Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Third of a pint v. try before you buy

Woman with a third pint glass.
I've noticed that my local, the Guest House, has recently begun to offer beer in thirds of a pint so that drinkers can try beers they're not sure about. While I know some people who like the idea, personally I'd rather buy a pint for that purpose. It's obviously a good idea for those who don't want to risk being stuck with a drink they don't like, and who find that even a half is too much of a leap in the dark. Fair enough ~ each to their own. I can also see that drivers wouldn't want to risk wasting much of their legal 'allowance' on a pint they mightn't like.

There are those who advocate pubs going further than this and operating a "try before you buy" policy, where you are given a small free sample. It is argued that this will encourage more people, particularly women, to try give real ale a go. It seems such a simple and obvious idea that you might expect it to catch on, but I can see reasons why it isn't as good as it sounds.

Firstly, it will cost the pub money, especially if hopping along the bar trying out beers until you find one you like becomes a regular occurrence in your pub. Several free samples will soon add up to a pint - £2-50 to £3 lost. With the outrageous mark-ups that Pub Cos put on their supplies to pubs, the margin of profit on a barrel is not large and could be seriously eroded or eliminated by free samples, which would surely lead to higher prices.

Secondly, my beer festival experience is that it tends to be the more experienced real ale drinkers who ask for samples; the person tentatively looking at the array of beers not knowing which to buy won't usually ask for one unless it's offered. This suggests to me that it would tend to be the experienced drinkers who would ask for samples in pubs, not the novices, so I'm not convinced this would usher in legions of new women real ale drinkers. Besides, waiting to be served behind someone who is going through the beers, sniffing, sipping and holding them up to the light, is not what I want to be doing in a pub. And there would always be the selfish oaf who would insist on doing that three minutes before closing time, not caring about the queue waiting to be served behind him. It's no good saying there should be more staff ~ perhaps in an ideal world there should, but most of us know the precarious financial state of many pubs.

Thirdly, while a sample may let you know you'll strongly dislike a particular beer, it may not do other beers justice. Sometimes it takes several mouthfuls rather than a quick sip before my palate adjusts to a beer, especially if I've just finished one with a very different character. As a result, I've sometimes been initially disappointed with a pint, only to find I quite like it about a quarter or a third of the way through.

If a pub feels confident it can afford to offer samples, then that's all well and good, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect this to become general practice. That's why I welcome the use of third pint glasses, even though I doubt I'll ever use them myself.

Not all third pint glasses look like the one illustrated; many just look like very small halves.


  1. The Dog and Partridge in Standish (now closed) used to have third pint glasses which I used to take full advantage of. Having to drive there, it did mean that I could sample up to six different beers (Depending on their strength)and still be in as you put it within my legal "allowance". The following night I could go back and have a pint of my preferred beer. Personally I would like to see more pubs adopt these glasses as, "one for the road" may be more responsible if it were a third rather than a half pint glass.

  2. It was as I was finishing this post that I realised that third pints are fine for drivers. If they can't have quantity, at least they can have variety.

  3. I can see that a third of a pint is going to add up very quickly if they give it away - a determined beer trier could easily get a free pint of an evening.
    It would though be a useful volume to be able to buy. I've been known to buy two half pint of different beer as opposed to a whole pint of one.
    I don't think I've ever asked for a taster - if it's worth trying, it's worth paying for. Only twice that I can remember have I had a pint so bad it had to go back.

  4. I would like to see third pints at more pubs, the York Brewery pubs do a tasting tray for about £3.50 which is six third pints in a numbered tray so you know what beer is which.

    Lovely way to start a session in the pub, once done you know what beers you want to continue with. Also a good lunch time buy to go with your food depending on beer strengths you go with.

  5. Six third pints for £3.50 represents an absolute steal and I'm frantically attempting to source a beer map that shows me my nearest York Brewery ale house.

    I don't think it's beyond reasonable expectation to have the briefest slither of booze plonked before you in the name of helping you to decide whether or not to spunk £3 on a pint of the same stuff.

    You make good points in favour of the beer purveyor, but not necessarily for the benefit of the imbiber.

    That having been said, I can't think of another industry where you get to try before you buy as a given. Even Blossom Hill doesn't do it - and they should be giving that stuff away.

  6. I didn't think I was making points solely on behalf of the purveyor. I was just questioning the conventional wisdom that 'try before you buy' is the way forward for pubs and real ale drinkers, especially women ones.

  7. Try before you buy sounds good but I can see the problem from the landlord finances problem too. I would like third pints to be sold as the cost would be fair to the pub and the customer. A lot of them would probably be £1 in London which is not bad for test trying a beer.


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