Absolutely, Positively, a Dick Move

Who went to Beervana this year? Did you all have as excellent a time as I did? Were all the the beers you tried absolute blinders? Did you feel that the vibe was on point and the effort from the vendors top notch? Were you stoked that the southerly wasn’t blowing, so the stadium was actually at a temperature humans could inhabit? Good on the organisers for sorting that one out.

In all seriousness, I was very impressed with Beervana this year and I’m stoked to see what next year will bring. Well done to Sarah Miekle, The Wellington Culinary Events Trust, Beth Brash, the breweries, restaurants, and of course everyone else who contributed in in any way, shape or form.

I had a great time, and so to did a lot of visitors to this city – Wellington was chock full of Aussies, Brits, Americans and of course, New Zealanders from every corner of the country. And here lies the only tiny little blotch on the whole event. A small group of people; I don’t know who or from where (and I really don’t care) came into town, visited various bars and left behind these little cards:

CardAs you can see, the accusation here is that the bars, which offer a serving of beer smaller than 562 ml are ripping off customers.

11056544_10153505379790586_186756547978479258_nThese are pretty serious claims, which I like to repudiate. Before I begin, I must point out, none of these cards were left at Golding’s. They were however, left at Hashigo Zake, Malthouse, Bethel Woods and Little Beer Quarter. As such, the views I’m going to put out in this post are entirely my own and do not represent those of my employer.

At the same time, I feel it is appropriate for me to comment because Golding’s uses the same pricing formula (give or take) as all these other bars. I am the person who sets the prices of different products at the bar. By extension then, these people are accusing me, personally, of ripping off our punters. I take exception to that.

What You Got Right:

Yes, you are correct. 425 ml does not fit any official definition of a ‘pint’. There are several different definitions of a ‘pint’, which vary depending on where you are in the world and what you’re measuring. When it comes to beer, a ‘pint’ is technically either 568 ml (strangely, not the 562 ml mentioned on the card) or 473 ml (which, for the record is what Hashigo uses).

So technically, you are correct. Bully for you. But you’re also wrong: since we adopted the metric system in 1976, the definition of a ‘pint’ ceased to have any legal relevance. In the same way that I can’t sell you a ‘pound’ of butter or a ‘gallon’ of petrol, without telling you the relevant mass in grams or volume in litres, technically I can no longer sell you one ‘pint’. I have to sell you X number of millilitres.

But that’s not quite how modern language works and people still order ‘pints’ in bars. The difference is that now the common usage in New Zealand is that ‘pint’ means “the largest single-serving of beer you offer”. You may not like this usage. You can protest it until you’re blue in the face. But you won’t be able to change the way people use the term.

So congratulations, this make you the beer equivalent of King Canute, telling the tide to turn back. It ain’t gonna happen.

What You Got Wrong

Everything else. But let’s start with the assertion that you have been served “34% less beer for the same $”. This is utterly false.

Let’s have a quick talk about the price of beer. Basically, I’m going to give you two links: Stu’s breakdown of the cost of a Yeastie Boys Beer. Also useful is Dom Kelly’s breakdown of the pricing of different beers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Basically, beers are priced according to margin. Breweries set the price of the keg, then we put on a retailer margin (~22%), and then GST on top of that. Now of that margin, it breaks down in various ways. The biggest cost that needs to cover is price of the beer. After that come staff wages, and following that, various other expenses, ranging from rent, to electricity, to freight on empty kegs, to sanitising solution for our dishwasher, to cloths for drying glasses, to food grade carbon dioxide bottles to push the beer through our taps and a million other things.

After all of these is profit. Now we are profitable. We need to be. We’re a business, and this is capitalism. You’ll have to take my word for it, but let me assure you, neither Golding’s, nor any other beer bar in Wellington will ever make its owners fabulously wealthy. I will never be a millionaire from working my job. Hell, I’ll probably never be able to own a house.

What I’m really getting at here though, is that beer prices work on a set margin, and this is calculated by the millilitre. So your assertion that you should get more beer for the same price is ludicrous. Working off a margin, if you wanted 568 ml of a beer that costs $10 for 425 ml, you would need to pay $13. If it was a more expensive beer, say a big Imported IPA that cost $12.5 a 425 ml, you’d be paying around $17 an imperial ‘pint’.

Now I’m perfectly willing to do that for you. Come in, tell me who you are, tell me you want an imperial ‘pint’, and I will make a product item in our till system just for you. But you better be willing to pay, because if you think you should be getting a 568 ml serving for the same price as 425 ml, then you are delusional. That’s not how mathematics work.

“But Dylan,” I hear you say, “In XYZ town/city, I can get an imperial ‘pint’ of the same beer for less than $13”. Yes, this is true; I quite enjoy going to Nelson or Christchurch and paying slightly less for beer. The reason for this is because of variation in local economies. Just like the cost of rent changes from city to city – renting a two bedroom house in central Wellington or Auckland will cost you much more than a similar house in Hamilton – the cost of beer will vary from place to place (in fact rent is one of the big factors).

If you’d like a more dramatic illustration of this, then all you need to do is step over the Tasman. I’ve met Australians who have been astounded that they can get a Coopers for the same price (or even cheaper) in New Zealand than they can at home. On the other hand, in parts of America you can pick up a ‘pint’ (of the 473 ml type) for the equivalent of $4-6, plus tax and tip.

But the most extreme example I’ve personally come across is Norway. In Oslo I paid the equivalent of $18 for what amounted to 300 ml of 7% beer (I was almost never served a ‘pint’ in Scandinavia). And you know what? I didn’t feel the need to complain. Because that’s how the world works. If I can’t deal with that fact, that’s my problem, not the operators of the Norwegian bars and restaurants I visited.

If you really can’t enjoy a beer because because it came in the wrong glass size, for slightly more than you might pay elsewhere, then I don’t think you’re a good Beer Geek. In my books you’re a pain in the arse with entitlement issues. But enough of this. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Why I’m So Angry

This really boils down to two things. First of all, the way the message was delivered. Note cards? Dropped on the table as you scarpered? What are you? An emo 16 year old? A passive aggressive flatmate, leaving notes for everyone around the house before locking themselves in their room?

That’s not how adults should behave. If you have criticism for someone, you discuss it privately, in person or via message. Or, you could face up to your peers and state it in a public forum. God knows I spend a decent part of this blog criticising people in the beer industry, but I sign my name to it. On the left hand side of this page is a link to my Twitter, where anyone can contact me.

Dropping an anonymous note is cowardly. But even this isn’t what annoys me the most. What really gets me going is the accusation that I, or any of my fellow Bartenders/Owners/Managers are deliberately, maliciously, ripping people off.


I am an honest human being. If nothing else, let that be the last thing they say about me. When I’m gone, put that on my gravestone. You’re accusing us of setting out to swindle. I wouldn’t do that to a stranger, and our customers aren’t strangers to us. They’re our friends. You think we’re being greedy when we set our prices? I assure you we’re not. I spend a big chunk of my week buried in the company accounts. I know the numbers inside-out.

Yes, we make money. We’re businesses, not charities. We need to make money if we’re to survive. Because this is our livelihood. Each bar has at least half-to-a-dozen employees who also rely on their jobs to live. And it’s not just us. It’s the whole damn industry – the distributors, the logistics companies, the brewers, the hop and malt growers, the brewery equipment manufacturers and thousands of other invisible people cash their paychecks when you buy a beer. To be sustainable everyone down the line needs to make money, or the whole thing doesn’t work.

But if you honestly think that the markup is too much, feel free to open your own bar in Wellington. Charge what you think it should cost. Put us all out of business even. Be our guest.

Мы вас похороним.


22 thoughts on “Absolutely, Positively, a Dick Move

  1. Hear hear.
    I find it saddening to see an insidious and passive-aggressive effort to convey a message that is in effect pointless moaning by leaving these cards.
    People ought to have the courage of their convictions and discuss their gripes face to face or not at all.

  2. Fair enough if you have an issue don’t hide behind anonymity, do something proactive (and personable) to get it sorted. However, on the flip side bars should also be prepared to tell it how it too is instead of hiding behind some unknown, dimensionless and hence meaningless term for “the largest portion of beer we serve” aka a “pint” I fully accept that good beer comes at a price but don’t hide behind anonymity of some useless measure, tell/show me what you are actually selling. (note i have no knowledge ;of what/how you might address this in your bar but would be interested to know)

    • This is a bit of a quandary, that’s true. Every bar mentioned (except HZ) uses a boston glass with the measure stamped on the bottom. A few also list their glass size on the bar menus.

      Most punters aren’t that concerned. If you try to have the ‘We don’t serve pints’ conversation, they’ll mostly reply with ‘Sure, just give me the largest size, please.’

  3. Contrary to Jono and Nigel, I’ve got zero problem with anonymous comment as such. It can be a smokescreen for dickishness — but in those cases it’s the dickishness that’s objectionable, not the lack of a full name and contact details. There are sometimes excellent reasons for non-face-to-face criticism, so let’s not make a baby-and-bathwater mistake, here.

    Meanwhile, Jono — nice to see you roundly condemning this, but I’d add that people should also front up when they fuck up, and Ned, yourself and co. were definitely skating too damn close to the line of fomenting Christchurch-Wellington animus recently, and you’ve yet to cop that.

    And Nigel — that’s a bit of an overeager complaint, in the wider context of hospitality. Restaurants aren’t expected to quantify a “slice” of cake, or the relative exact size of a main versus an entree. I’m all for precision, but in moderation! So long as servings are within the sensible bounds of commonly-understood language, there’s no need to go further up front. (Although yes, if the customer asks, staff should absolutely be able and willing to give specific measurements, just like bottles sitting on shop shelves are expected to.)

      • The pileon a little while back on SOBA’s Facebook page, where Ned led (and you and others joined) a wrongheaded and breathless whinge about an alleged Wellington bias. That’s what I was referring to.

    • I have to say Phil that reading your response to this saga makes me think there is a Wellington Christchurch rift, fuelled by you. Why are you so angry.
      Ned is a good friend of mine and this public attack on him is totally uncalled for.
      By the way, I love the Wellington craft beer scene, i didn’t have anything to do with the leaflets, glass sizing is an issue in NZ bars.
      I went to a swanky new bar down here in Christchurch and was served a ‘handle’ of craft beer.
      It looked like a 500ml serve. After we finished , i was with Ned, we brought a 330ml bottle of Epic.
      It filled the glass!
      Wellington craft beer bars obviously aren’t the problem.

      • Ugh. Foolish of me to think anything constructive could come from raising this. My apologies to Dylan for fouling his thread, but Ned’s post and its after-effects really stuck in my craw.

        Ned accused Wellington SOBA of basically hijacking the organisation and particularly of “pissing in the pocket” of local bars with apparently-relentless promotion on the Facebook page. He did so aggressively, without seeking to figure out what was going on (as it turned out, every region had access to the same page, some just weren’t keeping up with posting their local events), and breathlessly talked of breaking away a splinter group over the issue. This was joined by several local Christchurch people, adding their plus-ones. When the actual state of affairs was calmly explained, that group was entirely silent. Later, Jono recycled the charge (as if still unrefuted) on his-and-Ned’s blog.

        I think all of that amounts to a not-insignificant pile of Dick Moves. Not the end of the world, sure. But worth pointing at and saying “that there is bollocks, that is”. As it stood, without retraction or apology and with lame throwaway callbacks on the blog, it’s exactly the kind of thing that people could read and start to think that Wellington was conspiring against them. It’s really not.

        Meanwhile, I’m a full-on Cosmopolitan. That I might be some kind of pro-Wellington partisan would be a huge shock to the locals I’ve called out and criticised and pissed off over the last week, last month, and last few years. I’m a massive fan of Christchurch, its beer people and its people’s beer. I don’t get there often enough and am perpetually annoyed at that. Damn geography and economics.

        And now I’ve finished my after-work 425ml. I’m out.

  4. Why has no one pointed out that the maths is wrong? 425/568, that they so helpfully noted, gives you .76 i.e 76%. That means the “rip off” is 24%. You would at least think they would get that right.

    • INDEED!
      you can’t say it’s 34% LESS if you’re comparing it to a preference for the larger, imperial, pint. yeah sure, 568/425 is 1.336 but that maths ONLY WORKS if you’re working from the smaller amount in which it’s 34% MORE

      which is the same as 25% LESS compared to an imperial pint, if we’re going to be “generous” and say that 425/568= 0.748 instead of 425/562, equalling a lesser “ripoff” at 0.756 of the preferred volume

      see, even when they’re trying to be an anal pedant they’re a clueless twat.

  5. Magnificent piece.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t (.425/.562)*100 [sic] (as their supplied methodology informs us) equal to the smaller glass being approx 75% of the larger? Of course, this is all assuming that one enjoys one’s glass filled to the brim, with no head, and threatening to spill everywhere, all for the sake of an extra 30ml of ‘value’.

    Greetings from Oslo, by the way


    • ^ and that’s what happens when you start writing a comment, then get distracted for half an hour. Thanks Paul H

      • Hi Tom!

        From memory, I can recommend Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri, Crowbar, and Grünerløkka Brygghus. There are quite a few more, but I only had a couple of days.

        Go find the park full of weird statues!


  6. for me, its the cards themselves. those were deliberately made. the hand written notes on the back are just extensions of the cards themselves, and those that created them. so, this i a setup from someone, thats been here before, is most likely a constant whiner, bitches and moans until they their own way, or rants, makes a noise and storms off in a huff when they dont.

    irony is, this idiot(s) are most likely going to keep coming back, and complain about the same thing the next time they are here. personally i find this type of person boorish and irrelevant.

    as has already been mentioned several times, “pint” is just a term in NZ. for the most part.

  7. The first part of the discussion is ok, the second part wonking into ingredient costs and margins is pointless – as its all related to the first.
    However, to dismiss the pint as meaning nothing in the modern metric world is like dismissing a measure in miles, feet and inches mean nothing. The reality is, over a reasonable timeframe NZ bars and hotels have been downsizing their glasses like Tip top shrunk the size of their fancy tubs. To maintain costs or increase margins, the result to the consumer is the same. less beer for same cost. Its not an argument against the current establishment, as its not something that happened overnight. But it did happen. Pint still means something, its still a unit of measurement. Perhaps NZ establishments need to change what they call their glass, or define what their glasses hold – like many overseas establishments do.

    • I agree with not dismissing the different measurement references that different people may have. I’m Norwegian and we use the metric system. If you order a pint here, you should be informed that you can only get X amount of milliliters. We do not call any size of serving a ‘pint’ either. As I read the above article I took away the same; NZ does not call their glass a ‘pint’ either.

      Your point of the downsize is valid, to a point. Here in Norway we were used to the 500ml serving, and everybody would order ‘a half-liter please!’
      What happened here was that after they downsized to ~400ml, they would take the order of ‘one half-liter please!’, say nothing about the change made to serving size, charge your card and serve you the obviously lesser serving. THAT is dishonest. If they’d informed about the new serving size, fine. I can’t recall one time where they did.

      As for elaborating on the pricing of beer, I can’t see one reason why it shouldn’t be in the article. It wasn’t pointless to me, and I fail to see any harm in it being left in there. It shouldn’t be necessary to explain this in the bar, though. But the staff should be kind enough to inform that they don’t serve that size, and proceed to offer the nearest in size.

  8. Well said, Dylan! To add two points:

    1. I lived in Auckland 2009-14, for my sins; I remember when Galbraith’s retired their 568ml glasses as it just wasn’t economic anymore. A shame but completely understandable. I haven’t been anywhere since where one could get a pint that size (to my knowledge) since. Even before that, I hardly found anything larger than 473ml. It’s odd – and hostile – to single out one city years after the horse had bolted.

    2. Tonight I had a Garage Project ‘Rum & Raisin’ in a (clearly advertised) 300ml glass. At 10%, and after a very busy week, I’d be flat on my ass if I had a 568ml glass of that.

  9. Maybe you need to adopt the Australian state system of glass sizes but in a city by city variation and just confuse the hell out of every customer. Works quite well here.

    You could have a Large Welly and a Small Welly. Christchurch could have a richter rating…”Give me a 7″….and Auckland…well I am sure you non-Aucklanders can find something appropriately deregotoy.

  10. I don’t agree with the passive aggressive wimpy anonymous calling cards, or the notion that you’re getting ripped off in Wellington bars. However, when I first came to Wellington I did find it confusing that different bars had different standard glass sizes and it wasn’t always immediately obviously what you were going to get when ordering a pint. Laws around measurements are a lot stricter in the UK so it is a lot clearer what you are paying for when you order. In NZ (correct me if I’m wrong) there doesn’t appear to be any proper convention on glass sizes, which does leaves the system vulnerable to customer confusion and potential abuse. I certainly didn’t get the impression that any of the reputable places in Welly were ripping off customers though. I’ve been back in the UK a couple of years now but I still think Welly has one of the best beer scenes in the world. Nowhere comparable to places like Golding’s or Hashigo in the city I live (despite similar population size and ratio of young professionals and students), I definitely still miss it!

  11. Pingback: The Six-Pack – August 28, 2015 | BEER IS YOUR FRIEND

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