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In Search of the Honest Pint: A pint is 16 ounces - except (sometimes) when it's a pint of beer 

The cup never lies.It seems pretty simple: A pint equals 16 ounces. So when you go into a bar, pub or restaurant and order a

click to enlarge The cup never lies.
  • The cup never lies.
The cup never lies.
It seems pretty simple: A pint equals 16 ounces. So when you go into a bar, pub or restaurant and order a pint of beer you'll get 16 ounces of beer, right?

Well, maybe. Or maybe you'll get only 14 ounces. Or 13, or even 12. Like most naïve beer drinkers, I always assumed that when I paid for a pint I got a pint. It was only after stumbling across Portlander Jeff Alworth's "Beervana" blog that the hideous truth began to dawn on me.

"I have made sporadic hay of an issue of some import to denizens of Beervana: the use of the dreaded 'cheater pint,'" Alworth wrote. "This bantam-weight shaker-style glass offers a maximum of just 14 ounces of liquid - a baker's dozen or less if there's any head. They aren't quite ubiquitous, but you find them in the majority of pubs, restaurants, and breweries around town."

Having a few typical pub-style "shaker" glasses (so called because they're the kind used in combination with a metal cup to shake cocktails) around the house, I decided to put Alworth's claim under scientific scrutiny.

The testing apparatus was highly sophisticated: one of the glasses and a 32-ounce measuring cup. I filled the measuring cup with water to the 16-ounce line and carefully poured it into the glass. Sure enough: When the glass was up-to-the-brim, couldn't-hold-another-drop full, it contained exactly 14 ounces. Obviously there was no way in hell to fit a true pint of beer into that thing.

Were Bend drinkers being cheated out of their hard-earned beer? Some research in the field was called for.

Neither my liver nor the Source's budget would tolerate downing a pint at every drinking emporium in town, so I narrowed the hunt to four of the most popular local pubs - McMenamins, Cascade Lakes Brewery, the Deschutes Brewery and Bend Brewing Company.

At McMenamin's I called for a pint of IPA. It arrived in one of the "shaker" glasses with a half-inch head on top. Pouring the beer into my 32-ounce measuring cup - and getting a lot of peculiar looks from servers and customers in the process - I determined that the liquid content was a scant 13 ounces, three ounces shy of a full pint.

On to the Deschutes Brewery, which for many years has been serving its ales in 20-ounce "imperial pints." My imperial pint of Buzzsaw Brown had a half-inch head and clocked in at about 18 ounces - not a full "imperial pint," but well over the 16-ounce level, and at $4 a clear bargain over McMenamin's stingy $4.15 "pint."

Then it was time to stagger out to Cascade Lakes, which also pours imperial pints. My IPA ($4) had only about a quarter-inch of head and contained a bit over 18 ounces.

Bartender, partner and president Chris Justema told me his pub and the Deschutes Brewery are the only ones in town that use the imperial pint. But he said the Bend Brewing Company also serves up honest pints in English-style pub glasses, so it was with eager anticipation that I headed there to perform my last research of the day.

Alas, my bright hopes were dashed. A "pint" of Outback Old Ale for $4 and turned out to contain barely 12 ounces - 25% short of the full-pint mark.

Pouring 12-ounce "pints" instead of true 16-ounce pints obviously could save a restaurant or pub a lot of beer - and money - over the course of a year. But Alworth and others in the honest pint movement don't think proprietors are deliberately trying to rip customers off.

"I don't think there's any bad faith involved," Alworth told me. "I think those things [shaker glasses] have become so ubiquitous that everyone uses them. ... They're heavy and durable and that's why people like them."

"The vast majority use that shaker glass, and I think they mostly use it because it's cheap," said Deschutes Brewery founder and owner Gary Fish.

But Fish said there also are unscrupulous operators out there who use "cheater pints" - glasses with extra-thick bottoms that allow the bartender to shave another ounce or two off the already scanty capacity of the shaker glass.

What's a beer lover to do? Calling the law won't help; there's no regulation on the books in Oregon that dictates what a pint serving must contain. You can pour six ounces of beer and call it a "pint" if you want to.

Alworth said he's been talking to state legislators about a legal remedy. He also has launched a petition drive asking the Oregon Department of Agriculture to start a program "to authenticate glassware used in bars and restaurants as an honest 16-ounce pint." (You can sign it at beervana.blogspot.com.)

But Alworth said the chief aim of his campaign is educational, not punitive:

"My main interest isn't actually to find a huge hammer to force everyone to serve 16-ounce glasses. I think the big problem is people are not aware of what is going on. That's true of the servers as much as the consumers. My main interest is that when a consumer enters into a pub, they actually know what they're getting."

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