Measure for Measure

The brewing industry helps preserve good old British traditions  by sticking to good old-fashioned measuring systems for its products.  It has the useful side effect of confusing our Continental cousins and all those kids educated in the post-decimalisation era - but none of them drink real beer, do they???
If you ask for a beer in a (decent) pub, you'll normally be offered a pint or half pint, hopefully of a good cask ale, delivered from a hand-pump on the bar, and served in a glass which has been officially marked to show the appropriate measure. 

(And there are 8 pints in a
gallon - remember this, there will be questions later!)

The beer will have been put into
casks at the brewery (not 'barrels' - see note below) These are the containers in which it is delivered to the pub's cellar, and from which it is drawn for dispensing at the bar by the pumps.  The casks, normally made of metal today, no longer wood, normally come in two sizes - the 9 gallon firkin and the 18 gallon kilderkin

The style of glass on the left - with the fetching bulge part way down - is referred to as Nonic. 

Then there's the standard straight-sided type.

Other commonly available styles are the Tulip . . .


. . . and the Dimple

If you want to strike up an interesting - and long lasting - discussion in a pub, simply ask a couple of the locals which shape of beer glass is best.  That should while away a few happy (or possibly heated!) hours. 
And if conversation flags you can always ask them if beer should be served with a good head of foam . . .

So if beer comes in casks, don't they use barrels any more?


Well, yes and no . . . Beer is delivered in casks of firkin or kilderkin size, because those are reckoned to be most convenient for sales purposes - and in these days of strict Health and Safety rules they are also less likely to give the drayman or cellarman a hernia! But the old barrel (measuring 36 gallons) still survives in a notional form because that is how the output of a brewery is assessed - one with a 10 barrel plant can produce 360 gallons.
(End of term test - how many
pints is that?)
For those who really enjoy the details - or are simply masochists looking for a quick headache - an Imperial British Gallon was defined as the volume occupied by exactly 10 pounds of water of density 0.988859 gramme per millilitre weighed in air of density 0.001217 gramme per millilitre against weights of density 8.136 grammes per millilitre - got that?
And if you still haven't got the headache you were seeking, be aware that the capacity of a barrel has been defined in different ways over the years, being 31.5 gallons if it held wine, but 32 gallons when the contents were classed as ale and 36 gallons when beer!
Now lets put it all together - and throw in a few more to make confusion complete. One Fluid Ounce (Fl. oz)  is 1/160 of a Gallon
Gill is 5 Fl. oz  or 1/32 of a Gallon
Pint is 4 Gills or  20 Fl. oz or 1/8 of a Gallon
Quart is 2 Pints or 8 Gills or 40 Fl. oz or 1/4 of a Gallon

There is also a
Pottle, which is 2 Quarts or 4 Pints. 
I've never heard it used but it's an attractive thought:
          "Ho there, mine host, a pottle of your best ale!"
Must try that in my local sometime . . .
One Firkin is 9 Gallons
Kilderkin is 2 Firkins or 18 Gallons
Barrel is 2 Kilderkins or 36 Gallons

In the wine trade they still use
Hogshead, where it means 63 Gallons, but in the brewing industry it used to refer to 1.5 Barrels=54 Gallons. 
Similar disagreement exists with
Pipe or Butt (126 Gallons of wine, but 3 Barrels=108 Gallons of beer).  And although both trades agree that a Tun or Ton is 2 Pipes, that works out at 252 gallons of wine but 216 of beer!

And for all those decadent decimalised folk out there:

One Pint is 0.577 644 Litres

. . . and you'll have to work the rest out for yourself!

Thanks to
for most of these definitions
Return to UK Beers page Return to John & Jeannette's home page

      Return to MCW home page   

Return to Sussex Japan Society home page