Search & Distill: In Search of an Honest Pint

Oregon’s legislature just might do something about those oft-stolen two ounces.

Call me an esoteric hair-splitter, but the word "pint" has a meaning. Sixteen ounces, to be exact. When I order a filet mignon, I expect a certain cut of meat. When I buy a dozen eggs, I don't expect an empty cradle. And when I order a pint of beer at the bar, by gawd, I expect every sip of those 16 ounces. Unfortunately, and perhaps unwittingly, many bars and restaurants short-pour you. Those simple, tapered glasses you see called "pints" sometimes hold only 14 ounces, thanks to a slightly thicker bottom.Enter Oregon House Bill 3122. Introduced in the state legislature in Salem earlier this month, the Honest Pint Act states that, as an added service during a regular visit by the health inspector, Oregon bars and restaurants may request a measuring test of their glassware. If it passes the full-pint test, the establishment is certified as serving an "Honest Pint," good for two years and for the privilege to display a sticker on premises. Jeff Alworth can take much of the credit for getting this bill off the ground. A much-respected beer blogger and long-time chronicler of beer for Willamette Week, his Web site, HonestPintProject.org, first proposed a non-legislative solution that the act in the legislature now closely resembles.It's math time. A keg, or half-barrel, holds 15.5 gallons of beer. Working in a perfect world without counting spillage or a thumb-sized head, that equals 124 16-ounce pints. If a bar uses a shaker pint that only holds 14 ounces, that same keg yields 142 faux-pints. If you're rolling your eyes or spouting some pithy remark involving an angel's share of beer, let me ask you this: What if a gas station charged you for a U.S. gallon but only measured out an imperial one (.83 U.S. gallons)? Would you call that the angel's share? Doubtful. Pints of beer cost twice as much as a gallon of gas. Those fat-bottomed glasses mean potentially 18 more beers per keg. At five bucks a pop, that's $90, and that means cheating could pay for as much as half the keg, depending on the type of beer. It's only two ounces, but then stealing is stealing, whether you're embezzling millions or smuggling Post-It notes.To be fair, a number of bars don't use the word "pint" anywhere on their drink menu, merely listing a price for the glass size that may or may not be 16 ounces. It doesn't stop the bartenders from referring to the beers that way, though. Alworth and I disagree on this. "If you serve a 'glass' of beer, there's no false advertising," he says. "The problem is when you call it a pint." But common sense and vernacular suggest that most consumers perceive the typical tapered glass as a proper pint.The simple genius of the Honest Pint Act, and why it will probably sail through Oregon's legislature, is that it doesn't ask for anything in the way of enforcement. Checking pint pours won't show up on an inspector's to-do list; instead it'll be a value-added service inspectors can provide to those bars and restaurants that wish it. That'll raise extra funds for the agency and only cost them a little paperwork. The Honest Pint stickers allow businesses to champion the cause with consumers through positive reinforcement. As with many ideas born in our plucky little sister to the south (craft spirits, the bartenders' guild), expect something like the Honest Pint Act to hit Washington soon.mdutton@seattleweekly.com

 
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