What is a pint worth?

Here in B.C. there has been a lot of media fervor lately about dishonest serving sizes, short pours,  mandatory marked glassware, serving vessel volume versus volume of liquid served, and rightly so.  The public has been swindled, (whether intentionally or unintentionally is still up for debate) when it comes to how many ounces of beer they get at any given bar or pub.

This debate reminds me of grade-10 History class, when we learned how fabrics used to be measured by the “hand”, “foot”, and “yard”.  One person’s hand or foot was as good as the next, right?  So when a customer would request 6 hands of a fine silk sheet, less scrupulous merchants would bring out their toddler daughter, who was already an expert at laying her teensy palm down on the fabric six times in a row .  The disgruntled patron had a choice of course, accept the lesser amount of a rare fabric, pay more for the amount they actually indented to purchase, or find another vendor with bigger hands.

You’d think that by 2014 we’d have found a way to regulate our way out of this feudal system relic, but apparently “transparency” only applies to the thick tapered pint glasses that look and feel like they hold 20 oz (when in fact they only hold 14), and not to the actual posting of, and adhering to mandated serving sizes.

All the while, a parallel battle is going on with respect to the minimum price per oz that our Provincial government has just imposed on us.  Two weeks ago, the minimum allowable price for an ounce of beer at a B.C. licensed liquor serving establishment was 11 cents.   The new minimum price has now been set at 25 cents – a 127% increase, making our beer the most expensive (by far) in Canada – who’s national average minimum price is 16 cents per ounce, by the way.  This increase brings B.C. to the ninth highest minimum price for beer ON THE PLANET.  You can actually get cheaper beer in Quatar, Iraq, and United Arab Emirates…. places where alcohol is only found on the black market!

While I have stayed out of the firing lines until now, I have made no secret of the fact that I support CAMRA BC and their FUSS (Fess Up to Serving Sizes) campaign.  and I also think that our new minimum price is an outrage… but… I confess, it has been a very, very long time since I have purchased a $3 glass of beer or $5 pint.  I see those specials every single day, but that’s not the beer I personally chose to consume – the big exception being “Happy Hour” which the government has just effectively taken away from us, but then again, it was a pretty rare treat to find a $5 pint of craft beer in the first place… this is acceptable to me, but certainly not to the macro-beer drinkers.   When it comes to serving sizes, I’ve been duped plenty of times by “pints” that are up to 30% shy, but I have since honed my rate of consumption to the point where I can tell pretty much to the ounce how big a pour was, by how long it took me to finish the glass.  And the old adage “fool me once…” then comes in to play.

So what’s a pint really worth to me?  What’s it really worth to you?  The answer is completely subjective.  Sometimes all you want is a beer.  How much are you willing to pay for a beer?  This is a capitalist society after all.  I remember, in my errant youth some 22+ years ago, going to the Marble Arch “gentleman’s club” in Vancouver and ordering a mug of Canadian (we weren’t so couth as to call them pints back then… but at least they were all marked with a “50CL” mark, so we knew we were getting 17 oz).  The bartender asked for $6. Six dollars for a beer, in 1992?  “You’re not paying for the beer”, the bartender said, as he motioned toward the strippers, “you’re paying for the scenery.”  I instantly understood, and happily bought another 5 or 6 mugs that night.  Hey I told you it was my errant youth… I still don’t think I’ll ever live down drinking Molson Canadian…

Same year, several months later, I was having lunch at a restaurant above Lonsdale Quay.  I ordered a “mug”, and it was $6.  I said to the waitress “Wow, for six bucks, I’d expect there to be strippers included!”  She was decidedly unimpressed, and just pointed across the harbour, saying “you’re not paying for the beer, you’re paying for the scenery.  You have any idea what the rent is like in this place?”  I assumed the question was rhetorical.  I personally didn’t think the view was worth as much as the view at the Arch, but in that moment I came to realize that price is completely subjective.  A commodity is worth entirely as much as someone is willing to pay for it, and when it comes to a drink, you’re not always paying for the drink… segue to Paris, circa 1999…

My wife and I are on our first trip to Europe.  I had already paid £8 for a pint of Guinness at Hethrow (yeah, that’s $16) but hey, I just landed in Britain!  I needed to drink something from the UK!  Totally worth it.  Several days later we’re in Paris, we’re walking the Champs de Elysee, and my wife says “oh, wouldn’t it be amazing to sit in one of these sidewalk cafés and have a coffee and watch the people just like Monét did 100 years ago?”   So we sit down, order two coffees, and are promptly told that the coffee is $2 and the seating charge is $10 each.  Seating charge?  We need to pay $10 to sit down?  “Mais oui, Messieurs, you’re not paying for the coffee, you’re paying for l’ histoire.  Le “je ne sais quois”.  The, how you say, ‘view’. ”  I didn’t like it, but I got the point.

I have since bought a pint of Pilsner Urquel for $3 in Prague, I’ve spent 7 Euro for Heineken on a yacht in Corfu.   I bought 14 glasses of  Soproni at a bowling alley in Budapest for the equivalent of 42 cents a glass, paid $12 for 2L stein of Lager at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, and I’ve (ironically enough) payed 9 Euro for a mystery pint in a Communist bar in East Berlin.  To be fair, that was the week FIFA was in Berlin, so who knows, maybe I was getting gouged… my point though is that a beer is worth what you’re willing to pay for it.  I wouldn’t give up any of those experiences for anything, especially not for a few dollars!

I have experienced local beers and wines in literally hundreds of towns across 19 different countries.  I get a sense of whether I’m getting gouged or getting a good deal, but that never stops me from buying the drink.  If I want it, if the situation warrants it, I’ll pay it.  And I don’t measure the size of the pour either. So where am I going with this?  My point is that sometimes it’s not about the beer. sometimes the price is high and the pour is short, and you know what?  You just don’t give a damn.  That just reminded me of the $17 Bellini I bought in Mikonos, Greece.  The terrace hung out into the ocean, the waves spraying our sandals, the view was straight across to the iconic windmills.  $17 was a ludicrous price for a Bellini.  But I would have paid $50.  Some moments you just can’t put a price on… and all moments are better with a beer 😉

At home, in your local, we don’t get that feeling that we’re experiencing a “moment”, we expect value.  We’ve been there, done that, we know value and we want it.  There’s nothing “special” about our local, we just want to pay for a beer, we don’t want to pay for “the experience”, “the view”, “the scenery”.  And even if we do accept that some spaces pay much higher rent than others, have higher staffing costs, higher overhead, we still don’t like being told “the best we can do is 25 cents an ounce, that’s the law” when we know damned well that they were making a profit two weeks ago when their price was 16 cents an oz.

It’s funny how we will totally accept an absolutely ridiculous price like $17 in one circumstance, and  are ready to draw blood over a $5 pint in another circumstance.  Am I offering a solution?  Insight?  Nope, I hope you weren’t looking for any.  I don’t understand the phenomenon myself.   I mean, I “think” I understand why I can rationalize being gouged one day, and I know why the injustice infuriates me the next day, but I have still yet to come to peace with the dichotomy.  In a perfect world, everyone would post serving sizes, charge an honest price and pour exactly as much as you ordered every single time.  But we’re no where near being a perfect world, so where do we find the middle ground? I suggest either a.) Try to find the moment.  The reason that pint might be a little more expensive.  The excitement about being there, after all, other people are paying that price – it must be worth it to them for some reason?  Or b.) Vote with your feet.  Find a place with no view, no scenery, no reason to be.  I’ll bet the beer will be dirt cheap there.

UPDATE: I should point out that I don’t always get a raw deal when it comes to beer.  There are plenty of times I felt guilty about paying so little; the 42 cent glasses of draft in Budapest are a perfect example.  So is the $3 hotdog I bought from a roadside vendor in Vaduz, Lichenstein that INCLUDED a bottle of Becks.  Sometimes another region’s liquor prices and laws are so different from what I’d expect, that I’m sure I must be breaking the law… take the $6 sixpack of Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA on the Atlantic City, NJ boardwalk.  We proceeded to walk out onto the shore and kick back on the sand, right next to the lifeguard station.  At first surreptitiously, convinced I was breaking the law – until I saw other beach goers with cans of Bud.  Still, glass on the beach must be a no-no, right?  Oops, the lifeguard is looking right down at me.  busted.  “Am I allowed to have these on the beach?”
“The only crime is leaving your litter behind.  Take your empties with you”, he calmly replied as he re-fixed his gaze toward the shoreline.  I still felt like a criminal though… there is no way a six-pack of Dogfish 90 should have been six bucks!  That was a pretty oddball day though – having Mike Tyson bump into me on the boardwalk an hour earlier kinda set to mood for weirdness.

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Calvin Quaite
Brewer, business owner, blogger, and craft beer activist. Traveler, foodie, used to play in bands you may have heard of.
Calvin Quaite

Calvin Quaite

Brewer, business owner, blogger, and craft beer activist. Traveler, foodie, used to play in bands you may have heard of.

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