I was recently in a pub next to a group who looked like they were a middle-aged man and his parents. The father went to the bar and returned with a round of drinks, including a pint of bitter for the son with a head at least one and a quarter inches deep. “I asked for a pint, not a half,” he said. “Well, take it back to the bar for a top-up,” his father replied. He pondered this for a moment and said “You know, I really can’t be arsed.”
This illustrated very well the problem with the issue of full measures in pubs. As I argued here
, while in principle I support legislation that a pint should be a pint, and no less, in reality on the ground it is not something that people get very excited about.
Something similar happened in another pub at a CAMRA event. A colleague returned from the bar with a blatantly short pint and said “we really should be campaigning about this!” It was pointed out that campaigning for full measures legislation was already CAMRA policy, but not one that resonated very much with the general drinking public. Of course, if he wasn’t happy he could always ask for a top-up, although in reality when pubs are busy that often isn’t practical, and many people, as in the first example, just don’t bother.
Twenty or twenty-five years ago, across large parts of the Midlands and North of England, there was a critical mass of pubs using oversize glasses which could have formed the basis for such a campaign. However, while I’m not saying that CAMRA actively campaigned against full measures, in practice, when pubs stopped offering them they were never criticised for it, as it invariably coincided with the replacement of electric metered dispense with handpumps.
And that is what this poll was all about – presenting people with a simple either-or choice of which, to them, was more important, full measures or handpumps. And the result is quite clear – it’s handpumps, which provide an unambiguous symbol of cask beer in a way that no form of metered pump ever quite did. In a sense, the poll is a mirror image of asking in 1987 “Would you like to see the widespread restoration of handpumps even if you knew if would lead to the loss of full measures?”
What would be totally invidious would be to try and run a campaign highlighting certain pubs for being more likely than others to serve seriously short measures. Over time, I’ve probably asked for a top-up in pretty much every pub I visit regularly and, while some do perhaps seem more prone to it than others, that would be well-nigh impossible to prove.
Many years ago, someone tried to get the local CAMRA branch to mount a campaign against individual pubs suspected to be returning slops to the cask. This is undoubtedly a reprehensible and insanitary practice, not to mention being illegal, but the problem is that it also is very hard to prove. The presence of a stainless steel bucket behind the bar doesn’t prove it’s happening, and the absence of one doesn’t prove it isn’t. So the end result would be making insinuations against particular pubs on the basis of hearsay and supposition, which could be extremely damaging to CAMRA’s reputation amongst licensees.
Any campaign that involves singling out specific pubs for criticism must do so on the basis of verifiable fact, not rumour and speculation.
It’s worth adding that, in my view, as often as not short measure results simply from sloppy bar practice rather than from any deliberate intention to short-change the customer. And I have often seen customers - including members of CAMRA - take pints off the bar that, if left for a moment, would have been topped up without asking, which may well have been the case in the first example I gave.