Monday, 8 January 2018

When is a pint not a pint?

The latest example of apparently heavy-handed bureaucratic regulation to hit the beer world is the ruling by Trading Standards that it is misleading for Marble Brewery to sell their “Pint” beer in a 500 ml can with the word “Pint” prominently displayed on the side. At first sight, this has much in common with the case last year against Tiny Rebel’s “childish” can designs –a single, arguably vexatious complaint over something that, while perhaps technically in breach of standards, is not in real life going to be misinterpreted by any reasonable person. Indeed Beers Manchester worked himself up into quite a froth about it.

However, I think there’s a significant difference. I criticised the Tiny Rebel decision, but it was on the basis that it’s essential for the defender of liberty to stand up for things that he personally doesn’t particularly care for. There’s no point in only supporting the freedoms you happen to approve of. I don’t much like these garish cartoon can designs, but I don’t for a minute think Tiny Rebel were deliberately targeting children, and feel it sets a potentially worrying precedent for the further control of packaging design. If there is only one complaint on something that is a matter of subjective judgment, it suggests that the amount of genuine concern amongst the public is negligible. Plus we don’t know whether the complainant was someone with any involvement in public health lobbying.

On the other hand, when it comes to the Marble cans, a pint is an actual measure, not just a colloquial term for a beer. To put “Pint” in big letters on a can strongly implies that the contents actually are a pint. Some other beer brands are sold in pint cans, and often do prominently say “Pint Can” to make it clear to buyers that they are getting something different from a 440 or 500ml size. Yes, in practice very few people are going to be misled as to the actual size of the can, but that’s not the point. If it says “pint”, it implies that’s what’s inside. It wouldn’t be acceptable to call a beer “Shandy” (which is also a common colloquial term for beer) if it was actually of full strength, even if everybody who bought it was well aware of that.

So, in this case, the authorities, while they may come across as a touch joyless, are right. It’s a straightforward case of misrepresentation. I suggested on Twitter that maybe a design to give the actual measure equal prominence might be an option, but it remains to be seen what action Marble end up taking.

Incidentally, the same issue doesn’t apply in the pub, as measures of draught beer, unlike the sizes of bottles and cans, are specified by law, so whatever something’s called you know that it will be available in pints or fractions thereof.

And anyone designing alcohol packaging needs to be aware that their intentions are irrelevant – what counts is the prima facie impression given to members of the public who have no prior knowledge.

24 comments:

  1. It does seem harsh to punish the brewer in this case, but I agree — a pint is a unit of volume and could be misleading if it’s not actually a pint.

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  2. 'Pint' is just a bloody silly name for a beer, in the same vein as 'Sunma Dat' or 'T'other' and the various other names in this vein we've seen over the years. If brewers have to use these sorts of stupid names, they are best kept for seasonals or one-offs, not for core product range, so I have little sympathy with Marble.

    It was already ridiculous that somebody might need to ask for 'a half of Pint, please'. The canning issue is just an extension of that.

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    1. Marble have always named their beers with very short, descriptive names. Bitter, Pint, Stout, Pale, Summer, Porter, Ginger etc. have all been Marble beers for a very long time.

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  3. Hmmm. I'm off two minds about this. For one thing, it's the name of the product. The content amount is somewhere else on the can. Caveat Emptor and all that. It annoys the hell out of me that some of the beer I buy in Canada by the bottle is 341ml while others are 355ml. I have to check myself on the bottle. Can I make a complaint?

    And it was "a" complaint. One? Bloody hell, we'll never get anything done if just one person can feel their safe space has been invaded. I mean, could I put in a complaint that, for example, Adman's Ghost Ship does not in fact have a miniature ship inside the bottle?

    Marble Brewery could get cheeky and say that it's a generous US pint (473ml). Or they could state it is pronounced with a short 'i', like lint. :)

    I guess I lean towards siding with the brewery. :)

    Cheers

    PS - and on a similar note, why are they selling cans in metric but you can buy it in the pub in Imperial units; and your highway signs are in MPH but you state your temps in Celsius? (scratches head) :)

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    1. Draught beer *has* to be sold in pints or multiples thereof. There are no restrictions on container size for packaged beers, and in fact there's a bewildering variety of different sizes. Ironically, the products that are sold in actual pint cans tend to be mass-market lagers and ciders.

      We still often use Fahrenheit in everyday speech to describe temperatures, especially at the hotter end of the scale: "Phew! It's going to be in the 80s this week!"

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    2. It's been bloody years over here since we switched to metric. I think of speed in KPH now, and temps in Celsius, and even weight in kilos... but I could never get the hang of saying I was 185cm tall. :)

      Cheers

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  4. I am of the opinion they knew trading standards would pick up on it and are well aware of their market's opinion to the 'bloody nanny state's/'pc gawn maad'. The coverage is worth it's weight in gold, I imagine if they dont already have the renaming stickers printed they're in the post.

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    1. It was already well established as a draught brand before they put it into cans, so I don't think there's any element of deliberate regulator-baiting involved.

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    2. I don't think so. Marble have been selling a beer named "Pint" for a very long time.

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    3. Yes, I very much doubt it was deliberate with Marble, but you were right to raise, some others are not beyond this marketing tactic sadly!

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  5. It's interesting that in Amsterdam it is quite common to buy a half-litre of beer and the person serving you will call it "een pint" - and it will be served in a glass that looks rather like a pint tankard, lthough I ust confess to not being anal enough to check that the measure was correct.

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    1. This underlines how, even in countries that have been officially all-metric for a very long time, people still give customary names to metric quantities to make them more understandable. Customary measurements developed from familiar quantities in daily use, whereas metric ones are arbitrary, artificial constructs.

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    2. Most of the 'pints' I get served contain less than a half-litre anyway!

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    3. In Germany the term “das Pfund” is still quite commonly used to describe half a kilo; particularly when purchasing items such as fruit and veg from a market stall. I have also heard the phrase “viertel Pfund” used for items such as butter.

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    4. Indeed, 'mudge. Metric is great for engineering and science but when I take my engineers cap off I revert to imperial units such as furlongs per milli-fortnight for speed, or centi-frikins for volume.

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  6. Surely the sensible solution would be for Marble to package the beer in pint cans. That way everyone’s happy.

    I accept there would be additional origination costs for new artwork etc, and there may already be a number of unfilled 500ml cans at the brewery/canning plant, but even the most sour-faced Trading Standards Officer could not object to Marble selling stock which is already in the supply chain.

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    1. I wouldn't have thought there's any question of having to recall stocks already in the supply chain. Changing to pint cans may be easier said than done because of the way the canning line is set up.

      I still think my solution would work, to change the labelling to say:

      "PINT"
      500ml CAN


      with lettering of equal size.

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    2. Of course a "pint" of draught beer served in a brim glass in a pub usually contains half a litre, unless you make a fuss about topping up. :-)

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    3. It would be nice if Trading Standards applied their energies to short measures in pubs. They could move on to Marble when they've fixed that.

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  7. I'm with trading standards on this one. Brewery were a bit silly to package the beer that way.

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  8. I agree with Curmudgeon. It should be made clear that Pint is a brand name and that the can contains 500ml. They don't have a leg to stand on.

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  9. The other Mudgie !9 January 2018 at 17:50

    We wouldn’t have had this problem when I started using pubs 1n 1971 and, had the brewery existed, it would have been Marble Bitter or Marble Best Bitter.
    I remember the Cropton Brewery having a beer called Two Pints ( and that would be 1992 as I was in their brewery tap on my honeymoon ) but that wasn’t a problem as there’s a clear distinction between a pint and two pints.
    I still ask for a pound of sausages and half a pound of mince at my local butchers, as I did today, and that’s what I get served.
    Draught beer can only be sold in proper imperial measures but packaged beer, bottles and cans, can be in any measure so long as it is shown in metric.
    I expect Americans feel short changed every time they buy a pint as their pints aren’t proper British pints.
    Distances are still in proper miles for those using our roads and on the railways, despite the German DB being the biggest train operator, fractions of miles, such as chains and yards, are still used.

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  10. I think Marble are naive to think that calling their beer "Pint" would not draw criticism, it's mildly amusing to ask for a pint in the pub in the same way as asking for "The Usual" by The Brunswick brewing co. But the joke does not translate to the off trade, where customers will just see the large print and assume its name is same volume as what's in the can.

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  11. Craft is special. The rules don't apply.Craft lives by its own rules, Daddio.

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