Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Jump on board

A strapping, healthy-looking man walks into a pub, and orders a half-pint. You immediately raise an eyebrow and think “hmm, something’s up here.” There must be some reason why he’s done that, because you’re sure he’d rather have a pint. Either he’s short of time, or short of money, or he’s driving and getting close to his personal limit.

The only reason that stands up as not being something of a distress purchase is if he’s a beer enthusiast/ticker who wants to try as many beers as possible. But that doesn’t apply if it’s a half of Carling or Bombardier.

Even the excuse that he wants to impress his boss or girlfriend with his sobriety doesn’t hold true nowadays – if that was his motivation he’d stick to soft drinks. Let’s face it, unless they’re beer geeks, men just don’t willingly drink halves.

This wasn’t always so, and I understand that in the first couple of postwar decades it was common for men of the more mature or genteel sort to drink half-pints of beer. But, by the time I started drinking in pubs in the mid-Seventies, that had largely vanished. Halves were for old codgers and the limp-wristed.

However, people seem quite happy to drink bottled beers of 330ml or even just 275ml, which is no more than a half of Stella, without any fear of being dismissed as wimps. Could it be that the two-thirds pint “schooner” measure, legal from last October, will be the way of “decontaminating” lower-volume drinking of draught beer?

A survey by Molson Coors says that two out of five British consumers would order two-third pint glasses if they were on offer, although just one in 10 are aware that the ‘schooner’ option exists.

I have to say I haven’t been in a pub so far showing any evidence of offering them. There would certainly be occasions I’d try them if they were available.

If they eventually take off, I can actually see them superseding halves much more than pints.


  1. decontaminating? Nah, still for puffs and ladies.

  2. The key word here Mudgie is "if". As in "if they take off".

  3. I'm not a beer historian, but I have noticed in older films the half seems to be the standard measure, what you get if you just ask for 'bitter'. Wonder when it changed? I do remember pint mugs featuring prominently in the advertising for Red Barrel/Worthington E/Double Diamond; maybe it was marketing that established the perception of a pint as a manly drink.

    As for the schooner, I think this is running up against the current big trend in glassware, which is branding. Personally I like drinking a Duvel or a Chimay out of the 'right' glass, but if I'm drinking pints I'd much rather have a plain pint glass; I like Marble and Thornbridge, but not enough to want to advertise them to the rest of the pub. But I guess I'm in the minority; lots of brewers are pushing their own glassware these days. Which must make life harder for bar staff - and serving schooners would make it harder still. Multiplying the number of glasses you're likely to need to have on the go by the number of breweries, then multiplying that number by two, is bad enough; multiplying by three instead is a hassle too far.

  4. 'A strapping, healthy-looking man walks into a pub, and orders a half-pint. You immediately raise an eyebrow and think “hmm, something’s up here.”' Really? No, not me, Curmudgeon, nor anyone I know. This is just your response, and I don't think it's general. Besides, don't you think this use of the term 'distress purchase' is rather silly?

  5. So how many healthy adult men do you know for whom a half-pint is their normal purchase in the pub? And if someone who normally drank pints ordered a half, you would inevitably wonder why.

    The meaning of "distress purchase" is entirely clear - something you are constrained to buy through force of external circumstance when you would really prefer something else.

  6. I drink halves if I am near a good pub but still need to do something (such as today I'm going to a conference but also near York Tap)

  7. I haven't counted them Curmudgeon, but it's not rare enough that I'd take any notice of it. I also don't wonder why a habitual pint drinker might order a half. This is your obsession that I have not detected anywhere else, and it is your assumption, not fact, that the drinker is constrained, but even if he is, it's also your assumption that he is distressed by the constraint. I will buy a half if I'm driving, but I feel absolutely no distress in doing so, even though I am a habitual pint drinker. Sorry, but distress is a silly word for a purchase which you are presumably going to enjoy.

    These kinds of wonderings about other people's motives for buying a half, and speculation about their levels of distress, suggest to me someone who spends too much time drinking alone in pubs. I may be wrong in that, but that's what they look like to me.

  8. Part of the problem with the schooner is the name itself - it's bloody awful. "I'll have a schooner of London Pride please".

    Urgh, just sounds horrible.

    1. I would willingly buy a schooner if they were available, my only fear is that we are all used to pints, know what they cost, and therefore know what a half would cost, but a schooner.....unscrupulous establishments might be tempted to charge proportionately more for a schooner!

  9. Have to agree with much of what RedNev says-I too dislike the phrase "distress-purchase" whilst appreciating your intention. Regarding the findings of a "Molson-Coors" survey, it comes as no surprise that if the respondents had in mind the products of said company (with the possible exception of Doom Bar-but then maybe not even that!) when stating they would try smaller measures it should hardly come as a surprise! One of the major issues with smaller measure is ensuring the price reflects the amount of beer being sold-there is the inevitable fear that the price would inevitably quickly creep towards that of a full pint.

  10. Martin, Cambridge14 March 2012 at 21:21

    I'd assume he was on a CAMRA crawl and had got lost (or do pints tend to be consumed on S&SM CAMRA nights) ?

  11. Don't quite follow the "got lost" comment.

    On pub crawls, it tends to be an alternation of halves and pints, but can be pot luck whether you have the pints where the beer's better, a problem that schooners would solve ;-)

  12. Man on a very low budget or with little time. These days beers can easily be 6% ABV plus anyway, especially in the real ale scene, so ordering halves is far from unusual.

  13. The specific reference was to men ordering halves of mainstream beers such as Bombardier or Carling. As I said, the beer enthusiast will have a valid reason for ordering halves, especially of stronger and more expensive beers.

  14. Generally people drink Carling by the pint because it's lovely and they only drink pong by the half-pint because it's fould and full of twigs and toenails.

  15. I would have thought half pints were the norm
    now as the pubs now seem to be domain of halfmen.Before anyone starts spitting their
    dummies out,check out the wider scene ,not
    just the rose garden on the edge of Niceville.

  16. I'm 26 and at my local, a proper banks's local, it is always thought strange if a regular has a half. With a notable exception of a couple of low to non-drinking mates, we always comment if someone has a half. With you on this one, mudge.

  17. Thanks for confirming that, Tom. It doesn't require hours of solitary drinking to appreciate something that should be bleeding obvious to anyone who visits pubs at all regularly.

  18. My girlfriend and I were in the Jolly Butcher's at the weekend and they had schooners, but only for some drinks. Sadly, although 5%-ish beers were available they didn't do schooners for the 7.5% Broad Oak Perry - which seemed a perfect candidate as it would be about as much alcohol as a pint of 5%. Didn't see anyone drinking out of one either...


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