“You know what I don’t understand?” enquired the young bar man as he loaded glasses into the dishwasher.
“What?” I replied. He started pacing up and down seeking the next chore, as is his wont.
“It’s how come drinking half a pint is like drinking nothing. It just goes down in a few sips but a pint lasts.”
These words (or thereabouts) and thoughts happened in the White Hart Tap in St Albans.
He had a point. It’s something I’d reflected on many times – the thoughts never coherent enough to focus into words. But yes, it’s true – a pint goes down in gradations as you nurse it and watch the level of others’ if you’re in company.
A half should stretch to fifty per cent of that time but seems like several mouthfuls. Half a pint – the reality – doesn’t last as long as half a pint – the notion. In other words, a half isn’t as much as half of a pint. Do you follow?
Maybe that’s why it’s often prefixed with “swift”.
In this town, there are two pubs in which customers order beer by two thirds as a matter of course. The first is the Verulam Arms, the second is the Craft and Cleaver. This isn’t surprising as they both tilt towards craft keg. The Verulam Arms advertises this measure openly behind the bar (referring to two third measures as an “Ash”). In the Craft and Cleaver, it’s even simpler: two thirds has its own button on the till keyboard so the fount number and the measure are simply punched in. No calculations are necessary by the staff.
Craft beer outlets across London (and I’m sure Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol etc) such as the Draft House chain – actually use this measurement as a default volume.
St Albans is crammed to the goiters with more traditional pubs.
The White Hart Tap is the first and only of these pubs I’ve ever had the gall to order two thirds in. It seemed like such a clandestine request at the time but there’s a simple reason for it: there are so many heavy ABV beers flooding the cask and keg lines now that two thirds is the right amount. A pint is an overload.
Two thirds is much closer to being half a pint than a whole pint (the difference is just 95 ml more than a half but 189 ml less than a pint). From six to eight ABV by volume, the two thirds measure feels like the whole drink whereas a half doesn’t.
Cask ale and this new measure don’t have any history but they might share a working future together if we let them. I’m deeply wedded to the culture of drinking in pints but beer is changing – whether it’s permanent or a trend of this decade remains to be seen.
Pints and halves are a British phenomenon. It’s possible that the two thirds measure only feels fuller as it overtakes the half pint so our brain is tricked into thinking we’re imbibing into surplus territory.
Perhaps a North Rhine Westphalian in Cologne would find a half pint a full unit as Stange glasses of Kölsch are even smaller – traditionally 200ml.
I make this concession for the sake of our hard-working bar staff: I will never ask for this measure when it’s crowded, as working out the price causes cranial torment and implosion; one of the bar staff in the White Hart Tap has a degree in mathematics (allegedly) but he had to round off. I’d need a calculator.
It should also be a heavy ABV beer – never session strength.
One upshot as a customer is you’re likely to get a bit more than 379ml as the line won’t be marked so they’ll wobble on the side of caution and overfill.
Oh, and if you’re a bit fey like me, two thirds will often be served in a stalked glass which, to my mind, adds to the pleasure (by about two thirds).