“Mine’s a pint!” Or is it? Depending on whether you’re in York or New York, or Jersey or New Jersey, you might end up with more or less beverage than you expected. Here’s the problem. When British people talk about pints and pint glasses, they mean imperial pints. An imperial pint is 1⁄8 of an imperial gallon, 1⁄2 an imperial quart, 20 imperial fluid ounces, 4 imperial gills (if you must), or 568.26125 milliliters. That last figure holds the key. Because when Americans say ‘pint’ and ‘pint glass’, they mean 473.176473 milliliters. The other ratios above are the same but are based on US pints, quarts and gills (although a US pint is 16 US fluid ounces). Americans being so enterprising, they also have drams and cups, as well as dry pints. But unless you’re thinking of powdered beer (perish the thought!), we’ll stick to liquid pints here.
Make Your Mind Up!
For those of you with calculators or more fingers and toes than is customary in the human species, you will know that one US pint is about 83% of a British pint. The explanation lies in a sneaky move by the Brits (hey, whatever happened to British fair play?). What the Americans use today was what the British used way back before American independence. After the American Revolution, the British changed their weights and measures system, leaving the US on the old British scale.
Battle of the Glasses
The US and the UK – “two countries separated by a common language”, as the saying goes. They’re also separated by the two definitions of the pint. With beer pint glasses, there’s even more variation:
- Straight-walled conical. No nonsense, no curves and no imagination (well, OK – “functional”)
- Conical up to the waist where the glass then bulges slightly. Like many of the beer drinkers who drink from it.
- A beer mug rather than a glass, with fetching dimples in the glass. Good fun for seeing double without having to drink too much beer.
- Like a mug, but straight sides (possibly fluted) and no dimples.
- These exist in pint-size versions and may have fancy brewer logos on them (but the beer still tastes the same).
However, what really typifies the American-British divide is the conical-nonic duo. Try the following examples to see what it’s all about.
International Luminarc Pub Beer Glass
That’s 16 US ounces of ‘shut-up-and-drink-your-beer’ to you! Actually, US beer drinkers can have as much fun drinking a good beer as anybody else. And many lagers, ales and even stouts are at home in these all-purpose, sturdy, stackable beer glasses. Their universal usefulness means they have found their way into many different countries, and they can even double as one half of a Boston shaker for preparing cocktails. Which is why they are called ‘Shaker’ glasses too.
British Pub Beer Glass
And in the left hand corner, the British pub pint glass,complete with official marking! It has to be said, Brits have a slightly ambivalent attitude to rules and regulations. For example, ID cards in the UK came to an end after World War Two, when a judge pronounced them unnecessary and promptly tore his own up in the courtroom (try getting away with that in the US!). When it comes to serving a beer in a British pub however, a pint’s a pint, no more and no less – and the pint mark on this glass helps to prove it. The ‘Nonic’ design refers to ‘no nick’: the slight bulge helps prevent chips in the rim when you stack them.
And the Future?
The US and the UK have drifted apart (blame the Atlantic Ocean). With the World Wide Web, they may drift back together again. In the US, some craft brewers are taking a stand to promote custom-designed pint glasses for their brews, instead of the conical glass. And in the UK, the thin-walled no-bulge pint glass with slight tapering towards the rim is a contender for the Nonic’s place. Perhaps design ideas will converge. But die-hard beer-drinking habits being what they are, you can expect to see conical and Nonic glasses in circulation still for some time to come.