Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Greatest Crime in Craft Beer

With a title that makes a claim such as this, the mind races through probably dozens of possible offenses perpetrated against or even by the craft beer industry itself. Any of these offenses may qualify, depending on your personal drinking preferences and level of passion for today’s craft beer movement. Could it be the bland light lagers forced upon us by the major commercial breweries, whom we all know to be evil incarnate? Could it be the radical and experimental (and often mediocre) brews put out by craft breweries in an attempt to recapture their bleeding edge? Could it even be the overzealous online fans of craft beer themselves?

In fact, the greatest crime in the craft beer world today is something so innocuous and subtle that it most likely has escaped notice by most craft beer consumers. It has crept upon us silently over the past few years and has spread now widely in some areas, especially with the advent of the more upscale drinking establishments and fashionable gastropubs. It is not something new that has been added but instead something that has gone missing: the simple
16-ounce pint glass.

The pint glass has been the standard of goods exchange for draft beer retailers for generations of beer drinkers. A  U.S. liquid pint is a volume of measure defined as 16 ounces, or around 473 milliliters. (The British went so far as to regulate the servings of beer by law centuries ago, hence their 20-ounce imperial pint.) The name pint has its roots in the Old French and ultimately in the Latin picta, meaning “painted,” referring to the serving line painted on an ale vessel. The very definition of this word has historical origins tied to the selling, serving and consumption of beer – but all that may have now come to an end.

This crime is not one committed by the craft beer brewers themselves but by on-premise retailers, who have quietly started to replace their standard pint glasses with either similar-looking 14-ounce glasses of the same shaker pint design or stylized glasses of 12 or even 10 fluid ounces in volume. This is ostensibly a cost-cutting measure – one often accompanied by a price increase as well, so the consumer sometimes now pays more and receives less beer pulled from the tap. Understandably, a business must cover its expenses and ultimately make a profit but the consumer’s salary is not rocketing skyward, either.

This is the greatest craft beer crime because it has broken the standard metric of exchange between craft beer consumers and the retailers they support. No longer can we compare one establishment to another on the basis of price as their serving sizes cannot be relied upon to be equivalent, and some retailers are unjustly accused of being more expensive when they are actually the same or cheaper on a per-ounce basis. The consumer metric between the ultimate purchaser and the brewery, the 12-ounce bottle, still stands but for how long? Will brewers begin to adopt a 10-ounce bottle size or 8-ounce can for the same purpose?

(Actually, this trend has already started, albeit on a very isolated scale. Some breweries use the "stubby" bottles for their product, a throwback design from decades ago. This bottle style does have some distinct and practical functional advantages for brewers but it holds only 11.2 ounces in volume instead of the standard 12 ounces. Fortunately, the ubiquity of the iconic longneck brown bottle is a difficult tradition and marketing package from which to deviate.)

Nor are craft breweries entirely innocent in this practice. Customized brewery glassware is often provided to retailers, specialized glasses etched with the company logo that are meant to be the ideal serving vessel and volume for perhaps a boozy barleywine or pungent sour ale. For high-gravity products or limited-edition exceptions such as these, smaller portion sizes are understandable and acceptable but too often a simple sessionable amber or wheat ale is served in the same glass. Breweries do not object because they are eager for the logo to be displayed and happy for the free promotion.

As consumers, the only force we have is the budget we choose to spend on purchasing such products and supporting these retailers. Watch for the serving size you are offered next time you enjoy a craft beer from a fresh tap, and verify its volume if necessary. Challenge retailers that do not use the 16-ounce pint as their serving standard, and patronize those that still adhere to a reliable and universally accepted metric of sale.

5 comments:

creativesquall said...

My wife and I have noticed the inconsistencies in what is referred to as a pint glass at different bars. Ultimately, I don't chose a beer or a bar based on price, rather on what beers that they offer, especially when it comes to the Dallas area brewers. We also don't have a single bar or pub that we visit on a regular basis, so the inconsistencies in the pints are negligible for us. Our main priority is grabbing a great beer, mostly craft, and having a good time.

David Nicholls said...

This is not unique to the USA on a recent trip to Edinburgh Scotland a Pub that shall remain anonymous was pulling this little trick, not something I like but where there is money involved someone will always come up with these scams.

Alex said...

This is a very useful post, thank you! I agree that innovations are the most important thing for most businesses, because with today’s fast changing world we need to stay on top of the changes, if we want to survive.
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