In Search of a Proper Pint

Innovation by | May 2009 | Issue #28

In this age of economic downturn, it seems more people are becoming increasingly concerned that they receive their money’s worth, and beer does not escape this new focus. In fact, in Oregon, House Bill 3122, called the “Honest Pint Bill,” has been proposed just for that reason.

If passed, the bill will allow the state to certify that bars and restaurants that claim they serve beer by the pint are serving “honest pints” of 16 ounces or more. A Facebook page has even been set up to show support for the measure. While it might be debatable whether such proposed legislation should be taking up time that could be used to help solve the state’s budget crisis and other, perhaps more pressing, matters, concern over getting one’s money’s worth is valid.

One man’s recent invention could keep beer lovers on both sides of the aisle happy. It’s called the Piaget Beer Gauge, and it’s the brainchild (or, in this case, brain card) of Chris Holloway, of Boulder, Colo. A lab scientist by day, Holloway is an ale crusader by night, making sure bartenders everywhere aren’t serving short pours. And he does it all with his Piaget Beer Gauge, a small, plastic tool that looks like a credit card with an angled notch cut out of one side.

The gauge works like this: After you get your pint of beer from the bartender in the standard 16-ounce pint glass, you hold the gauge on the rim of the glass so that the side that is cut out fits neatly against the side of the glass. A printout on the gauge corresponds with the level of precious nectar in your glass and tells you how much, if any, you have been short poured.

And Holloway says that, because of the shape of the standard US pint glass, chances are, you are being short poured—by a lot. The concept comes from a mathematician and scientist named Jean Piaget, who, in the early to mid-1900s, studied the tendency of children to not be able to distinguish between the same amounts of liquid in different-sized containers.

Holloway says this tendency has been studied extensively in bars, for instance, where it is often observed that a short, wide glass is perceived as having less liquid in it than a tall, skinny glass. And it is the conical shape of the classic US pint, or “shaker” glass, that also deceives, says Holloway.

“The problem is the design of the US pint glass,” he says. “It is very surprising that if a beer is poured to within about a half-inch from the top, 13 percent of the beer is missing. If the beer is poured to about 1 inch from the top of the glass, an astonishing 25 percent of the beer is missing from your pint.”

The Europeans figured this out, and have glasses that mark pour lines, Holloway adds, and even leave room for the perfect head for each beer. “When you order a 0.3-liter or 0.5-liter beer in Europe, the glasses have 0.3-liter or 0.5-liter marks etched on them, and the volume of the glass extends past these marks. When the beer is served, they fill the liquid to the proper marks and the head can then fill the remaining volume in the glass. Thus, you get the amount of beer liquid you paid for,” he explains.

While the beer gauge never lies, Holloway says he has come across a few bartenders who have. “I had one bartender tell me, ‘Your beer gauge will not work in our bar because our pint glass only holds 14 ounces,’” Holloway says. “I then said, ‘Well, it is not a pint then, is it?’ He then told me to just drink my beer.”

Most, though, seem to have a sense of humor and fill the pint glass to make it a full 16-ounce pour. And in these tough economic times, those extra few ounces—and chuckles—just might be priceless. “In these bad economic times, what is better than drinking ‘full’ pints and forgetting about the values of our 401(k)s?” Holloway asks.

At $2.50 each (including US shipping) and price breaks for multiple orders, the beer gauge could become part of any beer drinker’s personal economic stimulus plan. Holloway sells the gauges on his website, thebeergauge.com