The Frothy Case of Agnes the Barmaid
Perhaps surprisingly, it is not that often weights and measures legislation crops up in the day job of a licensing solicitor; but in my additional role a a trainer of the personal licence holder course it is one of the most lively parts of the day.
One of the questions I always get is whether the “head” is legally part of the pint. This leads me on to the story of Agnes the Barmaid.
Agnes worked in a “traditional public house” (i.e. some spit, some sawdust, three men and a whippet – you get the idea) and I like to think of her as the sort of landlady you would not want to fall out with. Agnes runs a tight ship and she takes no nonsense. Trading standards visit the premises one day to conduct a “test purchase” and they order a pint of Tartan Special from Agnes. The officer applies a defoaming agent to the beer; and alas after the froth dissipates it turns out to be a short measure, and Agnes is charged. She pleads not guilty. Trading Standards are amazed, when the facts are scientifically uncontestable.
When the case gets to court, the judge asks Agnes to explain herself’ and she simply replies: “They didnae gie me the chance to top it up”.
Never under-estimate the wily publican!
So is the head part of the pint?
Legal eagles may wish to take note of some of the seminal cases here – Marshall v Seales  Crim LR 667; Dean v Scottish and Newcastle Breweries Limited  SLT Notes 24 and Bennett v Markham  3 AUER 641. The upshot of all this is that the head CAN be a part of the pint measure and “top-ups” may be relevant depending on customer expectation. The general expectation from industry practice appears to be that the “pint” equates to 95% liquid and 5% head, or froth. Let me put it another way – if you order a pint of Guinness, would you prefer the black stuff to go to the rim of the pint? Of course not. Expectations of what may be a “reasonable” head, however, can vary depending on geography and believe it or not this is recognised in the case law. Persons in Yorkshire and persons in the south East of England have differing views on what a “reasonable” head is. What may pass as a reasonable head in Yorkshire (or Scotland for that matter) may have more southernly drinkers crying foul.
Pint glasses may have a particular stamp with the wee line (you know the one), in which case the liquid should generally hit the “line” and the head will be above, but not all glassware has the wee line. It is not uncommon these days to see a notice behind the bar confirming that the staff will be happy to top up the pint if there happens to be too much froth.
And what of Agnes? Well, I have no idea if the person in that particular case was indeed a hardened battle-axe of a landlady named Agnes – but I like to think so.