Caveat Drinkor

Roofies aren't the only reason to keep an eye on your glass.

Lead toys. Mad cows. Salmonella tomatoes. All have spurred governmental action.

And now, the latest consumer scandal to beg for a legislative fix: "cheater pints," a phenomenon that's been happening right under Portlanders' gin-blossomed noses (see "Kvetchfest," WW, April 9, 2008). Help may be on the way, though.

But before we discuss a state legislator's proposed fix, here's some background on the issue.

Say you go to the bar and order a pint—by tradition and definition, 16 ounces of liquid. Only the keenest drinkers (that is, both the most drunk and the most sober) will notice when their beer comes in a thick-bottomed glass holding only 14 ounces. Thus, the bar squeezes another buck out of its keg, while you're robbed of every eighth beer. The humanity!

"Let's be real. In 2008, it doesn't make the top 100 issues—even in Oregon," says Jeff Alworth, a Portland State University researcher and "beer blogger" who founded the "Honest Pint Project," a group petitioning for state glassware regulations.

How prevalent is the cheater pint? No one knows for sure, but WW tried to quantify the "problem."

Several Portland restaurant-supply companies say most of their customers buy full-size pint glasses. For instance, Tom Rose, of Rose's Equipment and Supply, says his company has sold 526 cases so far this year of 16-ounce glasses and only 73 cases of the 14-ouncers.

Rose knows how those pseudo-pints are being used. "It's unfortunate. How can you call it a pint when it's not?" he says. "I look. If I'm out drinking a beer, I look." (But he never complains, because the cheater might be a customer.)

According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Washington, D.C.-based Beer Institute, more than 2.7 million barrels of beer were sold in Oregon in 2006, the latest available year for complete stats. Nearly 15 percent of that was draught, not bottled.

So taking as a baseline the suppliers' sales figures—that about one in eight "pint" glasses come up short—we can estimate that Oregon beer-drinkers are cheated, ounce by ounce, out of more than 1.7 million pints every year.

And this when you can't even get a buyback.

But the "cheater pint" problem is now on the state legislative agenda, thanks to crusaders like Alworth (a former WW beer writer who was himself inspired by former WW beer writer William Abernathy) and nagging calls from reporters.

The Wall Street Journal just took up the cause, reporting this month that state Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) hoped to "fund monitoring of beer portions by the state's agriculture department." While the OLCC handles most booze rules, glassware standards would fall under the ag department's Measurement Standards Division.

Clem, who is "not a huge drinker," tells WW he doesn't envision a statewide force of "beer cops" armed with measuring cups.

Rather, he hopes the industry can be persuaded to help pay for an inspection program, assuming that an "honest pint" certification could provide a marketing opportunity.

"It might be a tourism thing," says Clem. But merely ensuring that beer drinkers get a fair deal? "I don't think the industry's going to be into that."

The Clem proposal "might be something we would be interested in doing, but I never know what our members are going to say," says Oregon Brewers Build Director Brian Butenschoen.

Russ Wyckoff, who heads the state Measurement Standards Division, wouldn't mind doing beer inspections, if there's money available. But Oregon doesn't employ a full-time inspector for packaged meats, let alone beers by the glass.

If he had more money, "there are a number of areas that I think would have more impact than checking pints," Wyckoff says.

Besides, where does it end? Why not coffee? What is a "Venti," really?

And banishing "cheater" glasses doesn't solve the most prevalent beer scam of all. What bartender hasn't heard the call, Hey, how 'bout some beer with that foam?

"There's always going to be people who whine about short pours," says Alworth. "That's a whole other ball of wax."


Laws in the United Kingdom mandate that beer be sold "only in a quantity of 1/3 pint, 1⁄2 pint or a multiple of 1⁄2 pint." Across the pond, though, the royally approved "Imperial Pint" glasses hold 20 ounces.