Monday, August 29, 2011

Resurrecting the Pint is Not This Consumer's Priority

The past week I have been exploring, in my posts "Does Size Matter?" and "Size Does Matter: How Consumers Can Protect Their Rights", issues related to the misrepresentation of draft beer serving sizes (stating you are serving on measure and actually serving less), the problem of short pours and how we, as consumers, can protect our rights. During the considerable discussions that have ensued, via email and comments, the issue of resurrecting the 20 oz pint keep rearing its head so I thought I'd dedicate a post to the beloved pint and weigh in with my thoughts and opinions.

There are many of you out there who feel strongly that all bars and restaurants in Vancouver who serve craft beer should be doing so in 20 oz (568ml) servings, otherwise known as the pint. Up until recently, it has actually been illegal in BC to serve 568ml because the maximum serving size for draft beer was capped at 500ml but that has been rectified with BC LCLB upping their maximum serving size to 24oz (680ml) this past April. With the legal roadblocks cleared it is now possible for establishments to serve real pints yet few seem to be taking advantage of this, a least few that focus on and feature craft beer.

Non-standardization has led to several types of beer sleeve
being used.
These three glasses look the same yet from right to left they hold
12oz (341ml) 13oz (369ml) and 14oz (398ml)

Now I am going to be unpopular in some circles for saying this, but I do not think resurrecting the pint as the standard glass for draft beer in this province is a major priority. The pint is one of only four standardized measures that draft beer can be served in in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and N Ireland), with the others being  the half-pint, the little used 1/3 pint and the newly introduced 2/3 pint (380ml), or schooner as it is being called. Traditionally, the pint has been the measure of choice for beer drinkers in the UK and drinking from a pint glass does add a certain something to the experience of sharing a few jars with friends. But most UK beers are low alcohol compared to here and traditionally between 3.5-4.5% ABV. It is true that there are some stronger beers in the UK that are becoming more readily available and more popular but that is one of the reason why the schooner has been introduced, so that beer drinkers would have a reasonable option of glass size if they choose to drink these stronger brews.

I am not sure if in our craft beer scene in BC if the pint glass is appropriate for many of the beers served as many of these beers are 6.5% ABV and higher. If you are a bartender who has a legal responsibility to "serve it right", which mainly focuses on not getting your patrons drunk while serving them intoxicating liquids, do you want to be pour 20oz measures of North Coast's Old Rasputin, which weighs in at 9% ABV, or of Moylan's Hopsicle, which is even stronger at 9.2% ABV? How about the ever popular Fat Tug, from Driftwood, which at 7% carries quite a wallop. Upping serving sizes of these beers from 14oz to 20oz will have some very major impacts on the sobriety of bar and restaurant patrons. It will also discourage some from having more than one or two beers, prohibiting them from sampling a wider variety of the great beers on offer because after one or two pints of higher alcohol beer, they will feel the effects. I have actually met some folks who would like to see smaller glasses introduced, in the 8-10oz range, just so they can enjoy a wider variety of beers at their local bar/restaurant without drinking too much volume or without getting tipsy too quickly.

It is true that there are many craft beers which are closer to the 5% ABV mark and more appropriate for larger serving sizes, but where do you draw the line if you are a business owner? It would become quite a pain in the ass to be constantly explaining to patrons why one person can have a pint of their favourite beer, because it has a lower alcohol percentage, while the guy next to him at the bar can't because they order a stronger beer. As well, most bars have limited room to store glassware and literally don't have room to store both pint glasses and sleeves.

Then comes the cost involved in serving pints. Are you willing to sell out $10 or more plus tax for your pint? If your local switches to pints from sleeves they are going to be attaching a cost to this convenience as the serving size is increasing by close to 30%. Many craft beers already cost in the range of $7 when served in sleeves. I think the price would get quite prohibitive for some or people if pints are introduced as the norm in some of the craft beer establishments in the city.
I am not against pint glasses, don't get me wrong, I just think that there are more important issues that consumers should be addressing other than whether their beer comes in a sleeve or a pint. I think getting some sort of standardized measure for a sleeve is far more important, so we actually know what measure to expect when we order a sleeve. It is the law that establishments have a list of their serving sizes and the prices for those measures, but standard measures do not need to be used. Because of this lack of regulation, sleeves range in size from 12 oz to 16oz (454ml) and all of these different sized glasses look very similar. Because very few establishments actually lived up to their legal obligation to supply a complete list of serving sizes and prices, we are never quite sure what we are supposed to be paying for. By forcing establishments serving draft beer to actually use an official measure, like a 20oz pint (no other size pint exists in Canada) or a 14oz sleeve, if that measure was standardized and notify us of what serving size they are selling, we would know right away what we are supposed to be served. We, the consumers of BC, have allowed misrepresentation of serving size to become the norm, have allowed establishments to serve "pints" that fall far short of 20oz and allowed different sized sleeves to exist. We allow our beers to be short-poured and do not insist we get the full measure we are paying for. We allow establishmwents to serve us mystery portions by not insisting on serving size lists.

To me, these are far more important issues than whether my beer comes in a 20oz glass or not.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Does Size Matter: How Consumers Can Protect Their Rights

I have had a lot of feedback and reaction to my recent post "Does Size Matter" which related to the desire of some to bring back the 20 oz pint to BC and my response that I believe that honest representations of serving sizes and delivery of full pours were issues that I thought to be more important, so I thought I'd delve into the subject a little more in-depth.

It appears in Vancouver, at least from the direct feedback I am getting, many of us are fed up with the practice of misrepresenting serving sizes of draft beer, of not advising consumers of those serving sizes and of short-pouring beers, yet like the good Canadians were are, we accept it without causing a fuss so as not to offend or disturb the bartenders of our great city.

These are three very different issues I have identified but they are very closely related and we, as consumers, have some tools available to us to fight back to protect our legal rights as consumers.

In relation to serving size and the prices of drinks in British Columbia, the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (BC LCLB) regulations state, "you (licensees) must follow strict limits on maximum drink size, and have a liquor price list available, showing the size of each drink you sell and its price". The regulation does not goes as far as to demand licensees post these lists, although they do recommend having this posted over the bar or available at each table, but does states this list must be made available to customers "on demand". By not complying, the licensee is in direct contravention of the BC LCLB regulations and can be disciplined by the LCLB for this violation, yet very few bars, pubs, clubs or restaurants comply, that I have seen.

Will the real sleeve please stand up.
From right to left 12oz (341ml) 13oz (369ml) and 14oz (398ml)

By consumers exercising their rights to know how much they are being served and for what price, the they can quickly have the information in front of them that lets them know if the establishment is misrepresenting their serving size, i.e. calling a sleeve a pint and know if they are getting fair value for the amount being served. As well, this lets us know, in the case of sleeves, which come in many sizes that look similar and are hard to judge by just looking at them, exactly what size glass of draft beer we are getting. It can make a big difference as some sleeves have a 12oz (340ml) capacity, some 14oz (398ml) capacity and some 16oz (454ml) capacity, all when filled to the brim.

The second tool in our arsenal is our voices. How many times have you been served a beer that has been short-poured leaving a few centimetres, or more, at the top of the glass empty, yet you have said nothing to the bartender or server. This missing cm of beer may not seem like much, but in a 14oz  sleeve, that cm represents 2oz (57ml) of beer, or 14% of that sleeve's capacity. Now if the establishment is advertising a 12oz pour and using 14oz glasses, this is fair - you may argue that a 14oz glass is just not right, but they licensee is doing nothing wrong in that they are living up to their word - but if they are advertising a 14oz pour and giving you 12oz, that is just plain dishonest and illegal.
If you 14oz sleeve is short-poured just by this amount, you are
missing about 15% of your beer!!

I have had sleeves served to me with 3 to 4 cm of head on top and when I pointed this out to the bartender, I was told, "that's how you pour a beer," or something equally as ridiculous. If you plan on ripping me off, that is how you pour a beer! Unless you are using over-sized glasses with serving marks on them (pour to this line), that lets me know the proper volume of beer is in my glass and the beer has been poured to that line, not pouring a beer to capacity is dishonest. I have never seen these marked glasses, which are common in the UK to help combat the short pour issue, used here in BC. These pint glasses in the UK are over-sized, more than 20oz, with the "fill to here" line sitting at the 20oz mark on the glass. This leaves room for head on the beer and enables someone to carry the glass without spilling due to the glass being poured to the brim. Here in Vancouver, most places that do bother to advertise the serving size of their beers advertise to glasses capacity filled to the brim and we all know that rarely is a glass delivered to you filled to the brim, therefore you are not getting the measure the licensee is advtertising and what you are paying for.

When we get short-poured and we would know this for sure by having the serving sizes posted so we can compare the promised serving size to what we actually get served, we need to demand a top-up and let the bartender know it is not okay to short pour our drinks. If we ordered an 8oz steak and we receive 85% of a steak on our plate, with a portion of the whole cut away, we wouldn't accept this, so why should we accept short-poured glasses? We cannot decide to pay for only 85-90% of the bill and walk away, so why we we accept 85-90% of what we ordered.
Which glass holds more?
Optical illusion as the shorter glass on the left holds 25%
more than the sleeve on the right (15z versus 12oz)

If the establishment is not willing to top up your beer, then you have the right not frequent that establishment again and to let others know of your experience. In this day of social media, tools like Facebook and Twitter can be very powerful, as are on-line websites that let you log-in and review establishments for others to see. Managers and owners of bars and restaurants do monitor what is said about their establishments and need to hear these types of complaints, if they are legitimate, so they can right the wrongs. It is the reputation of their establishment that is on the line and a bad rep can mean a decrease in business. If enough voices speak out in unison, they will be heard and the more voices that speak out, the louder and more powerful the voice. So if you are among those who are fed up with the status quo, speak up, stand up for your consumer rights and be heard.

But having said that, consumers need to be careful when accusing establishments of dishonesty and breaking the law and should use this powerful voice responsibly. Businesses are successful due, in large part, to their reputation that many work hard at building and to unjustly tarnish this reputation to serve some personal purpose is just as wrong as short-pouring beers in my opinion. And I believe strongly that if a place is doing it right, that should be broadcast as well. By highlighting and giving those establishments who are serving it right the positive publicity and feedback they deserve, others may follow suit.

I can tell you that I am one consumer that is going to start exercising my rights to ensure I am getting what I pay for. Those establishments out there serving it right have nothing to fear, but those who are trying to pull the wool over our collective eyes should be held accountable. I know I am not alone in feeling this way so lets get organized and stand up for ourselves and our rights as consumers.

Next up on the list of things to explore, standardization of glassware, pros and cons.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Does Size Matter?

In a rare show of common sense and with an unprecedented sensitivity to consumer wants and desires, the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch sent out a memo, dated April 27, 2011, announcing that they had increased the single serving size for draft beer in BC to up to 24 oz (680ml), eliminating the ridiculous conflict that existed between the old serving maximum of 500ml and the Federal Weights and Measures Act which dictated that if a pint of beer was served in Canada, it must measure 20 oz, or 568ml, in direct violation of the old BC serving size standard.

"Concerns have been expressed that the previous serving size rules did not allow for serving a pint of draft beer," the memo noted, so the LCLB, in what must have been a momentary lapse of reason, actually changed one of their arbitrary, nonsensical, antiquated laws and did a solid for the beer consumers of British Columbia. 

The 20 oz pint is now legal in BC
but still hard to find at least where craft
beer is sold
Hallelujah, rejoice, the pints of my youth could now be brought back from near extinction.

Now I know this is not exactly breaking news, but I have decided to chip in my $0.25 about the desire of some to bring the pint back to its proper place of prominence in BC so I figured I should give the BC LCLB props for actually paving the way for the return of the 20 ounce beer. Anyone who knows me knows I waste no time pointing out the LCLB's faults so it is only fair they get their due when it is warranted.

For whatever reasons (read profits for bar & restaurant owners), the "sleeve", which is basically the bottom half of a martini shaker in glass form, has become the glassware of choice for beers in this province over the past 15 years or so. These glasses can hold between 12 and 16 oz, depending on the flare of the glass, thickness to the glass and thickness of the false bottom and if filled to the brim, which they often are not. If memory serves me right and it often doesn't these days,  the sleeve became popular in Victoria about 15 years ago and the plague spread from there. At least that's what we say here in Vancouver. I am fairly certain that whoever the first person was to come up with the idea of serving a beer in a sleeve, if identified, would have been the most hated man in BC, in some circles, until Gordon Campbell came along with the HST.

Now I may have been asleep at the switch, but I cannot remember for the life of me any crusade by the BC LCLB, or anyone else for that matter, save my ex-wife, to eradicate the pint here in BC and shrink beer serving sizes. I worked in several bars and drank in even more and never heard of an establishment serving beers in pint glasses getting on the wrong side of the LCLB. The move to sleeves seemed to me, at the time, to be a cash grab by business owners who shrank their serving sizes by 20% and more, while charging roughly the same price and advertising falsely that they were still serving the full measure. It wasn't until a public uproar about sleeves being passed off as pints that sleeves began to be called sleeves, although you can still find places that try to pass them off as pints. Now it has become the norm and, for the most part, a sleeve is a sleeve, or is it due to the lack of standardization of size for this made up measure.

Since becoming president of CAMRA Vancouver this past May, probably what I have heard most from folks after, "can you change CAMRA into something more than a beer appreciation club," is the request to try to bring back to 20 oz pint here in BC.

It seems there is a segment of the local beer drinking population who dearly miss their friend the 20 oz pint and want the choice of being able to order one when they desire.

A noble cause, to say the least, but one that no one seems to want to lead. Sure, many, like those who come up to me to ask why CAMRA is not dealing with this issue, complain about the problem, but what are they doing to make their voices heard by those who have control to make the changes they so desire - the owners and managers of bars, lounges, clubs, pubs, restaurants.

For me, it is not the size of the beer that matters most. I personally do miss drinking from pint glasses but wonder, in today's craft beer world, if many beers offered are probably better off not served in full 20 oz glasses due to their high alcohol content. Most of the world I have visited and I have covered a fair bit of this planet, do not serve beer in pints. This tradition comes from the UK and Ireland mostly, where traditionally beers have been lower in alcohol, between 3.5-5 % ABV. Here in BC when pint glasses ruled, beer was a standard 5%, with a very few nosing up slightly higher. Now, in craft beer bars and restaurants, many of the beers are 7% and above, with more than a few weighing in at 9% and higher.

Tulip style glass popular with
many Belgian beers both
bottled and draft
As well, like with wines, many beer styles are now being served in specially designed glasses that enhance the tastes and aromas of those particular styles. This is just catching on here in North America, but in places like Belgium it is an essential part of the beer tasting experience.

What I feel is more of an issue than whether I sip my IPA from a 20 oz or a 12 oz glass is that the glass of beer I am paying for is not short poured or falsely represented. If I am paying for a sleeve of X beer, I want a sleeve of X beer, not 90-95% of a sleeve of X beer, especially with the prices we pay for good beer in this city. And I want to know ahead of time how much that sleeve holds. If it is a 12 oz sleeve, I want to know so I can make my decision as to whether the beer is over-priced or not. If an establishment offers "pints" of beer, I expect a full, 20 oz pint of beer, not a 90% full 20 oz pint, or a 17.5 oz pint, which, although it does not exist (no pint measures 17.5 oz in Canada), you see advertised at some establishments or a sleeve.

Now to me, that is something worth fighting for.

In 2008, CAMRA UK launched their Full Pint Campaign, where CAMRA representatives presented a petition, signed by 23,361, addressed to the British Prime Minister, to his residence at 10 Downing Street. The petition, which collected signatures over an 18-month period at CAMRA beer festivals and through an on-line site, urged the Prime Minister, "to take notice of the 23,361 people who have signed this petition calling for an end to short beer measures." It went on to point out that, "(i)t is unlawful for consumers to be short measured when buying petrol and it should be unlawful for consumers to be short measured when buying a pint of beer." 

Yes, it should be illegal. So should false advertising like stating you are selling a pint and serving a sleeve, or taking a mainstream, macro-lager and calling it an IPA.

To me, clear advertising as to what you are ordering is essential. And then it is just as essential for businesses to deliver on their promise and serve the measure they promised to serve. If a bar wants to sell a 12 oz sleeve, then state that and fill those sleeves to the 12 oz mark. At least consumers know ahead of time what they are ordering.

But if size really does matter to enough consumers who feel passionate about the right to have their favourite beer served in a full, 20 oz pint glass then they need to make their voices heard. They need to convince business owners that it is in their best interests to offer 20 oz pints. CAMRA BC, or more locally, CAMRA Vancouver could be the vehicle to help carry this cause forward, but they cannot do it on their own. Campaigns need organizers. Campaigns need supporters. Campaigns need action plans. What campaigns don't need are people criticizing others for not taking action while they sit back and wait for changes to happen.

There needs to be an organized plan of attack on how to convince those who serve the beers to do so in the vessels we wish to drink from, or at least give us that option. Maybe a petition, like the one in the UK, presented to bar and restaurant owners might persuade them to offer up the pint option at their establishment. There is always the option of frequenting only places that serve the 20 oz pints, but I don't see too many craft beer lovers boycotting The Alibi Room, St Augustine's, or the like, to prove a point. I know I won't.

So, if this is an important issue for you out there and you have any ideas of what to do, drop me an email at  with your suggestions and let them know how you'd like to help out. Although, for me personally, the size of the glass isn't the major issue, I can certainly understand the desire to see the 20 oz pint glass  make a come back and as president of CAMRA Vancouver, I would be willing to get a campaign going to try to make that happen.

And maybe while we are at it, we can make sure those 20 oz glasses get filled with the full 20 oz of beer promised.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Small Breweries Continue to Increase Sales

With BC Craft Beer Month fast approaching, it appears that BC's smaller breweries have much to celebrate.

For the umpteenth time in a row, BC breweries producing less than 150,000 hectolitres of beer annually, normally, but not always, the size of brewery that produces craft beer in this province, have increased their sales both in dollars and litres sold, despite an overall drop in domestic beer sales in BC,  according to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch's latest Quarterly Market Report, published June 2011.

With domestic beer sales down 3.45% in dollars sold and 6.8% in litres sold for the 12-month period ending June 2011, compared to the 12-month period ending June 2010, the breweries producing less than 150,000 HL  have managed to increase sales a whopping 28.45% in dollars sold and 24.28% in litres sold. For the same time period, the larger breweries, those producing over 150,000 HL, have seen sale shrink 10.62% in litres sold and 7.08% in dollars sold. It seems that the craft beer movement is catching on here in BC and is reaching out beyond the beer nerds into the general population.

Now before you go reaching for a craft beer to ward off the sudden onset of a migraine resulting from all the above-posted statistics (keep that beer close at hand as there are scads more stats to come) and to celebrate the impending death of our province's macrobreweries, remember that the smaller breweries still hold only 13.4% of the BC market share in dollars and 14.4% in litres sold in BC. More than 85% of BC's domestic beer drinkers still drink beers from larger breweries, no matter how you measure it and for the most part, this means they are drinking bland, mainstream beers brewed with little artistry or imagination.  But if you compare today's numbers for smaller BC breweries to just four years ago, they have more than doubled their market share growing today's numbers from 6.6% in dollars sold and 7.45% in litres sold in 2007 and that means big dollars if consider that each percentage of the market share computes to approximately $8, 850,000 in sales.

Before the local craft beer scene start patting themselves on the back they should take a quick look over their shoulder. Sales for US imports have grown immensely over the past year increasing increasing 177.8% for draft beer and 49.3% for packaged (bottles and tins) for litres sold and 169.13% for draft and 39.43% for packaged products in dollars sold over the last year. They hold about a 6% share of the total market in BC, about where our domestic craft beers sales were four years ago. US imports are not eating into the total market share as much as the local craft beers, but they have clawed out an extra 2% in the past four years. These totals include all US import beers, not just craft beers, but if you take a look around Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, US craft beers are becoming more and more available in bars, restaurants and Retail Liquor Stores which feature craft beers, they are great beers and are becoming very popular.

And remember, each percentage of the market represents about $8, 850,000 in sales.

I'm not sure if there are more people drinking craft beer in BC or if those who have always drank it are just progressing as alcoholics. The cynical side of me says the latter, but common sense dictates that there are more and more people being exposed to, enjoying and therefore drinking these great local brews at least in and around the major urban centres. I'll be curious to see just how the next quarter's numbers look, due out at year-end, as yours truly has, for various reasons, cut back drastically on the amount of beer I am consuming, which may skew the numbers to some degree and slow down craft beer sales in general.

But with the way things are trending here in BC, I won't be too surprised to see craft beer sales increase even more and it won't be long before we see an obvious reaction from the larger breweries moving to protect their market share. It has already started with Molson's launching their Six Pints Specialty Beer Co which is meant to target the craft/specialty beer market and will, at least initially, feature Creemore and Granville Island beers, with both breweries falling under the Molson's ownership umbrella. I don't think it will be long before the other larger breweries start to fight back to protect their territory and it could get ugly if the BC government goes forward with its plan to open up and deregulate the tied house and industry inducement laws.

As consumers, we have to hope this trend continues as we are the beneficiary of this rapid growth in the BC craft beer industry. I know I am not alone in rejoicing over this shift in the market and hope it encourages others to open more craft breweries in BC, increasing consumer choices even more.