Half ain't what it used to be

Related tags Pint Pint glass Europe

When it comes to serving less than a pint, is it time to follow the Continent where they cut a better deal for themselves when selling smaller...

When it comes to serving less than a pint, is it time to follow the Continent where they cut a better deal for themselves when selling smaller measures, asks Phil Dixon

We may not be part of the 'oldest profession', but when you are enclosed by the oak panelled walls at Hook Norton or admiring Stuart Bateman's bottled beer collection in Wainfleet there is a welcoming sense of tradition and heritage.

So it is with some trepidation that I have to consider that we may have got it wrong for the last 250 years or so. For we, along with the Irish, do something nobody else does in Europe - when we sell a half of a pint we charge half the price of the amount for a pint. Yet the cost of heat, light, staffing, pouring and washing the empty glass is invariably far in excess of a 50% factor.

Last month I set out on a fact-finding visit to parts of western Europe intent on investigating the matter in detail - well, that's what it will say on my tax return.

In Belgium, in the area near Antwerp's docks where there are plenty of bright lights (nearly all of them red), I found I could have a metric (500ml) pint of Stella for the reassuringly inexpensive price of s2.55 (around £1.80p at tourist rates.) However, a half (250ml) was s1.45, ie, just over a £1. In the great beer drinking nation that is Deutschland, there are similar pricing policies.

In historic Alsfeld; I will pause for a moment as no doubt regular readers will be now undertaking an impersonation of that well-known intellectual 'Mr Roy Brown' of the 'Chubby' variety by asking: 'Alsfeld? Where the **** is Alsfeld?'

The answer is that it is around 60 miles due east of Cologne in Hesse towards what was the old East Germany. Alsfeld was a thriving city in medieval times but simply backed the wrong side in the 30-year war (1618-48) when it was plundered, pillaged and raped, had a bout of famine and a dose of the plague before a bit more rape and plunder (it could have been twinned with Redditch). It never really recovered.

However, the result is a spectacular, picturesque old city straight out of the 15-16th centuries. It has its own brewery producing imaginatively named Alsfelder Pils. In the local bars the pils is sold in a variety of measures and prices: The following are taken from the Krone (Crown) Hotel bar:

l 20cl s1.1 (77p)

l 30cl s1.5 (£1.05p)

l 40cl s1.8 (£1.26p)

In the old east in Erfurt (state capital of Thuringia) the exceptional 'Biergarten' of the Anger Maier bar sells beers for slightly more maintaining the same price differentials. Germany does however have regional quirkiness. In Bavaria the beer is so good that there appears to be the view of: 'Who would not want to drink less than a pint?'. On the other hand, in Cologne the measure is a small 200ml. Everyone drinks 'Kolsch' in this quantity for around s1.40.

The French and their beer pricing have always depressed my natural Yorkshire economic consciousness. They appear to have the paradox of low taxation and sky-high prices in their bars. In the Place Danton in Boulogne in the Au Bureau Brasserie the list is as follows:

l Stella 50cl s4/25cl s2.20

l Leffe 50cl s5.70/25cl s3

l Guinness 50cl s7/25cl s3.90 (now at £2.75p that's expensive).

Travelling through France, in the interests of research, I have visited one or two (hundred) bars and no-one appears to charge 50% of the price of a metric pint for a half measure.

If UK pubs were to abandon the current pricing strategy every business would benefit from a minor boost in gross profit margins, highly desirable in view of the current unofficial recession. A handful of venues are already doing this. I even discovered that at my local safari park a pint is £2.70p but a half £1.45p. Perhaps, in this area, it is time we fell into line with the rest of Europe?

Made to measure

This, of course, leads to the perennial discussion on beer and the full pint measurement. Now I do like the European method of ordering an amount of beer and receiving it in a beautiful glass with a clear line below the rim to ensure I get the amount that I have requested. As a consumer I sympathise with Camra's (Campaign for Real Ale) full pint argument. My opposition to it has been one of economic reality, for example, 'tied publicans' could not possibly absorb the cost and loss of margin of serving a 'full pint' in new glasses. I have also argued at events such as Carma's conference that the 'British pint' was undoubtedly the best value in the (then 12 member) European Union.

Well, it may have been the best value 10 years ago, but sadly it is not now. The reason for this, some will argue, is due to the power of the pubcos to push up prices and thus maximise profits with others citing a case of exchange rates. If, though, you ever get to the former capital of the 12th- century holy Roman empire, the world heritage city of Bamberg (near Bavaria and Franconia) you can sample the products from seven independent breweries (yes, that was seven). While drinking Klosterbräu Golden Pils (abv 5%) from the oldest brewery (1533) by the canal on a sunny day for around £1.40 a pint, then I would have to admit that I don't think you can get better value than this in the UK.

When I now (all too frequently) get my pint it often comes with a head of froth sufficient to place a chocolate flake bar in it. Certain managed chains please note... the 5% head was supposed to be a maximum not a minimum. I muse that if we are not careful the issue will appear back on the Government's agenda. I wonder if again by falling into line with the rest of Europe, for example, metric pints, 500ml plus the head, would:

a) Satisfy the 'you should get the amount you pay for' argument.

b) Serving a smaller amount than at the moment would enable retailers to cope with the cost of new glassware.

c) Consumers drinking slightly reduced volumes, encourage social responsibility!

On the other hand, did we really fight the Battle of Trafalgar just to be like the rest of the Continent?


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