Sunday, May 31, 2015

From 2010: "Weights, measures, short pours, long odds and Little Big Pints."

Before PourGate, and prior to Bank Street Brewhouse's Indiana Statutory Compliance Restaurant Menu, there was the Great Short Pour Scandal of 2010. 

To be honest, I'd forgotten about it, and I cannot recall hearing of any follow-ups in the years since. In retrospect, it seems particularly ludicrous -- but aren't most bureaucratic hair-splitting contests?

From August 25, 2010, as originally published as a "Wednesday Weekly" column ...


Weights, measures, short pours, long odds and Little Big Pints.

NABC’s Pizzeria & Public House was twice visited last week by Floyd County’s recently installed local weights and measures inspector. His stated reason for knocking on our door was a complaint he had received to the effect that we were not offering full pours of beer.

Consequently, in order to comply with the letter of the law in a place that seldom enforces any of them, we shall continue pouring draft beer as we always have, while recalibrating the way we’ve spoken about our draft business for 18 complaint-free years, as we learn new ways to describe what we're pouring by speaking in vague shades of linguistic, liquid content.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order.

18 years ago, when Rich O’s Public House became the first-ever Floyd County bar business to boast of serving draft Guinness, we decided to make Imperial pints our default pour size, because they’re the proper glass to use for Guinness and other ales in the traditions of the British Isles.

We’ve purchased hundreds off cases of them since then. The glass itself contains approximately 20 ounces if it is filled all the way to the top. Some say it is closer to 19.2 ounces, reflecting differences in measurement between Queen and Colonies. Of course, we’ve seldom filled them all the way to the top, allowing for a proper head of foam.

Some years later, after numerous Gravity Head fests, the gradual expansion of the number of taps, a steady stockpiling of glasses and an evolution in our thinking, we added half-sized Imperials to the glassware mix. They hold approximately 10 ounces if filled all the way to the top.

Most of the signature German and Belgian glasses we use are designed to accommodate the head floating above an etched pour line, usually denoting a half-liter (16.9 oz) for German glasses, and roughly 10 ounces (circa 33 cl) for Belgians. We’ve often joked about how almost all German and Belgian pours end up over the line, thus providing the consumer with an ounce or two more beer.

Ironically, as I now understand it since the weights and measures pow wow, it is acceptable to over-pour, not under-pour, although I can envision the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission objecting to over-pouring as an invitation to inebriation, while the weights and measure department eyeballs us for deceptive under-pouring. I wonder which regulatory agency has primary jurisdiction with such matters – not that I really want to know.

Anyway, according to the weights and measures inspector, the issue is what we say we’re pouring, and what actually is poured. In the beginning, we billed our Imperial pints as … “Imperial pints”. Later, in an effort to be clear about the amount, we began describing them as “20-oz pints”. Still later, they became “20-oz pours”, as described in the menus and on the chalkboards.

The half-sized glasses are 10 ounces, and underwent a similar descriptive trajectory. In none of this did we ever seek to do more than provide approximate information to the consumer; the idea was to let people know that they’d be getting certain size glasses for certain beers. First and foremost, the important consideration to me is that regular customers are satisfied that they receive value for their pours, and are not being cheated (see “18 complaint-free years” above). My conscience is clean on this count.

However, as became evident last week, it seems that a few 8-ounce glasses sneaked into the glassware mix, and someone apparently objected. Was this really necessary? I think not. I haven’t regularly tended bar in quite some time, but surely nothing has changed since the days when I’d regularly offer patrons a top-off if the pour amount seemed too low, and so if the customer in question had inquired, I’m sure he or she would have received an ounce or two of beer as fair compensation.

Furthermore, it strikes me as profoundly strange that the complaint was directed not to the ATC, seemingly the first port of call for any tavern-related issue, but to an obscure inspector with the local weights and measures department, an office that few people even know exists.

So, what tasks does an Indiana weights and measures inspector normally performs? They come down to two primary functions in today’s world: Checking the accuracy of gasoline pumps, and seeing that scales in places like delicatessens and supermarkets are correct. An inspector can, indeed, measure virtually anything, although the law is purposefully vague about it.

When not otherwise provided by law, the county or city inspector of weights and measures shall have the power within the county or city to inspect, test, try and ascertain if they are correct, all weights, scales, beams, measures of every kind, instruments or mechanical devices for measurement and the tools, appliances or accessories, connected with any or all such instruments or measurements used or employed within the county or city by any proprietor, agent, lessee or employee in determining the size, quantity, extent or measurement of quantities, things, produce, articles for distribution or consumption offered or submitted by such person or persons for sale, for hire or award.

Beware, coal and ice dealers – don’t think you can slide past!

The division of weights and measures, the division's agents, deputies, or inspectors, and the county and city inspectors of weights and measures may go into or upon without formal warrant any stand, place, building or premises, or may stop any vender, peddler, junk dealer, coal wagon, ice wagon, or any dealer, for the purpose of making the proper test and for the purpose of ascertaining the proper weights and measures of all commodities found therein or thereon.

Our weights and measures inspector, seemingly a nice man, confided that his predecessor evidently had not set foot in a bar or restaurant for 23 years, a precedent now shattered, as I believe he’ll want to visit all such establishments to avoid giving the impression that we’re being singled out for scrutiny.

Be that as it may, the verdict was delivered: We must not try to offer approximate consumer information, only scientifically precise consumer information. In the absence of exact certainty, we must resort to the shifting sand of semantics. If we cannot pour exactly 20 ounces of liquid, we cannot make reference to it being a 20-ounce glass, or an Imperial pint, which implies a 20-ounce glass.

However, we can continue to pour the same amount of beer into the same glassware, referring to the larger one as “large,” “big,” “grande,” or simply pint. Why pint? As the inspector explained, “pint” in America is understood to mean a 16-ounce measure, and because we’d be using larger Imperial glasses, and pouring the same way as we always have, there’d always be a bit more than 16 ounces. The same reasoning goes for “small,” “little,” “pequeño,” or simply “half-pint.” It’s okay to pour more – not less.

Somewhere, another Publican shrugs.

Note that in all of this, we are being offered the admittedly attractive option of continuing to pour beers exactly as we have for the past 18 complaint-free years, only with the slightly unattractive caveat of adjusting the language used to describe the glassware so that it is less descriptive than before.

In other words, our rebuke at the hands of the weights and measures inspector has the result of compelling us to offer less accurate consumer information, rather than more.

If that’s the government’s goal, I surrender. Cue the full-throated chorus of the entire population of New Albany, and hear this rousing response: “WHATEVER.”

If the government wishes us to be creative with words, we’ll happily be creative with words. It’s really fine by me, because I’m a big advocate of words in their infinite varieties. Employee re-education surely can be transformed into an entertaining and expansive experience, in that how many different languages (and alphabets!) can we find words for “large” and “small”?

If we post these mandated words in Russian, Japanese or Chinese, we’ll be complying with the law, as there is no mention in the Indiana statute of the default language used to signify these particular content concepts. We might elect to use pictograms. Would Braille suffice for non-visually impaired patrons?


Move to the metric system?

Consult the Klingon dictionary?

Send comments and tips to me at the usual location. If I am to be annoyed and harassed by such occurrences, I intend to get a hearty laugh out of it.

And I am. I'll still be laughing when the next bureaucrat comes to visit.

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