12 bars. 12 beers. One forgiving definition of ‘pint’

Beer lovers (and measurement fanatics) take note: The Lewiston-Auburn area is pouring a proper pint. Sort of.

The Blue Goose Bar & Grill, Buddy T’s, Irish Twins Pub, Schmengee’s Bar & Grille. Even La Cage, after a second, closer inspection.

In a weeklong marathon of 12 bars, loud music and a cast of patient, helpful bartenders, the Sun Journal inspected the pour size of some of the most popular bars in the Twin Cities. By the best count, $59.16 was spent on the malt marathon. The number is fuzzy, of course, given the nature of the job. (Full disclosure: Your beer-loving reporter promised to not drink beer at any bar until the research and interviewing were over, which never happened, so I almost learned to enjoy cranberry and soda as much as a beer. Almost.)

Field notes: Most bar glassware comes from distributors and is standardized across the cities. While pouring skills vary, unless noted, beers were served in conical American “pint” glasses that hold 16 fluid ounces when filled to the brim.

And the long and short of our search for the short pour in this area is that servings came to at least 14 fluid ounces — fluid, not including the foamy head — every time and more than that at almost half the bars surveyed.

How do we know? With a plastic measuring cup unseen outside the kitchen, we measured right there, on the bar counter, enduring the bemused faces of bartenders. 

The idea didn’t originate with us. Earlier this year, state Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, proposed truth-in-advertising legislation that would have required bars to pour 16 ounces of liquid, not including the foam, if they advertised selling pints. The bill made national news; Patrick explained to reporters that the idea came to him after hearing from patrons feeling they were getting shorted. 

The bill, which was amended to require all bars advertising a “pint” to serve the beer in glasses that hold no less than 16 ounces, found favor in the Legislature. It was vetoed by the governor, however, on the grounds that businesses were regulated enough. Lawmakers failed to override his veto.

With the bill passing both chambers of the Legislature, did lawmakers know something based on the complaints of constituents that we did not? 

Maybe. But of the countless bartenders and patrons we talked to in our quest to identify the short pour, a “pint” — it turns out — is all in the glass of the beholder.

Honest pints?

It’s a recent Thursday and the 4 p.m. crowd inside the Smiling Moose Tavern in Paris hasn’t filled up yet, but a band of middle-aged men is ringed around Kathy Deluca, the owner and bartender, silently nursing beers as a television overhead shows mute replays of international soccer matches. 

I’ve known Deluca for two years and she greets me with the typical “Meeting tonight?”— a question carrying a well-worn ring, as though directed to journalists of yore. But I’m here tonight on other business and the subterfuge tastes like guilt. 

I order my favorite beer on tap, a porter. Though beer sizes aren’t written down anywhere, Deluca says they come in 23-ounce talls and 16-ounce smalls. I go for the pint. 

After a few nervy moments of silence, the beer sitting untouched in front of me, I casually ask Deluca if she’s heard about the pint legislation. 

She has, but isn’t sure where it ended up. I then take the next step and explain that the Sun Journal has asked me, in effect, to root out cheater pints. I pull out the measuring cup, hidden in my bag hitherto, to emphasize the point and — not hearing anyone yell at me to get out — seize what I hope to be the social momentum to carry forward, trusting I haven’t mistaken it for shocked fury. 

As Deluca turns her attention to incoming orders, 28-year-old truck driver Levi Woodman pipes in on the topic. His take is nuanced: While he thinks weights and measures need to be standardized, he doesn’t mind if a beer he knows was said to be 16 ounces turns out to be 14 fluid ounces and about half an inch or so of foam. 

Less than that and he’s not impressed.

“It’s only an issue if it’s a glaring problem. If it’s just a little head, it’s not bad, but if it’s substantially less, with an inch-and-a-half of foam and settles down to 12 ounces . . .” Woodman trails off. 

Deluca says her biggest profit margins are off beer, but that doesn’t inspire her to pour less of it. Often caught in a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t scenario, she says some people get testy if they feel they’re being under-poured, while others want a solid layer of foam. 

Finally the beer settles: From a 16-ounce glass, there’s 14 fluid ounces of beer.

With my research behind me, I prepare to leave. Deluca’s goodbye to my retreating back is warm.

“Good luck!” 

Later that evening a friend and I end up at DaVinci’s Eatery in Lewiston. The bartender, Jess Shaughnessy, pours me Bissell Brothers IPA into what she said was a 16-ounce glass. She doesn’t skip a beat when I then mention my mission, and her face only slightly reddens when the measuring cup emerges. 

Glass size depends on the alcohol content, quantity and cost of the beer, she says. Though sizes aren’t listed, customers ordering any beer that will arrive with less than 16 ounces are informed beforehand. Some customers debate her, especially when she’s using unconventional glassware — such as Baxter Brewing Company’s, which is shaped like a can. 

“I’ve been that annoying person,” Shaughnessy says. 

When the foam settles out, I have 16 fluid ounces of beer; to our surprise, it’s a 17-ounce glass. 

When reached later by phone, Bissell Brothers co-owner Peter Bissell said the decision for their 17-ounce glass wasn’t made because they thought bars were cheating, but because they wanted a unique shape that would serve a full pint and display the beer’s aromatics. The alcohol content and price are ideal for the full amount. 

“Pints are the measuring stick,” Bissell said. 

‘False advertising’?

As my research continues over the next several days, a light dusting of paranoia sets in: Are bartenders sensing trouble and making sure to pour properly? 

After passing a cadre of bored hostesses dressed in bee-striped uniforms at Buffalo Wild Wings in Auburn, we step to a largely empty bar – it’s 4:30 p.m. The bartender has not heard of the legislation.

A small is ordered and it comes in a 16-ounce glass, which measures out to 14 fluid ounces. Next to me, Vanessa Swanson of South Paris is two-thirds of the way through a microbrew.

She’s not anxious about getting stiffed on a pour, but she feels bars could do a better job disclosing what size glasses they use. At the same time, she says there’s a distinction between ordering beer for flavor and drinking for intoxication.

“I get the idea (of Patrick’s proposed legislation), they’re screwing 1,000 people on two ounces of beer — it’s false advertising.” 

We arrive at Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston when it’s still light outside and the few tables in use are covered in platters of poutine as large groups of seniors dine. Meanwhile, one by one, in a steady stream, men of all ages are walking in and silently trekking straight past the bar — all business — each carrying a small narrow leather backpack that I later learn contains pool cues.

The bartender laughs when the measuring cup surfaces and even volunteers to test the top-bulging Sam Adams I was served: It comes in at 14 ounces of liquid.

Over at Pedro O’Hara’s in Lewiston it’s trivia night and they’re offering “talls for smalls” — big glasses for the price of a small. It’s the only place we’ve been to where the menu lists sizes: 16 and 20 ounces. But, as with the other bars, nowhere is the word “pint” to be seen — a critical distinction in the legislation. As we sit tucked into a corner of the busy bar, the “small” Sam Adams we order comes in a 16-ounce glass and pours 15 fluid ounces.

The next night, Buddy Taylor is prowling without pause behind the bar of his Buddy T’s Restaurant and Bar in Lewiston, alternating between foul-mouthed banter with patrons, delivering food and flipping off John Allard of Lewiston, who’s been coming here for years.

Allard thinks the pint legislation was petty, drummed up by pseudo-populist lawmakers who should be spending their time on bigger things.

As though to compare, he points to the muted television running a major media outlet’s nightly news segment, which by now is showing cellphone footage of a man being led away by police after he landed in a small helicopter on the White House lawn as a stunt. 

Arriving in the ubiquitous 16-ounce glass, the Sam Adams Boston Lager pours out to 14 fluid ounces. Allard doesn’t think it’s a problem, and that foam is an accepted part of the beer. If he had an issue with it, he says a  good relationship with the bartender can overcome any bar difficulties, be it the way you want your burger cooked or an under-poured beer.

Buddy, almost on cue, slings over a stein filled halfway with a porter no one has ordered — an intentional short pour.

“What is it,” Allard asks.

Buddy gets on his case. “A mistake. What? Are you going to question it? I’ll dump it,” Taylor warns, though he doesn’t follow up with the threat.

Later, smiling, Allard chuckles. This is his kind of place.

“You insult him and you can see he enjoys it. With Buddy, if you give him a tip, make it a penny at a time.” 

Not far away at Irish Twins Pub in Lewiston — where a decorative, life-sized harp with “Guinness” scrawled across it and a TV sit high above the bar — the place is mostly empty at 7:30 p.m. It’s Wednesday and still light out.

Pete Babb, 48, the owner and tonight’s bartender, has a simple philosophy when it comes to pouring beer.

“If I can get it, I’ll fill it right to the top.”

Babb pours me a beer. When the talk then turns to quantity, he says he thinks customers should get what they pay for, even if the establishment doesn’t specifically list the size of the glass: If the bar’s pouring in a 16-ounce glass, the customer should get 16 liquid ounces.

The Sam Adams Summer Ale I ordered comes as a surprise, in a 17-ounce glass; the pour — not including the head — is a true pint. 

Micro brews vs. the big breweries

It’s open mic night at Sea 40 in Lewiston. Inside, the sound of an acoustic guitar mingles uneasily with the four large television screens showing a basketball game. Like a sadistic traffic signal, green and red lights alternately shine on a gigantic statue of Buddha — according to the bartender the doors had to be removed to get it inside. The laughter has a college pitch and carries from the hibachi grills out back, partially hidden behind a beaded curtain.

Josh Pratt serves a Baxter IPA; it contains 14 fluid ounces of beer in a 16-ounce glass.

“If you don’t have the head, you’ll lose the essential volatiles. If you do have it, people think you’re ripping them off,” says Pratt.

In practice, Pratt says, microbrews differ from larger breweries like Budweiser or Miller, whose products usually allow for a fuller pint because they foam less.

“It’s different than an Allagash Black or a Guinness. A Guinness without a head? I’d cry,” says Pratt.

At 5 p.m. the Cage — or La Cage, depending on your preference — is an echo of what it will be in a few hours. A couple at the end of the bar, who will later identify themselves as Jimmy Hoffa and, after consideration, Barbara Walters, say they don’t think getting a little less beer because of foam is a big deal.

“With everything that’s going on in the world, there are better things,” the resurrected Hoffa says.

The open door to the patio sheds invites enough light to reveal the wood paneling, rough furnishing and encourage the imagination to think of a past when police would nab wanted criminals and drunken brawls were Saturday night entertainment.

It’s then that bartender and owner Randy Collins says their glasses are 14 ounces, meaning each beer is likely to settle out to about 12 ounces, which sends off a silent alarm that not everything has been for nought: At last, the allusive cheater pint.

But it goes awry here. Collins is too nice, and unsettled; I don’t measure the beer.

Resolving to return, we go back a few nights later and the place is overrun by middle-aged women with mixed drinks, bald men with facial tattoos for whom pool was a mirthless contest of stoicism, skinny men with long hair strumming unplugged electric guitars while a band tries jazz in a corner. The bar’s mood is unflappable when a tall man in bright-white overalls and lime-green accented sports shoes paces between his seat and the bar, smiling. 

It’s a good thing I double check. With a new bartender twice inquiring “What are you doing?” the Smuttynose brown ale pours 14 fluid ounces. The glass holds 16 ounces in all. Anyone thinking that the abrupt bartenders here are siphoning profits, be on notice: They may sell three gallons of Jagermeister a week, but they’re also selling what, at least in L-A, passes for a full beer in a 16-ounce glass. 

Later, we stroll into the Blue Goose, which is mostly empty except for a woman in glasses doing a free-spirited twirl to the juxebox’s “Get Ready” by the Temptations, a few blue-collar men at the bar and a knot of 20-somethings at a booth, one of them hobbling on crutches.

In a supply room visible behind the bar the words “No more free beer for anyone!” is scrawled in red on a dry-erase board and directly underneath, on a crinkled paper slip, is a number for the Lewiston Police Department.

Bartender Ali Samay tranquilly scans the room, shaking her head gently as I pour the Goose Island IPA she handed me into the measuring glass. It measures 14 fluid ounces.

“What are they going to do next — put limits on the amount of Allen’s Coffee Brandy we can sell?”

Last sips

The bartender at Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Company in Auburn looks briefly disconcerted by my measuring but presses on, explaining that they throw special events where the word “pint” sometimes appears in print, but otherwise it’s just a question to customers: Do they want a 16- or 22-ounce glass?

The small I order comes out to 15 fluid ounces of beer in a 16-ounce glass. 

At the Fire House Grille in Auburn I order a Pabst Blue Ribbon at the bartender’s request. A crowd of regulars laughs when they hear about my assignment. Looking on with their mugs and glasses half-finished as the clock edges toward last call,  I measure: 15 fluid ounces in their 16-ounce glass.

From what we could find, the proper pint law would have made little difference in the lives of everyday bartenders and patrons. At the bars surveyed, it’s all “smalls” and “talls.” Nowhere we went was the word “pint” found advertised or on the menu, and everyone was serving in a glass that held at least 16 ounces — two key points of Patrick’s final legislation.

Reached by phone at the Legislature earlier last week, Patrick said he was disappointed the bill “went down in flames” after the governor’s veto.

Still, he hopes word has reached bars skimping on pours that their behavior won’t be tolerated. Though a Bud Light fan, Patrick said the state has become a household name in the burgeoning craft beer industry, known for its quality.

His bill, he said, was an attempt at making sure Maine’s beer industry was also known for its fairness.

“In England they get what they pay for: an imperial pint that comes with a 20-ounce marking line in a 22-ounce glass. It’s a standardized (liquid) pour and foam — the best of both worlds,” Patrick said.

Lacking such standards here shouldn’t be cause for concern. If you feel like you’re getting less beer than you should, the people I interviewed say you don’t have to take it to Augusta — your bartender will top off your glass for you.

Brad Dacyczyn contributed reporting from the adjacent bar stool.

[email protected]

Where we went and what they poured: 

(Number indicates total liquid poured, not including foam.)

The Smiling’ Moose Tavern: 14 ounces / 16-ounce glass

DaVinci’s Eatery: 16 ounces / 17-ounce glass (Bissell Brothers Substance IPA) 

The Cage: 14 ounces / 16-ounce glass

Buffalo Wild Wings: 14 ounces / 16-ounce glass

Schemengees Bar & Grille: 14 ounces / 16-ounce glass

Pedro O’ Hara’s: 15 ounces / 16-ounce glass

Buddy T’s restaurant and bar: 14 ounces / 16-ounce glass

Irish Twins Pub: 16 ounces / 17-ounce glass (Sam Adams Summer Ale) 

The Blue Goose Bar & Grill: 14 ounces / 16-ounce glass

Sea40: 14 ounces / 16-ounce glass

The Fire House Grille: 15 ounces / 16-ounce glass

Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Company: 15 ounces / 16-ounce glass 

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: