Why not swap your pint for a schooner?

Pint preference: a barman serving up a pint of beer.
Pint preference: a barman serving up a pint of beer.

Ah, that classic English scenario. You stroll into a country pub, past the darts and cribbage players, past the blazing log fire and the display of horse brasses and you catch the eye of the landlord. “Evening, Bill,” he says. “Pint is it?”

“Not tonight, Jethro. Just two thirds for me please…”

Collapse of classic English scenario.

You might, just might order a half pint, although that is apparently not a very manly thing to do, according to a recent advertising campaign featuring James May out of TV’s “Top Gear”. Plugging some London brew, he says: “Apparently, this comes in half-pints too if you’re that way inclined”.

It has landed him on the wrong end of homophobia accusations. I never knew that drinking halves could be construed as gayness, but there you are.

But, issues of sexual orientation aside, the one thing you can’t do in a pub is order a two-thirds. Until now. Or until there is a planned change in the law later this year.

Two thirds of a pint is the equivalent of the glass size known as a schooner in the USA and Down Under, and it might well prove to be a popular innovation here in the Old Dart. A half pint – and please don’t play the homophobia card here – is rather a feeble quantity. One sip and it’s gone. That is what James May was getting at, I imagine. But sometimes a pint is over-facing. Two thirds could be a good compromise.

It would be nice if there was an olde English word for two thirds of a pint. I excitedly looked up “gill” – but that turns out to be just a quarter of a pint, which really would get James May spluttering into his beer. Wonderfully evocative words like “firkin”, “kilderkin” and “hogshead” refer to much larger units, which even the bingiest of binge drinkers would not be able to swallow.

Perhaps we will have to stick with “schooner”. In its original meaning, a kind of sailing boat, it has been around for a couple of hundred years and might be of Scottish derivation. Meaning a tallish glass of beer, it was probably coined in America in the nineteenth century but has been used in Britain off and on since the 1890s.

So, the classic English scenario might have to be rewritten. “Pint is it, Bill?”… “Not tonight, Jethro, just a schooner for me”.

This will depend on there being any pubs still in business by the time the regulations change. It’s touch and go. But the drinks industry believes – and it is perhaps clinging to a straw here – that two-thirds of a pint measures will prove to be a popular draw.

And one intriguing possibility is that the new flexibility over units of measurement might be accompanied by innovations in glass design. This is an area in which we in England have been rather unimaginative.

The choices do not extend very much beyond the straight glass and the dimpled. Lots of intriguing gender and regional issues come into play. Basically, in t’North, men – real men anyway – drink beer from a straight glass, while a half pint one with dimples is sometimes called a “lady’s glass”. Down South they all drink from dimpled glasses. What is James May’s take on that?

There must be scope for more variation in glass design and here we should look across the North Sea and learn from the Belgians. Not only do they have the best ale in the world, they also insist on every beer being dispensed in its own, highly distinctive glass.

Thus Duval comes in a bulbous glass, Hoegarden is served in a chunky, fluted tumbler and Kwak – with true Belgian weirdness – is poured into a glass shaped like a giant test tube that has to be supported in a wooden frame. Some of these glasses are so elaborate that there is a bar in Ghent where customers have to deposit one of their shoes as surety.

The brewers argue that these glasses are specially designed to bring out the best in their beers. I suspect that is a lot of codology, but it does seem “wrong” to drink a Belgian beer from any glass other than that associated with it.

Is this an extra, rather enjoyable dimension to British beer drinking that could be introduced along with the new glass sizes? I don’t suppose James May will approve, but, you know, I don’t care.