Maybe we would like it topped up after all

Four pints of beer.

We’ve always said we’re not that keen on CAMRA’s ‘Take it to the top‘ full pint campaign, because we like our pints to look something like No. 1, above.

Some people, you see, get a pint like No. 1 and ask for it to be topped up so it looks like No. 2: headless and dribbling over the sides of the glass. For a while, because some bar staff wanted to avoid being asked to top up (it wasn’t always done politely) they started serving every pint No. 2 style to be on the safe side. Eventually, we found ourselves actually having to ask for a head on our pints when we ordered them, which is silly.

Now, if we get a pint that looks like No. 3 (a little shy of the top of the glass) we might ask for a top up, or we might not, depending on our mood, how pleasant the bar staff are and, crucially, whether we think it’s been done cynically. Yes, it’s a classic fence-sitting position from us.

Last week in London, however, really for the first time in our years of pub-going, we got served several pints that looked like No. 4, in more than one pub. That is, to be clear, with an inch a centimetre or two of foam and then another inch centimetre or two of empty space, just to be on the safe side. Too much, right? (Or, er, not enough, rather.)

In one  pub, we were able to sit and watch as one person after another was given the same treatment, suggesting, to our minds, that it might be a matter of policy — that their profit margins might be reliant on consistently serving short measures to, say, 70 or 80 per cent of their customers.

If that’s what our fellow drinkers are getting militant about, then their irritation suddenly makes much more sense to us.

20 thoughts on “Maybe we would like it topped up after all”

  1. That’s exactly the point. “an inch or two” seems slightly excessive though seeing as a pint glass is only about 7 inches high ;)

  2. I generally do ask for a top up if served a short measure. One publican in Cambridge (Free Press and Alexandra Arms) uses lined glasses. However, on several occasions I’ve watched as customers asked for them to be topped up, then be explained to that they’re oversized glasses. I wonder how many of his customers don’t ask for a top up but believe they’ve had a short measure, even with oversized lined glasses?!

    1. An oversized glass is far preferable to me but I fear honest publicans are put off using them for this precise reason.

  3. A pint ought to be a pint. A lined glass, like in Germany affords “viel schaum” & a full measure. Bearded types manage it at their festivals of pong and vinegar too.

        1. Agreed – no it isn’t, except at Oktoberfest, and then mainly for foreigners. I was in Franken in early September, for example, and once the head had settled a little, the solid beer was just a little shy of the line. The barmaid topped it up unasked, saying “Ach, gibt’s hier kein Oktoberfest Mass….”
          (won’t try to transliterate the Franken dialect)

  4. Here in Ireland there’s the increasingly common problem,usually caused by an inexperienced bar person, of pints of stout being served with too large a head on them which I always ask to be topped up.

    Many years ago bar tending used to be a full-time career with experienced staff who knew exactly how long to let the pint settle before topping up, but now it seems anyone can walk in off the street and be pulling pints straight away.

    These days I despair at pints of stout being thrown up on the counter in front of me less than 20 seconds after I order them and lately I’ve taken to asking for a slow,old-fashioned pint.Really, I tell them, I’m not in a hurry.

    It’s amazing how often younger stff haven’t a clue what I’m on about.

    Personally I think it’s about time we start tipping bar staff for good service – that’ll soon learn ‘em.

  5. #2 gives you an evening of soak hands or looking like a doofus sucking the first gulp before lifting the glass off the bar.

  6. #4 is pretty common these days, as is #3. However, it is not anything new. In the 80s a friend took me to a pub near his office in Victoria. A Watney’s pub. Short pints all round. The licensee told my friend he had to get 76 pints out of a 72 pint firkin. allow for ullage and pints had to be short to meet the target. He said this was common around other pubs he knew. I wrote to What’s Brewing on this and the letter was not published as it was rather contentious.
    About 10 years later (1992) in a pub outside Reading, more very short pints (a Chef & Brewer establishment, this one). After my 2nd pint was grudgingly topped up I opined to the landlord that they should bring in lined glasses to make it easier to get a full pint. He ranted at me about the cost of introducing new glasses (just the glasses, mind you) and said it would add 30p to a pint. I suggested he was talking spheroids and we “agreed to differ”.
    I often drink in a pub which only uses lined glasses (the Dove St Tavern in Ipswich). Their beers are certainly NOT 30p more than anywhere else and you always get a full pint, sometimes pints can be rather generous. But NEVER #4. Like #1 but a full pint of liquid under any head (beer on gravity can be a bit lacking in the head department). Surely this is the perfect solution?

  7. This whole discussion sounds absolutely absurd to a foreigner. Obviously I don’t want beer slopping all over the bar, the table and me (#2). Obviously I don’t want the glass totally full so that there’s no room for aroma (#1).

    With pint-as-line you can avoid all this, and still get a full pint. Where is the problem? Why would anyone ever think about using anything else?

    1. Lars -
      There are commercial considrations to take into account here, unfortunately.

      The big pub-owning companies are dead against oversized, pint-to-line glasses as very often barstaff just fill the oversized glass to the top to avoid a confrontation with the customer. As has been said, the request to top the pint up is not always done politely.
      Therefore there is pressure from the pubco’s for breweries to supply their branded glassware as pint-to-brim. There is a real possibility that brands which don’t comply with this will be dropped from major pubco accounts.

      1. That makes sense.

        So ultimately it boils down a problem with educating bar staff, or, if you will, a cultural issue resulting from having used unlined glasses for so long.

        Other countries have made the switch, though, so it’s not impossible that it could happen in the UK, too, in the longer term.

        1. You’ve hit the nail on the head in your second paragraph – many drinkers expect to see beer right to the top of the glass.
          Remember too, that in the south, drinkers don’t expect as much of a head on their pint generally.

  8. The Dove street inn in Ipswich does charge a bit extra for a pint as they expect to get only around 62-65pintsout of a 72pint firkin using lined glasses normal wastage etc (and yes someone always asks for a top up) but it’s certainly no more than 5p-10p and most of the pubs in the town charge around those variations (some considerably more) anyway. the Mulberry tree in the town also uses lined glasses and its a similar approach I think.

Comments are closed.