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Does the arrival of the schooner herald the death of the traditional pint?

The wide-spread adoption of the schooner across Scotland is a cause of consternation for many of the country's traditional drinking populace, Sean Murphy finds out if the pint is about to be replaced.

Published: March 21, 2017
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The recent growing trend for drinkers in Scotland being more discerning when it comes to what they imbibe has seen the pub landscape in its major cities change dramatically over the past few years.

The old staples of a half and half and the spirit and mixers combos of the past few decades have given way in recent times to craft beer, small batch gins (and garnishes galore), imported rums and single malt whiskies.

All of which have been noted and accepted by pub regulars with reactions that range from raised eybrows to full on adoption but few changes have illicited such a heated response as the introduction of the Schooner, a type of glassware first made popular in Australia, defined as being 450ml or 2/3rds of a pint, it was legalised in the UK in 2011 after a concerted push by health campaigners and craft brewers like Brewdog.

"Schooners are simply another hipster trend" - Frank Murphy, manager at the Potstill

Arguments for and against the new style of glass are varied but health campaigners pushed for the new legislation to allow the lesser measure in a bid to help combat binge drinking.

In Glasgow, the situation reached fever pitch when a range of established bars and newcomers began to use the 2/3rds pint glass as their standard method of dispensing beer, a move which proved too much for many of those who had watched their beloved bars transformed from bog standard city centre pubs into emporiums of global lagers, IPAs and cask ales.

Distill, a bar on the city’s vibrant Finnieston strip, made the decision to switch from pints to schooners in December last year and have received (mostly) positive feedback since the change.

General manager Kevin Smalls believes the schooner is better than the pint because it means people are getting the chance to sample a greater variety of beers, a concept the bar itself was built around.
“A few people have said ‘I won’t come back’ and that’s up to them, but with the schooner we feel customers try more of a variety than with pints, we like to sell drinks that are interesting, we want to engage people and get them trying different things.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion but we think it’s better for the product and people are getting a better experience with them. “I do think if we’d done this a few years back we might be struggling but nowadays people understand quality and that we want to sell the best standard of beer we can, we also find there are fewer glasses with beer left in them at the end of the night so there’s less wastage too.”

Distill serves two styles of schooner the pint like tall glass and the tulip version. Picture: John Devlin

Distill serves two styles of schooner the pint like tall glass and the tulip version. Picture: John Devlin

Perhaps most interestingly is the vocal minority who have taken to review sites to air their displeasure.

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One reviewer has even gone as far to title his post "Schooners? No thanks", Kevin finds the whole thing a little bemusing. 

"We've had reviews that read 'let's forget about the great food and beer selection, Distill now only serves schooners, end of', it's pretty incredible that some people feel so strongly about glassware.

The bar manager, who has worked at Distill for two years, is also quick to point out the misconceptions surrounding the glassware, not just in the price but also in the quantity too.

“People think they are getting way less than they actually are with a schooner, as soon as they see the glassware they realise it’s not actually a third or a half pint and there isn’t this huge drop in quantity, we also adjusted the prices to match”.

“It’s £3 for a shcooner of Tennent’s, you know that’s pretty reasonable compared to some of the other bars in the area.”

Jehad Hetu, who owns the Grunting Growler, a craft beer shop in nearby Old Dumbarton Road, agrees, particularly with the idea that the quality is better in smaller measures, he added: “We’ve just got a new license for the shop for on sales, and we only offer 1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 pints. I find the beer stays more fresh, and doesn’t go warm.

"Also, we’d rather people drink less beer, but drink more variety.  There’s too many different styles of beer out there. And too many great breweries to try.”

Sean Brown, who runs the Brewdog bar in Stirling, believes that due to the recent rise in better quality beer, the schooner is now a better fit than the pint glass.

"I'm not 'anti-pint'.

"But the nature of the type of beer I want to drink means it makes more sense to go for a smaller measure and personally I think the schooner is the ultimate measure for beer, especially due to modern trends, i.e. beers with higher ABVs and more robust flavours, schooners allow you to drink more widely in bars that have more than one beer on that you want to drink.

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"They also stop the beer getting flat/warm as quickly as pints."

Brown says that both the major breweries he's worked at have employed the new glassware.

"Both Brewdog and Drygate run a similar policy; beers over 6.5% will generally come as a schooner largest size.

"This not only stops people drinking too much of higher ABV beer but also makes the price seem more appealing. People are more likely to opt for a schooner of Jack Hammer at £4.35 a schooner than a pint at the best part of six quid."

Martin Renwick, general manager of the Drury Street bar in Glasgow's city centre which uses both pints and schooners, is another who can't see what all of the fuss is about.

"Personally I love them. I think it is the ideal size serving.the beer stays cold and fresh all they way to the end of the glass. We have all had that last bit of the warm flat beer to deal with, or in a lot of cases leave.

He does argue that not everyone benefits from the schooner and that it will be mostly craft beer fans who embrace it.

"It allows drinkers to sample more of what is on offer. We still get customers choosing not to drink the beer they want but opt for a second choice because they get a full pint.

"Which to me is insane. Their only reason for it being that they get more.

"I know when Websters [a bar on the city's Great Western Road] first opened they were exclusively serving schooners but after months of complaints they started serving pints.

"From a business side of things I can't see any reason not to offer a 2/3rd pint option."

Emmett Timoney, deputy general manager of The Raven, believes that schooners could be a trend that continues to be popular going forward, he said: "Schooners are a great option for a premises stocking products with a wider range of ABV. It helps promote responsible drinking, it helps regulate the pricing of high ABV beers.

"At The Raven however we try to vary our products as much as possible but we are mindful of keeping the beers accessible - you'll rarely see a beer above 6% here.

"Strangely it's something I've never been asked about by customers here at The Raven; I think it's just a cultural thing. However with the craft beer market booming and drinking culture beginning to shift, I reckon in the coming years we may well see a change in habits from the next generations of drinkers."

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Colin Valentine, national chairman for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), says that the real ale group have no problem with schooners but believe the customer should be given the choice, he said: "We have no problems with schooners, as long as it's part of the offer, not the whole offer. As it's only recently become a legal measure, its still something of a novelty.

The real ale advocate believes one of the potential problems with schooners is the possibility for the customer to be overcharged.

"Whilst it's easy to multiply the price of a third of a pint by three or a half pint by two, there's a bit more maths involved matching the price of a schooner to a pint, even for a 50 something like me."

Frank Murphy of the Potstill reckons the glass size is just a fad pushed to the fore by craft beer brands and says he doesn't need another beer glass size behind his bar, he added: "Schooners are a craft beer trend pushed forward by brands like Brewdog; explored by some and exploited by others. Loosen the rules and some will try and eke another thin dime out of it. I can see the sense in ponies (thirds), but schooners are simply another hipster trend."

Perhaps then the final word should go to James Clancy, who along with brother John owns the popular Laurieston Bar. Located just over the bridge from the city centre, the bar is featured on the city’s “sub-crawl” due to it’s proximity to the Bridge Street station and enjoys a regular mix of clientele from the loyal regular to pub hopping students, all of whom head to the pub for its now much celebrated beer offering.

The pub also straddle that line between the old community-led pub and the forward thinking beer drinking establishment, putting them in the perfect middle ground for the argument that's unfolding over glassware.

James says that he and his brother are “happy to move with the times” but when it comes to the pint versus schooner debate his answer is simple.

“If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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