As something different today, my friend Stephen Rive (pictured), of Toronto, authors a guest post entitled “Pubs Without Pints”.
. . . in France she learned to savor a drink by small mouthfuls, and is no longer used to bolting great quantities of liquid as beer-loving requires.
—Milan Kundera, Ignorance
One of the pleasures of beer is ‘volume.’ You fill your mouth with beer, you take great, thirst-quenching gulps of it. This full-mouth feel of beer is just as important to the overall experience as the brewing, the level of carbonation and the serving temperature. It’s also unique to beer and quite different from the small sip of scotch or cognac, or the “small mouthfuls” of wine that that set Irena, Kundera’s returning exile, apart from her former friends in post-Communist Prague.
Just so there’s no misunderstanding, by volume I don’t mean chug-a-lugging one glass after another, with a view to getting falling down drunk as quickly as possible. I mean that each time that you raise the glass to your lips you want to feel the volume of the beer filling your mouth, especially for those first few mouthfuls when the flavour is most intense. Now part of that feel of volume in the mouth is pressure—like the pressure in a water pipe or behind a dam—and that pressure is in turn a function of volume in the glass. And herein lies both a problem, and the subject of this blog: the disappearing pint.
I was at a pub in Toronto this week that boasted over twenty high-quality beers on tap, a comfortable, un-pretentious atmosphere, good food and staff who really knew and loved their beer. But there was not a single pint on the menu. Think about that. The largest serving size for a draught beer was eighteen imperial ounces, two ounces short of a pint, and there was only one! All the others on offer were considerably less than a pint. To be fair, there was no misrepresentation. The serving size for each beer was clearly shown on the menu, and the word “pint” was nowhere to be seen.
This is different from what happened to me many years ago, when a bartender claimed that what looked to me like a half pint was in fact a “Leffe pint.” When I politely but firmly pointed out that a pint was a pint and that there was no such thing as a “Leffe pint,” I came close to getting thrown out. I had no idea that that incident of the rogue “pint” was just the beginning, that one day we would have pubs without pints of any kind, real or fake. Repeat that to yourself: pubs without pints. How strange it sounds. But it’s true—hidden in plain sight, open, above board, in black and white on the menu. Pubs. Without. Pints.
Why does this matter? It matters because anything less than a pint not only lacks that wonderful heft as you raise the mug or sleeve to your lips—that sense of abundance, of the fullness of life—it also fails to provide the all-important pressure behind the volume of beer filling your mouth. It’s just not the same.
I feel like the prole in Nineteen Eighty-Four, whom Orwell’s protagonist, Winston, has followed into a “dingy little pub”:
“’E could ’a drawed me off a pint,” grumbled the old man as he settled down behind his glass. “A ’alf litre ain’t enough. It don’t satisfy. And a ’ole litre’s too much. It starts my bladder running. Let alone the price.”
But with this difference: a half liter is about seventeen and a half imperial ounces—not that far short of a pint, and considerably more than the drink sizes on offer at most pubs these days.
At great personal risk, Winston has followed this “very old man, bent but active, with white mustaches that bristled forward like those of a prawn” into the pub, hoping to draw him into conversation about a past that the Party has all but erased and that Winston is trying to reclaim. But we’re more fortunate than Winston. There are more than just a handful of octogenarians left who can testify to the fact that we did indeed used to drink pints. Didn’t we? I’m sure we did.
Is it time to start a Campaign for Real Pints, along the lines of CAMRA? Maybe “CARP” doesn’t quite have the right ring to it, maybe it sounds more like cranky old age than the generous, progressive movement for gastronomic justice that I have in mind. But it’s worth thinking about. Over a pint.