by Richard Williams of thePublican.com's legal team from London solicitors Joelson Wilson.
When I was in Amsterdam recently, I was stunned by the size of the head served on a small glass of lager.
The friendly Dutch barstaff use a spatula to scrape away the top layer of billowing froth and serve what sometimes amounts to a couple of centimetres of liquid. Finally, having grabbed the last and lowest glassful from the round, I was tempted to ask for some beer with my froth!
I resisted, my Dutch friend telling me that this was how beer was served and enjoyed in Holland. I was assured it had nothing to do with the reputation of the Brits in Europe.
Anyone who has travelled and sampled beer around mainland Europe will have a similar story from other countries. It seems that few places create such a fuss about measures of liquid in beer than in Britain. As licensing lawyers, we are frequently asked to represent licensees who have run into trouble with their local trading standards department because of a deficient volume of liquid in the pints that they serve.
This area of the law is confusing and even trading standards officers are often unsure about exactly what a deficient measure is.
The British Beer and Pub Association recommends that consumers are served with no less than 95 per cent liquid.
However, in established legal cases, prosecutions have been dismissed where the deficiency in terms of liquid was in excess of 10 per cent. It is currently not a sufficient argument when charged with serving a short measure, to say that the customer could have asked for and would have been granted a "top up". The offence is committed when the short measure is initially served.
In March 2002, the government issued a public consultation document to clarify the issue, a commitment which it made in the White Paper published on this area in 1999.
The consultation period closed on July 1 with representations being made from all areas of the industry.
We must now await the outcome of the consultation and legislation to amend Article 2 of the Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order 1998.
The consultation document gives evidence of reducing measures that have allegedly been served in the industry since 1982, when metered dispensers serving exactly one pint were more common.
In 1982, it was estimated that more than 50 per cent of licensees were serving 100 per cent liquid measures of beer and cider.
By 1993, the figure had fallen to 25 per cent of licensees and today it is thought that only five per cent of licensees serve a 100 per cent liquid pint.
Consumer groups believe the public is being conned out of a full measure, but the industry is keen to point out that providing larger measures, which will be the case if a 100 per cent liquid measure standard is adopted, will only add to costs and drive up the price of a pint.
It is likely that, after the outcome of the consultation process, the 95 per cent option will become law and any licensee serving less than this minimum measure will be liable to conviction.
This measure is likely to include any liquid but not the gas in the head of beer.
The penalty of a £2,500 maximum fine will remain the same.
Remember that only a licensee can be prosecuted for the offence, even if an employee serves the short measure, as the licensee is the only person authorised to sell alcohol.
Personally, I enjoy the head on a decent pint of bitter and consider that my local licensee is doing me a favour serving beer that way, rather than a full glass of liquid.
But I do like something to drink at the bottom of the glass and perhaps we could push for the introduction of similar legislation in Holland.