If you enjoyed the light reading of yesterday’s Soup Bowl of Sake, here’s a bit more on the oddities of Weights and Measures…

The Weights and Measures Act 1985 is a funny document, stemming originally from the Duties on Beer, etc. Act 1802 and heavily tied in with Trading Standards to ensure that what you order is actually what you get.

Apart from the amount of tax to be paid, the original legislation affected alcohol by restricting the ingredients used to just malt and hops. But that’s another story.

The current legislation defines, and restricts the units of measurement and the quantities that goods can be sold in. It seems a bit authoritarian but it makes total sense every now and again when you see those articles comparing something to the size of an Olympic Swimming Pool – 2.5 millions litres. Without the Act there would be nothing to stop a pub selling beer by the 1/4399385 of an OSP, or worse still “by the glass.” I personally have found it very confusing on those rare times I’ve drunk abroad and ordered a “glass” of beer in one pub and been presented with what is approximately 2/3 of a pint, and then walking across town to order a glass at a different establishment and being presented with 1/2 a pint. Without knowing what you’re actually going to get, how do you know if it’s expensive, or cheap, or more than you wanted for “a quick half” ?

So there is the need for the Weights and Measures Act, it’s just unfortunate that it’s pretty solid legalese and has some omissions. It has been updated in 2019, 2020 (twice), 2022 and as recently as May 2023, yet it’s still got some issues, and even though they’ve recently tidied it up there are still some pretty outdated terms in there. For instance, it defines a Bushel as 8 gallons, a Peck as 2 gallons and, weirdly, a Gallon as 4.54609 decimetres. A Quart is a quarter of a Gallon and a Gill is a quarter of a Pint. It also still refers to “made-wine” which will need to be updated to “other fermented products” since the change to the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 with the new Duty system that’s in place. But they’ve not updated that Act yet, so we’ll give them some grace. The Weights and Measures Act only mentions beer twice. The first saying that it is only one of three liquids that can be sold by the pint, the other two being cider and “milk in returnable containers.”  Yeah, milk in returnable containers is to be sold by the pint, but in disposable containers can’t be. The second mention of beer in the act is to say it qualifies as an “intoxicating liquor” One other thing to notice there, and we’ll come to this later, made-wine can not legally be sold by the pint.

Nothing in the Weights and Measures Act specifies what measurements alcohol can be served in, just what units of measurement should be used. The actual Specified Quantities are in the Weights and Measures Order which is a mess of legalese that thankfully the government have provided a summary for them, even though it has a few things missing.

Still wine : By The Glass : 125ml, 175ml or multiples of 125ml and 175ml

So you can serve still wine from any container in 125ml, 175ml, 250ml, 350ml measures. But not 150ml as is sometimes seen. Also, there is no specified quantity for sparkling or yellow wine, I’m guessing because the people who write these laws didn’t want to restrict themselves.

Port, Sherry or other fortified wine : 50ml, 70ml, multiples of 50ml or 70ml.

A “fortified wine” is defined as wine treated by the addition or brandy or alcohol, so drinks like marsala, vermouth, madeira and Buckfast – yes, Buckfast is a fortified wine with added caffeine.

Gin, Rum, Vodka and Whisky : Either 25ml and multiples of 25ml, or 35ml and multiples of 35ml, but not both on the same premises.

A couple of oddities here, the first and more obvious is the use of both 25ml and 35ml. This goes back to when spirits were served in gills. In England you’d generally get 1/6 gill which works out at 23.7ml and in Scotland you’d generally get 1/4 gill measures, which works out at about 35.5ml. When metrification came along, these were rounded to 25ml and 35ml respectively and to be quite honest I’ve no idea why the Temperance Movement don’t seek to get the 35ml measure abolished instead of focussing on things like Minimum Unit Pricing and the alcohol content of beer.

The second oddity is something that has always amused me. Gin, rum, vodka and whisky. Those are the only spirits covered by the Specified Quantities section of the Weights and Measures Order. Not tequila, not brandy, not calvados or any of the other distilled fruit spirits. So legally there’s nothing stopping a bar selling Tequila by the pint; although it may be seen as promoting irresponsible drinking. So maybe only by the 1/3 pint.

Draught beer and cider : Third, half, two-thirds or a pint and multiples of half a pint

Where to start with this one?

Let’s start with the obvious part, the smallest legal measure to serve draught beer and cider is one third of a pint. You can not legally sell beer or cider by the 50ml “taster” measure, and selling something means money changing hands in the expectation of goods, so I’m sorry but that also includes all-in festivals. Absolutely ridiculous in an age when people are being pressured to drink less, that they can’t legally order less.

Here’s another stupid aspect to this, “draught” is defined in law, and doesn’t include pouring from bottles. So if you were to pour 50ml of a beer from a bottle and sell that, you’re absolutely fine. But to pour 50ml of exactly the same beer from a cask, you’re breaking the law. Same goes for cider, if you pour 125ml of a cider from a bottle it’s absolutely fine, but to pour 125ml of exactly the same cider from a bag-in-box is risking the wrath of Trading Standards. Thankfully almost all Trading Standards officers know exactly how stupid this part of the legislation is and seem to ignore it as long as the customer is fully aware of what they’re ordering, and what they’re getting. If only the legislation could be changed so that they don’t need to.

Notice anything missing? That’s right, Other Fermented Products.

There is no legislation providing specified quantities for OFPs, what were previously referred to as made-wine. The only restriction is that mention back in the Weights and Measures Act 1985 that only beer and cider could be sold by the pint, so we know we can’t legally sell OFPs by the pint.

But what are OFPs? It’s a bit of a catch-all category used by HMRC and the government to include anything that isn’t a spirit, beer, wine or cider. So it includes things like mead, sake and fruit cider. Yes, Strongbow Dark Fruits is, technically, an “other ferment product”. Which I suppose is more accurate than calling it a cider. And here’s the stupid part, because fruited ciders are not ciders in the eyes of HMRC, they should not legally be sold by the pint. Mad isn’t it? That so very many pubs up and down the country are technically breaking the law by selling fruited ciders by the pint. Mad also that if they were to sell it by the 568ml they would be absolutely fine, because whilst they can’t sell it by the “pint” there is no other legal restriction on what they can sell it by. Maybe they should sell it by the 1/4399385 of an Olympic Swimming Pool.