An article by Fritz Hahn over on the Washington Post highlights a phenomenon to which I have been insensitive: shrinking glassware. (If I search my mind, I see that a dimly-dawning inkling of this phenomenon is present, but fetal.) Since I’m quoted in the article, I might as well comment on it.
But where craft beer is the focus, the pint is under threat. In the area’s beer bars and beer-focused restaurants, it has become next to impossible to find anything served in a 16-ounce glass. Go into ChurchKey, the Sovereign, Pizzeria Paradiso, City Tap House and RFD, and the scene resembles that notorious Budweiser ad: Guys swirling craft beers in snifters, pinkies aloft, because there’s no way to hold the stem of a nine-ounce snifter without your pinkie automatically popping out.
Hahn runs through some history of the pint and then comes to the key point.
The truth is, bars like smaller glasses because they create the illusion of lower-priced beer…. At Pizzeria Paradiso, at least a quarter of the beers sell for $5 and $6; the difference is they come in 12-ounce glasses. “Our goal at Pizzeria Paradiso has been to make craft beer more accessible, and that starts with the pricing,” says Fernands. Deciding to set beer prices by the ounce “allowed us to pick up more esoteric and expensive stuff, because we can put it in a smaller glass.”
Long ago, I made a quixotic charge at bringing clarity to glassware sizing by promoting the Honest Pint Project, and at the tail end of the article, Hahn mentions me and this. But what he’s talking about is actual a new and different phenomenon. The Honest Pint Project was an effort to get publicans to serve a pint when they called a beer a “pint.” What Hahn’s identified is something else–keeping prices down by shrinking the size of the package. This has been going on for years in food packaging, and it makes sense it would come to beer, as well. People go to the store or pub and they expect a unit of goods to be roughly a certain price. Raising that price means the customer buys less, so if you can fudge the size and keep the price low, voila!–you’ve raised prices without alerting your customer.
If you buy a sixer of beer for ten bucks, you’re getting your beer at about 14 cents an ounce. If you buy a pint of beer for five bucks, you’re getting it for a bit more than twice that–31 cents. But if you buy a “glass” of beer, you have no idea how much you’re paying.
Five Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint – 26 cents/ounce
US Pint – 31 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass – 42 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter – 63 cents/ounce
Six Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint – 31 cents/ounce
US Pint – 38 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass – 50 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter – 75 cents/ounce
Seven Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint – 36 cents/ounce
US Pint – 44 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass – 58 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter – 88 cents/ounce
To the punter, the difference is a buck or two a pour. To the publican, it’s a good deal more than that. If a pub pours imperial pints, the retail value of a standard keg at six-dollar pints is $619.50. If they’re pouring US pints, it’s $744. If they’re pouring 12-ounce glasses, it’s $992. Kegs come in different sizes and prices, and often publicans have to charge and arm and a leg. I’d love it if the US just backed away from standard pricing. I’ve never understood why you pay the same amount for a 4.5% kolsch as you do for a 7.5% IPA, which has twice the malt and many times the hops. If we got used to paying different amounts for a glass of beer, we’d be better consumers.
And in any case, it’s worth at least thinking like better consumers. Imagine if a $6 US pint were a standard measure. This is what you’d expect to pay for the following measures if pricing were linear:
Imperial pint: $7.20
12-ounce glass: $4.50
8-ounce glass: $3.00
I actually love smaller glasses. I’d prefer it if ten-ounce glasses were offered everywhere, at roughly linear pricing. That would set me back about $4 a glass, and I could have four in a sitting for a reasonable price. Better yet, if pints of low-abv beer were cheaper, I’d buy more of those, too. So consider this a vote for both–cheaper small-pours and different prices per beer. There, it’s only Monday and I’ve already solved your worst problems.