What is a proper pint? Measurement explained as research reveals two-thirds of beer under-filled

New research from UK Trading Standards reveals two-thirds of beer served in the UK is short-measured.

What is a proper pint? Measurement explained as research reveals two-thirds of beer under-filled iStock

It’s been at the beating heart of pub culture for centuries – but debates around what constitutes a proper pint have never ceased.

The standard measure for an imperial pint is 568ml – or 20 fluid ounces and accepted norm dictates it should include roughly 95% liquid and 5% head.

The UK pint was standardised by the 1824 British Weights and Measures Act, distinct from the US pint, which is 16 fluid ounces.

It comes as new national research by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has found that over two thirds (70%) of beer and wine, checked by Trading Standards professionals, is short measured.

The findings come at a time when the price of alcoholic drinks is at an all-time high: according to the Office of National Statistics, the average price of a bottle of red wine has increased 8% in the last year, while the average cost of a pint of lager is up 5.6%.

What the law says

The Capacity Serving Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Regulations 1988 act says pints can be measured by the brim of a pint glass or a line measure, which indicates where a pint comes up to.

But whether a pint should include its frothy head or not has been a bone of contention for decades.

Legally, the head is included, however CTSI’s new public polling found that over one third of the public (35%) of 2,000 felt the head should not be included in the pint measure – higher than one quarter (23%) who believed the head should be included.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) maintains that the pint measure should not include the head, and that consumers should have a right to a 100% liquid pint. 

Are you being short-changediStock

What research says

This beer and wine research is part of a broader research report that CTSI is publishing later in the year which highlight the importance of Weights & Measures for UK consumers, economy, and wider society.

A short measure means that the beer or wine the customer receives is less than the prescribed quantity required by The Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order 1988. These quantities vary depending on the drink served, but include pints, half pints for beer, and 175ml glasses for wine.

The findings of the national fieldwork and new public polling found:

  • 96 short measures out of 137 test purchases, meaning approximately 70% of the test purchases were short measured.
  • Out of the short measures, 41 were at a deficit of 5% or over – 29% of all the 137 drinks tested.
  • When broken down between beer and wine, it was noted that 86% of beer was short measured while 43% of wine was found to be short measured.
  • The average deficit for short-measured beer found in the survey was 4%, while for wine it was 5%. For the average beer drinker, this equates to a loss of £1.70 per week, or £88.40 per year, and for an average wine drinker in the UK this jumps to £2.20 per week and £114.40 per year.
  • The largest short measure was a deficit of 15%, found on a 175ml glass of wine in Walsall, with the drink costing £3.20.
  • The next largest short measures were a deficit of 13.4% found in Belfast, on a glass of wine costing £7.20, and the third largest deficit was of 12% and found on a 175ml glass of wine purchased in Havering, costing £5.75.  
  • New public polling from CTSI also found a generational divide with three times as many people aged under 45 supporting bars and pubs being able to pour spirits without a spirit measure, compared to those over 45 years old.
The standard measure for an imperial pint is 568ml

What campaigners say

John Herriman, Chief Executive at CTSI, said: “While this is a snapshot, it is the first time that we have been able to build a national picture of how widespread short measuring of alcoholic drinks are, and the potential detriment to the average consumer of around £115 every year suggests there is the need for more comprehensive research to better understand the impact of short measures, not just for alcoholic drinks but across a broader spectrum of consumer goods.

“Weights and measures is a key role for Local Authority Trading Standards, but right now we simply don’t have the resources to allocate, and even the equipment to use, to undertake spot checks that ensure consumers are getting what they pay for. 

“We are calling on the hospitality sector to ensure that consumers get value for money by making sure they are correctly measuring the drinks they are serving to customers in the nation’s pubs and bars and for further research in this area.”

Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, and CTSI Vice President, said: “The cost of living means people can hardly afford a drink. To discover you’re being served short measures adds insult to injury. A short measure cheats us all, but affects those worst off, the hardest. 

“Being able to afford to go out for a drink is not easy and you should get what you pay for. In this current climate, it is great to see this campaign from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute raising awareness of the important work of our Trading Standards profession.”

CAMRA National Chairman Nik Antona said: “Consumers shouldn’t have to feel short changed when they support their favourite pubs, social clubs, and taprooms. The idea that 70% of all beer bought at the bar is being short measured in the UK is extremely concerning.  

“CAMRA wants the government to make sure pubgoers have a legal right to receive a 100 per cent liquid pint every time they are being served. This latest study is another worrying indication of an issue that has been affecting consumers for a number of years now and should hopefully provide a catalyst for change.  

“For anything that is short measured, and particularly anything more than 5% short, you should ask the bar staff for an immediate top-up. You are well within your rights to do this, and the staff should comply and fulfil this request.  

“If you get a negative reaction when you do this, you can get in contact with Trading Standards to report the incident.”

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