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 thoughts on “Pints and Halves: Statements and Pragmatism”

  1. Half-pints have missed out on the recent boom in brand­ed glass­es because the low­er vol­umes mean it’s not worth­while.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

    1. 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…)

    2. 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.

      1. ”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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

    1. £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.

        1. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. 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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