Ian Alvey planned to serve certain beers in different-sized glasses back in 2015 when he first opened the Back Page in Phibsboro.
So, for a while, beers with a higher levels of alcohol by volume (ABV) were served in smaller glasses. It made sense, says Alvey.
Higher alcohol content, less beer. “They’re meant to be drank slowly and savoured,” he says.
Several pubs across the city have rolled out these smaller glasses in the past few years, trying to match strength and quantity.
Against the Grain on Camden Street, for instance. Or the Beerhouse on Capel Street.
It doesn’t seem to have caught on too much though, says Alvey, who works for the Bodytonic group of pubs. “What we noticed quite quickly was that there were complaints and confusion.”
A Quantity Question
It’s the rise of craft beers, in particular pricey imported ones, that is behind the smaller glasses, often in the 16-ounce American pint size rather than the 20-ounce pint that has been the traditional Irish size.
How the drink is served seems to make a difference in how acceptable different amounts of beer are.
Punters are willing to pay €6 for a 330ml bottle, says Alvey. But charge the same amount on draught? “People thought they were being shortchanged,” says Alvey, even if they were getting a stronger beer.
Alvey says he sometimes served beer in small schooner glasses of 330ml, too. That didn’t take either.
But that’s the way to do it for beers of a certain strength, says Brian Conwell, who manages the Beer Market on Thomas Street, one of the Galway Bay pubs.
If a beer’s ABV is over 6 percent, that beer is served in a schooner, said Conwell. A schooner is smaller and can be shaped more like a chunky wine glass, but can mean different things in different places.
But it’s not just beers with high ABVs that are served that way.
“Some beers might have a low ABV but are quite pricey,” said Conwell. “In that case, we serve them in the schooner, instead of having a pint that costs €11 or €12. Quality over quantity.”
American beer brands like Founders and Sierra Nevada are often served in American pint glasses, he says, though Galway Bay Brewery pubs opt for the traditional Irish 20-ounce pint. “Never 16 ounce,” he said.
“I’ve worked in other pubs where customers would specifically ask for a 20-ounce pint. I’ve never had someone ask for the 16-ounce size,” he said.
“What’s the Price of a Pint?”
For now, 20-ounce pints are still standard. “It’s been ingrained in Irish people, the pint,” says Alvey of Bodytonic.
That probably comes down to the Irish perception of “the pint”, says Cormac McCool, who manages the Black Sheep on Capel Street.
The 20-ounce serving remains “the barometer for value”, he says. “What’s the price of a pint? It’s how people equate it.”
“The beer culture that we’ve tried to establish … when you’ve a 10-percent beer you’re not going to charge people €14 for a pint of it.”
Generally, the cost of Irish beers isn’t an issue, said Conwell. “Most of them would be reasonably priced. Foreign imports are usually the ones that hit you in the pocket, hence the smaller serving size.”
Belgian and American beers tend to be pricey, says Alvey of Bodytonic.
A decade or so since the craft craze kicked off in Dublin, Alvey says he has given up on smaller glass sizes. “One or two percent of our beers I’d say we do it for now.”