Americans are discovering the joy of a true pint of beer

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AT THE BARS of the United Centre, a sports arena on the near west side of Chicago, the default drink available is Modelo, a Mexican lager that in May became America’s best-selling beer. But a popular alternative is a craft beer sold in cans from a fridge behind the bar, called “Tropical Beer Hug”. Adorned with a picture of a cartoon bear wearing sunglasses, the marketing is memorable. But to your British correspondent, the more striking part is the size of the cans. Each one contains 19.2 US customary fluid ounces of beer. That is 568ml in metric measures. But more importantly, it is 20 Imperial fluid ounces, known in Britain, Ireland and a few other former British territories as “one pint”.

In the past five years or so, the 19.2oz can of beer has soared in popularity across America. According to data analysed by Molson Coors, a big brewing firm, pint cans now make up 92% of craft beers sold in individual cans in convenience stores, up from less than 10% six years ago. Though most beer sold in shops is still in 12oz six-packs, and in 16oz measures (an American “pint”) in bars, the true British pint has crowded out other heftier-sized brews, at least when it comes to craft beers. Besides convenience stores, the format is becoming ubiquitous at America’s music festivals, sports events and other places where customers have to pick up a drink and carry it around.

Why would Americans be turning to proper pints? T.J. Annerino of Goose Island, the Chicago-based craft brewery that sells the Tropical Beer Hug, says that the initial motivation came from convenience stores. But demand has been “phenomenal”. He speculates that 19.2oz sells because it is large enough that drinkers do not need to return to the bar (or fridge) too soon, without being so large as to get warm and stale in one’s hand. Hence the success at gigs and sports events. Andrew McGuire of Molson Coors argues that the size is ideal for people who want to try a new beer alongside a familiar six-pack. Many new canning machines tend to include the size as a default, which means it is easy for brewers to produce without extra cost.

Beer-industry types generally refuse to admit any direct inspiration from British measures. “19.2oz cans are widely popular within the United States, and have been for a while,” sniffs Melody Gregson, at American Canning, which sells both tins and the machines to fill them. None calls the measure a pint; some insist on calling it a “stovepipe”. But perhaps they just need to drink a few. As James Joyce, a novelist, once wrote, “the sacred pint alone can unbind the tongue.” Chin chin.

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