and all of them are served in a specific glass. The stronger Belgium beers are intended to be drunk slowly as wine.

    English beer needs to be served in a pint glass or maybe a half pint glass for the ladies who like the brew. I have to confess that with a few exceptions I am not a fan of English Beer. Belgium beer however... ;-)

    1. I cannot make claim to familiarity with Belgian beers. It is not a country likely to have a 'tradition' as such, being a recent invention, but no doubt the regional varieties around there have their followers. And yes, for some reason I think they might well be tasty.

      Many glasses means many names. Do they have a Poirot to find out where the thirst went ? :)

  2. Plus the water in SA is undrinkable.

    1. Hmmmm. I cannot say I have noticed. I have spent some times in SA but did not take much note of the water.

  3. The region where the current country Belgium is has a common link back to beers within the european belt of countries. Beer was brewed because water was unsafe to drink and monasteries were a prime source for brewing the safe drink.

    Belgium beers as the are now are linked back to the Trappist Monks who restarted beer productions in monasteries after the French revolution. This led on to Abbey Beers (also from monasteries).

    History is fascinating :-)

    1. At least the Europeans did not have kangaroo poo in their waters. Fine jobs those Monks have done down the ages. Seats of learning with wine and beer making and pub management lessons high on the list.


Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..