Enjoying a tall, cold, glistening pint on a hot day is nearly a right of passage for many Canadians. Getting some past your lips to help staunch the ravages of dehydration is usually more than an occasional indulgence, but really a well-earned hobby for us blue collar and white collar slaves alike.
But alas, bars and pubs in this fine nation that spans an entire continent have recently been accused — horror of horrors — of stiffing their patrons on a full 20 ounce pint.
Before an angry mob of beer-swilling Babylonians bearing pitchforks and torchs begins to gather outside the nearest public house, let me quantify that last paragraph for you in the name of justified exaggeration. Perhaps bars “across the nation” are not being informed upon as light with their pour, but in our neighbouring province of British Columbia bars and pubs have recently been subjected to a scathing review by the Vancouver Sun which found that 60 per cent of bars in that city regularly fail to pour at or near the legal requirement of 20 Imperial ounces.
To put that into perspective for a moment, according to the survey the average cost of a pint in Vancouver comes to $6.17, while the average serving size was just 17.5 ounces, representing an average overcharge of $0.77 per pint. An estimated 42 million litres of draft beer were consumed by thirsty citizens of B.C. last year, and if each pint were consumed on the above premise, that would mean imbibers were cheated of more that $50 million, or the equivilent volume in beer of two Olympic-sized swimming pools.
That’s not exactly chump change — or chump volume. And the seemingly staggering litres of beer washing down the province’s aching gullets on an annual basis? I’ll let the reader reserve judgement on that one, should the province (or the nation) need to take a lesson from the teetotaller’s handbook to prevent their livers from exploding like a hand grenade.
Such revelations about the hallowed grounds of one’s favourite licenced establishment might leave the long-time patron uneasy about the relationship they currently enjoy with their local bartender. Often the occupation is one that, besides serving up cold lager and richly-mixed highballs duals as a part-time psychologist, forgiving priest, casual conversationalist, toastmaster extrordinaire, and all around shoulder to cry on.
To borrow for a minute from something I recently read in a magazine editorial while waiting in line at the grocery store, dubiously located on the same page with a headline that read “Ten great sex moves he’ll rave about”, trust is the primary ingredient in any relationship. There are some people that can usually be trusted implicitly — doctors, clergymen, lawyers — all bound by legally enshrined codes of conduct which don’t allow them to let loose their lips to sink ships. And while bartenders aren’t bound by any legal code of conduct to keep their patron’s secrets, everyone knows some people will tell their bartender things they will never tell anyone else. And now to find that some may be engaging in the short pour while maintaining a friendly smile and willing ear? It shatters the foundations of one of this continent’s most enduring myths.
In the past, the bartender-client relationship was one in which the onus was on the imbiber to keep track of where he was on the long road that leads to intoxication. The adage “Mind your p’s and q’s” is actually one that originated in the pubs of old England, where mothers and wives would warn their wayward husbands and sons to “Mind their pints and quarts” while at the local pub, where tabs were calculated on a large chalkboard above the bar. Now it appears the patron still needs to mind his pints and quarts, but for reasons other than monitoring his own buzz — to make sure he isn’t getting stiffed on his 20 ounces.
It would also seem to me that the short pour — should such a travesty exist in our fine licenced establishments and ale houses across southern Alberta — introduces an element of grasping commerce into an entertaining environment it has no business being in. While bars are operated to make money for their ownership, short-changing every patron that crosses their threshold to save a few cents on a glass of beer? That smacks of the penny-pinching Scrooge crowd that should be visited by three ghosts on Christmas eve. At the same time, I sometimes wonder if honesty — among a host of other failings too long to list here — is the reason I’m still not a millionaire.
I guess there’s no such thing as a free lunch anymore. But there was once, back in the days before Prohibition, when ale houses and bars offered a “free lunch” to bring in patrons — usually a host of salty sausages, sardines, crackers or any number of other salty treats — which in turn encouraged the beer to keep flowing with liberal abandon. Ah, the age of the successful marketing ploy, killed by an unforgiving government. Still, the failure of Prohibition would eventually give rise to the remarkably bizarre spectacle of thousands marching in the streets with placards which read “We Want Beer” among other slogans. Well, thirsty patrons? We want beer, too — just our government-mandated 20 Imperial ounces, if you please.
Frustrated drinkers might be interested to note that Canada’s Weights and Measures Act requires pubs and bars to “deliver the quantity of commodity they are claiming to sell”. In Canada, an Imperial pint means an Imperial pint, with the margin of error defined as 0.5 ounces above or below 20 ounces “not including the head or foam”. For once the fussy British fastidiousness of our forebears appears to have paid off — that is, if it meant anything to violators. Complaints to Measurements Canada (the federal department under which such complaints would be investigated) by consumers apparently are few and far between, no doubt in part for reasons of obscurity.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel for drinkers on the short end of a pint. A new federal act designed to govern gasoline pumps across the country — the Fairness at the Pumps Act — set to come into force on Aug. 1 can also be applied to bars, with possible fines as high as $2,000 for getting less than 20 ounces at the tap.
One wonders, of course, what brilliant-minded journalist managed to pitch this malty piece of investigative journalism to their editor at the Vancouver Sun. Having come across more than my share of journalists in this business, you can rest assured the teetotaler crowd is a pitiable minority to say the least.
Sopping up a series of pints during a masterful pub crawl across Vancouver’s entire metropolitan area — all on the company dime — sounds to me like the kind of journalism one only dreams about.
On the other hand, explaining those expense receipts to the bean counters over in accounting might require one to get even more original.