Monday, 7 April 2014

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

The Evil Twin tap takeover held at Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell back in January was probably the first time I've ever bought a round of three 1/2 pints and only got 50 pence change back from a twenty pound note. That was the moment that crystallized for me how ridiculous it is to sell (one-off or unusual) high ABV beers without offering them in 1/3 of a pint measures.

Now, luckily for me I wasn't buying those three 1/2s for myself. I usually have a drinking partner with me and at an event like that we're not usually short of beer drinking companions to share beers with. But what if someone had attended the Evil Twin event on their own and still wanted to try those three barrel aged imperial stouts (not to mention any of the other Evil Twin beers that were on tap too)? It becomes not just expensive but bordering on unwise in terms of alcohol consumption. I suppose you could try a little bit of each of your 1/2 pints and then leave them unfinished but at £6.50 each you're probably going to want to finish them all just on principle.

Flight of thirds (BrewDog Camden)
Flight of thirds (BrewDog Manchester)
With the increasing availability of good beer we are becoming accustomed to having a choice of many different beers when we enter a pub. This makes me incredibly happy. One of the key factors in my enjoyment of beer is trying new things. It's certainly not the only thing that matters to me when I go out for a beer but if there is a substantial selection of beers available (including things I've never tried) then it's a safe bet that I am probably going to try as many of them as possible. Some of the pubs and bars we visit on a regular basis have between 20 and 40 different beers on tap for crying out loud. You'd want to try a few different ones, surely?

Beavertown tap takeover: 8 Ball & Imperial Lord Smog Almighty (The Rake)
In a pub that serves 1/3s I can try far more beers than I'd be able to in a pub which only serves 1/2s. Being limited to 1/2 pint measures is disappointing. That's not to say I would only ever drink beer in 1/3s if I was given that option. I'd probably continue to drink halves in pubs, for the most part. However, it's not often that I'd want to drink 1/2s of a 14% imperial stout intended for sipping. So for high ABV beers, or unusual beers, or some more expensive (rare/imported) beers I would like the option of drinking those beers in 1/3s. You know what else? If we could drink in 1/3s then those rarer beers would go a bit further and more people would be able to try them.

Living in London I am fortunate to have the option of drinking 1/3 pint measures in a number of fine beery establishments, including three BrewDog bars, five Draft House pubs (these chains both offer 2/3 pint measures too by the way), The Rake, The Flying Pig in East Dulwich, The Earl of Essex in Islington, and that teensiest of craft beer outlets: The Euston Tap*. But it still makes me sad that I am unable to drink beer in 1/3s at any of the five London Craft Beer Co. pubs**.

Summer Wine Brewery Maelstrom in 1/3 and 1/2 (Earl of Essex)

Pubs are one thing but beer festivals are different situation, right? Well, you'd be forgiven for thinking that. I've been to plenty of beer festivals in my 20-odd years of drinking real ale (various CAMRA festivals, plus other independent real ale festivals, and in more recent years 'craft beer' festivals) and 1/3 measures are usually available. It's only natural to expect that with a huge number of beers on offer you'd be able to drink them in 1/3s if you wanted to.

When the Craft Beer Co. began advertising their own beer festival, 'Craft 100', to be held at their Clapham branch, the first question on my lips was: '100 different beers - got to be offered in 1/3 pint measures, surely?' Nope. No 1/3s at all. But why? Well, they were only going to have pint glasses with 1 pint and 1/2 pint measures drawn on them. Alright, but why not provide a choice of glass sizes as most other festivals do? That way, you could offer both pint and 1/2 pint glasses but mark them both with 1/2 and 1/3 measures. Then everybody would be happy. Well, no we couldn't have that either - due to a lack of space for storing glasses.

Actually, upon arrival at Craft 100 on Thursday I was offered a choice of pint or 1/2 pint glass. Great! I love to have options and I wasn't planning to drink a pint of ANYTHING at a festival with 100 different beers on tap. So hurrah for 1/2 pint tulip glasses with a 1/3 pint line marked on them! But, but, but... could we have a 1/3 pint serve of anything on tap? Nope - because the prices weren't programmed on the tills. :(

In response to this we mostly drank 1/4 pints for the two days we were at the festival (i.e. we shared a 1/2 pint between us) as did other people in our group who were there especially to sample as many new beers as possible. Ultimately we probably spent less money over the bar than we would have if we'd been allowed to drink 1/3s.

I want to clarify here that my desire to drink 1/3s is not for financial reasons. Drinking (and brewing) good beer is not necessarily a cheap hobby. I accept that. It's my choice. But it is a relevant issue which needs to be considered when thinking about what choices you are offering your customers. Especially when you'd like to try an 11% beer like Partizan's Metric Porter and it costs £7 for a 1/2 pint. The ABV of a beer is another key issue here - for those 'stronger' beers it might be wiser and more responsible to offer them for sale as 1/3 and 1/2 pints, rather than 1/2 and 1 pint measures.

But ultimately my main issue is options. When I go out for a beer and there is a substantial amount of different beers to choose from I want to be able to try as many of them as possible, if I should choose to do so. I want more choice, not less. At this point I just don't know what else to say about this refusal to serve 1/3s. The market is there. People would like to have that option. I know that because they've told me. The way things stand currently I just find myself drinking in pubs and bars where I'm allowed to drink beer in 1/3s if I want to.

*NB: During a recent discussion on this subject with the manager I was pleased to hear that the (coming soon!) Waterloo Tap will aim to serve thirds as standard too.

**Except for Magic Rock's Unhuman Cannonball which launched at the Islington branch last May.

No comments: