Generalisations about beer culture

Pints and Halves: Statements and Pragmatism

Illustration: government stamp on a British pint glass.

Everything we do sends signals — even something as apparently unimportant as the size of the glass out of which we choose to drink our beer.

I (Jessica) hit my teenage years during the era of the ladette when drinking beer, and especially drinking beer in pints, was a way for women to stake a claim on blokes’ territory. Big boots, no make-up, pints, swearing — don’t tell me what’s ladylike or how to behave! Up yours!

For as long as I’ve been interested in beer one of the annoying minor manifestations of sexism has been the tendency to assume I’ll want a half, or a fruit beer, or whichever of the two drinks we’ve ordered is (as decided by a whole set of complex subconscious calculations) the ‘girly’ one.

I realised a few years ago, though, that most of the time I do want to drink halves. I’m not very big; don’t have a great gut capacity; and even at the peak of my pissed fitness could only handle so much beer by volume before I made myself sick, which only seems to be getting worse as I slide into middle age.

Sometimes, though, I find myself ordering a pint because I can’t face another crappy, scratched tumbler, full to the brim with no head. Sometimes it’s because I’ve had a tough day and I know that I’d only be back at the bar after five minutes otherwise. And sometimes it’s the teenager in DMs rearing her head, making a point.

* * *

I (Ray) used to drink halves more often because there were so many exciting beers to taste and it was the only way to get through them all; and, honestly, because I was being an awkward sod in response to male friends refusing — literally refusing — to buy me halves because they thought it compromised my masculinity and, more importantly to them, theirs.

As I’ve drifted out of five status and into a comfortable seven, I’ve come back to pints. I drink a pint in about the time it takes Jess to drink a half. I like the feel of a pint glass in my hand, and the rhythm it gives to drinking.

My hangover limits are higher, my gut more elastic: my four pints to Jess’s two over the course of a session leaves us in about the same place.

But perhaps I’ve also just reverted to my deep programming: in my family, a bloke ordering a half is sending a signal that he’s not planning to stick about, or isn’t fully committed to the session.

I sometimes order a half just to remind myself I can and I always think, “I should do this more often.”

* * *

Ultimately, what we’d both like is this:

  1. To be able to order whichever beer we fancy in whatever volume we feel like at that particular moment without assumptions or comment, and without having to explain the reasons.
  2. For halves to be treated with as much reverence by pubs and bars as the sacred pint — nice glassware makes such a difference.

We were prompted to think about this by various things but most important the recent report from Dea Latis on women’s attitudes to beer. Do give it a read.

18 replies on “Pints and Halves: Statements and Pragmatism”

Some nice branded halves around here, especially the Fuller’s ones. Brim measures, mind you. Whereas in the crafty bars, you more often get oversized glasses, lined for thirds and halves – and sometimes 2/3rds as well.

Agreed – I like halves because I want to try a variety of beers, but also because I just can’t drink as much as I used to! But that said, the feel of a pint glass and the rhythm of it is very satisfying.

What I’d really like is for pubs to be able to sell whatever quantity they like, and adjust the volume by ABV. In the US it’s not uncommon to see glass size decrease as the alcohol content increases. No need to explicitly ask for a half then!

Although this isn’t always the case and the blank looks when I asked for a half in New Orleans the other week were quite something, it was 16oz or nothing, even on 8%+ beers (one *very* specialist bar aside…)

That would be a recipe for confusion and open the door to rip-offs – imagine if petrol stations were allowed to price fuel per 950 ml or whatever.

The requirement to serve draught beer in consistent, standard measures is a major plus point of our system. Pubs can still promote particular measures as the norm, as BrewDog do, but they still have to serve them in the defined sizes if requested.

”they still have to serve them in the defined sizes if requested.”

That’s a common misconception. Just because you can serve pints doesn’t mean you have to.
By the same token, if I wanted to open a pub that only sold pints, and not halves, I could. As long as it’s multiples of a third and you adhere to guidance on responsible drinking you’re ok.

Halves. Tricky subject, in lots of ways. It is an area where peer pressure and the round culture has made difficult over the years – if you’re male, your mates won’t buy you a half, and you’re a stingy git if you have one on your own round. And the old expectation that women would drink halves was worse, if anything. In the old days, if I had a half, I poured it into a pint glass.
And then beer festivals helped make the half seem like a winning option – you tried more that way. But usually in a lined pint glass…
And then there was the Director’s Trail. In 1985, Courage issued a scheme within the Midlands – drink a minimum of a half of Directors in 20 out of 30 pubs in a passport, and get a free jumper. This coincided nicely with the end of our Uni exams for the year. Problem was only about 7 of the pubs were easily accessible around Brum by public transport – we could deal with those easily enough (and one was almost on campus), but there were a few dotted around Worcestershire, mostly in the country, and 5 in Northampton. And so it was that we went to Northampton by train, drank in the 5 pubs (and a couple of others) over lunchtime, and got back – in time for our mate with a car to offer to take us round the Worcestershire ones. Even we had the sense to switch to that minimum half fairly early on, especially as we were having to have an extra one for the driver.
And then there were pubs selling certain stronger beers that would only sell them by the half – was never sure about the point of that, as everyone ordered two halves. Marston’s Owd Roger and Robinson’s Old Tom are beers I associate with this – not everywhere, but in some pubs. And indeed M&&B’s Christmas seasonal Highgate Old Ale – generally served by temporary beer engines that gave half a pint per pull, and sometimes rationed to just one half each in some pubs because it was so popular. Would be a great marketing gimmick these days.

And then I found Belgian beers, and the measure really stopped being all that important at all. Although I also found German beers by the litre, so maybe still slightly important…
Anyway, I lost my fear of the half. These days, I rather like halves. A good way of properly trying a beer. I prefer the heft of a pint glass, for sure. Feels right. But I’m not ashamed of drinking halves when I want to.

There is a sort of reverse prejudice within the Ticker community, where the overwhelming default position is to drink halves or even thirds. Being a full pint consumer as a matter of principle (while still being a dedicated ticker) gets me all manner of looks and comments.

References to males drinking halves are surely jocular nowadays – I’ve not heard any serious derogatory comments for a long time. In our local, a friend of mine regularly drinks thirds – he gets three different beers at once – and no one bats an eyelid.

A point worth bearing in mind on this subject is that, when you’re young, you always think other people are looking at you and judging you. And sometimes they are. When you’re middle-aged, nobody’s bothered.

Last weekend, in the very down-to-earth, keg-only Rifle Drum in Northampton, I ordered a round of three halves and a glass of tapwater. I don’t think a single eyebrow was batted.

This discussion made me have a look at what half pint glasses we have at home. I’ll disregard the Belgian goblets, flutes and so on…
Firstly, they’re all branded. Quite a few beer festival glasses, half a dozen Guinness tankards I was given many years ago – they’re actually rather nice – a couple of Wye Valley ones from another beer festival (the pint ones were fully branded, the halves were these) but my favourites are a couple of fairly heavy Orval branded ones – not included these in the normal Belgian category, as they don’t take a full bottle.
I also checked my US glasses, and found that with the exception of a couple of Otter Creek tasting glasses (4 fl oz), they’re all actually Imperial pints. Then I remembered that the reason why is that the cost of the glass was included in each case in the price of the (proper) pint, which wasn’t the case with US pints. However, I was trying to think if I had ever seen a half pint glass in the US, and couldn’t recall one – tasters of 2 or 4 fl oz, 12fl oz, US pints, Imperial pints, 22 fl oz glasses, but I don’t recall seeing a specific half pint glass either US or Imperial.

Variable pricing is creeping in to some extent – a lot of the craftier places have a nasty tendency to put the price of a pint on the blackboard where the beer’s below (say) £5/pint and switch to the price of a half or a 2/3 where it’s dearer.

The weirdest example of this that I’ve seen was at the Alphabet tap in Chorlton, which runs up to six keg lines and one handpump (which isn’t always on). In their opening weekend they had the keg & cask versions of the same beer on, going at £5.25 a pint on keg, or £3.50 for 2/3 on cask. Work that one out!

“£5.25 a pint on keg, or £3.50 for 2/3 on cask”

It’s exactly the same price. Not even the usual uplift for keg.

But also weird that they are serving it in 2/3 on cask and pints on keg. Would have thought the cask traditionalist more likely to want a pint and the crafty keg type to prefer the 2/3 measure.

For most of my drinking career I have been a dedicated pint drinker. As others have said, I might sometimes have a half at a beer festival, but in a pint glass. In the last few years I have discovered the joys of beer ticking on Untappd and the benefits of the flight of three thirds. I have also started ordering two halves if I am in a pub with several new beer ticking opportunities. I have to say though that the standard half pint glass doesn’t feel right in the way that a pint does, or a 2/3 glass. Is that down to some kind of cultural prejudice? Quite possibly. Curmudgeon’s point is well made. In my middle age I don’t think anyone is bothered what measure I am drinking, and if they are then I don’t much care anyway.

“Is that down to some kind of cultural prejudice? Quite possibly.”

From my perspective (i.e. over in Canada) I think the above has a lot of merit.

As Nick Roberts pointed out I don’t recall seeing half pint glasses over here. It could be that it’s too close to the bottle size (12oz), plus the fact that round buying isn’t as prevalent over here.


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