is a member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers and a two time
winner of their Quil &
Tankard writing award.
Vince's column is now a
regular feature of
|If you are one of those who never ask price the price of a beer or simply don’t care what you pay then by comparison
you might call me frugal, parsimonious, or just plain cheap. I would disagree; I say it’s simply my being a smart
consumer who doesn’t like to be taken advantage of, that is unless we’re talking beer the likes of Westvleteren 12,
Trilliun Affogato, Pliny the Younger, or PBR (just seeing if you are paying attention). In those cases -as long as I get
the beer- go ahead and take advantage.
Last week I went to a bar that shall remain nameless (Brew & Kettle) and found that it was selling a 12 oz. pour of
Maine Woods & Waters IPA for $10. I choose not to order it despite some heckling by two self styled beer authorities
sitting next to me. After enjoying a more friendly priced beer I decided to move on to another pub. Good karma kicked
in on that serendipitous stop (The Libertine) when I found it was selling that exact same beer in the exact same
serving size for $5. Yes, that’s five, as the number of Great Lakes, the total of Marx Brothers, iambic or dactylic
pentameter. More importantly it’s five as in half of ten.
Knowing there is no free lunch I checked to see if the place was cutting any corners to keep their overhead, and
therefore prices, down. I couldn’t find a one. The bar was illuminated by electric lights; nary a candle was in sight, it
had multiple large screen color TVs not black and white, used a dishwasher (machine not person), and most
importantly, all restrooms were indoors.
We beer folks may sometimes think of our favorite pub as a clubhouse of sorts but it is first and always a business. It
must make a profit to survive. That means even at $5 a glass the renown Libertine was still making money though
admittedly the other one was making more. Of course that’s only true if people were buying the beer at the inflated
price. I’m sure a few did, probably the same folks who also bought part of that bridge to Brooklyn and had Charles
Ponzi as their trusted financial advisor.
I gleefully ordered a $5 Woods & Waters and then another. Getting a deal is always a heartwarming experience. I
eventually drank another two mainly so I could boast of drinking four beers for the price of two which is clearly twice
as good as two for the price of one. Duly fortified I triumphantly returned to the Brew & Kettle to revel in watching
those obnoxious “experts” continue to get bamboozled. Revenge, like a macro lager, is a dish best served cold.
Price gouging is not the only tool in a bar’s rip-off repertoire. Glass size is a close second. Order a pint and you will
often get the 14 ounce version minus another ounce or so thanks to a bad for you but good for the owner pour. In
addition using glasses specifically designed to fool you into thinking they hold more liquid than they really do (check
out the extra thick bottoms and heavy sides) bars use the Downsized Volume Price Ruse. In this move, beers they
formerly sold in pints now come in 12 or 10 oz. pours. Needless to say while the liquid has decreased up to 25% the
price you pay has remained the same. I asked one pub manager to justify this and he claimed it was the bar’s policy
to serve higher alcohol beers (7% and above he said) in smaller sizes to prevent intoxication. He wouldn’t explain
why, if that was the reason, I could nonetheless order two 8 oz. pours of the beer.
My next stop was The Office Lounge, an average beer bar featuring the usual craft suspects. It was there I
witnessed the In Plain Sight Glass Switcheroo Technique (IPSGST). The bar’s printed menu listed each beer’s
ABV, price and serving size (fortunately it did not list calories). As soon as the customer orders the IPSGST begins.
The bartender moves to the taps but at the last second intentionally reaches for the next smaller glass size. It’s so
brazen that it works. No one would expect it. Furthermore very few people, if any, actually read or remember the
menu’s particulars since the print size is small and the lights are dim. It is a maneuver brilliant in its simplicity and
masterful in its effectiveness.
I met several serious beer people there and noticed many ordered a beer that was listed as a full pint pour. The
bartender smoothly moved into IPSGST mode and poured the beers into a squat glass that at best held 12 ounces.
His only mistake was not realizing this group was made up of beer geeks all too familiar with this flimflam. The uproar
was instantaneous. One of the group, a BeerNexus colleague in fact (sorry, no names, he wishes to keep his
identity concealed so he can continue roaming bars righting wrongs) called over the bartender. “Why is the glass so
small?” Unfazed, the bartender went with Universal Cop-Out #1 – “it’s a high alcohol beer.” “No, the beer has an
ABV of 6.5%.” Feeling some pressure, the bartender, then said “well, that’s the serving size for the beer.” “No, the
menu lists the size as a pint.” Panicking, the bartender had little choice but to go to the ultimate saver “do you want
to speak to the manager?” Our champion of beer justice had a one word answer, “Absolutely.”
The honcho quickly arrived and was told of the situation. As he started to shrug his shoulders we unveiled two bits of
irrefutable evidence – the menu and the offending glass. Case closed. He then quickly huddled with the bartender
and came up with yet another unreasonable reason for the glass substitution. “It seems we ran out of pint glasses
and these were the only ones left.” Yes, he really said that. After our laughter died down, he came up with his official
decree that was more Dilbert than Solomon like. His told the bartender to give everyone a few extra ounces in their
glass just when it looked about 2/3 full. I’m guessing this arbiter supreme will still be at the Office Lounge for the
foreseeable future but I can guarantee none of us will.
The Red Leaf Tavern is generally regarded as one of the top craft beer bars on the East Coast. I was there for a 24
tap takeover by one of the hottest new breweries around, Cape May, from, what a surprise, Cape May (NJ). The
beers were uniformly good with a couple approaching great. Most were available in 8, 12, or 14 ounce pours.
Regardless of what size you selected all were served in the same 16 ounce glass. The trick was that the glass had
markings on the side to indicate the amount of liquid making a single glass suitable for multiple volumes. While
everything was honest at the Red Leaf I couldn’t help thinking that in the hands of a less reliable establishment this
technique could add big bucks to a bar’s bottom line by lowering the bottom line.
My last stop of the day was Magnification Brewery, only a few miles away. Two lines had formed in front of the place
so I scientifically picked one by flipping an old Ballantine bottle cap I keep in my pocket for just such situations. The
three rings of “Purity, Body, and Flavor” side came up so I moved to the line on the left. Good choice - it moved
quickly. Once inside the building I saw it led to a wall of beer – cases and cases of four packs. It seems I had
stumbled into one of Magnification’s wildly popular can release days. Plunk down your cash, grab some cans, and
head to the bar for a draft or two.
In a few minutes I found myself first in line. “What do you want buddy?” a voice said. Not wanting to offend the beer
gods or the three impatient professional wrestlers behind me I responded quickly. “Do you have any new ones?”
“Three” was the answer. Enjoying the influence of the day’s earlier consumption and the enticing smells of the
brewery I forgot the golden rule of buying – know the product and price. “Give me one of each” I proudly said.
It only took a short time to realize I was now $60 poorer with no idea what I had just bought other than it was beer.
The one silver lining of it all was that each can in the 4-pack was a pint not 12 ounces. At least I had some credibility
left as a semi-savvy beer consumer.
I carried my new possessions to the bar and ordered a glass of double dry hopped New England IPA without knowing
or caring about the size pour or if I had seen it somewhere else for less money. As I stared at my three 4-packs I
realized none of that mattered much right now; I was drinking great beer.
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