There was a time when I was happy to walk into a brewery taproom and simply accept whatever I was given. In the heady, earlier days of the craft beer boom, simply being able to get fresh, local beer was really novelty enough. But people get older. Their palates change, and the common offerings produced by the industry change with them. The demographic of “craft beer drinker” ages along with you. And one day, you wake up and realize that the prevailing way of drinking beer at many breweries has simply become too limiting.
What I’m getting at is this: “Half pours” at brewery taprooms are great for the consumer. They serve a niche, allow for greater flexibility as a customer and help promote responsible consumption. They may complicate the serving process slightly for breweries (although far less than flights), but they really should be a universal part of the brewery taproom landscape by this point.
To be certain, many breweries do now offer half pours in their taprooms, whether that equates to a 6, 8 or 10 oz pour of any given beer. Some may charge a bit more per ounce for the inconvenience of pouring smaller glasses, but to be honest, I don’t really mind—I’m just pleased to have the option, and I’m not the only one who feels this way. What really seems like a missed opportunity, though, are the breweries that still aren’t offering any middle ground between “pints” and “tastes.”
Make no mistake, there are still plenty of breweries out there exclusively serving beer via “pints” and “flights.” Just last week I ran into this situation not once, but twice in the Atlanta area while visiting brewery taprooms. In both locations, beers were available as either 16-20 oz pints, or within the context of a four or five beer flight of 4 oz taster glasses—no volumes in between.
Yes, as someone is no doubt preparing to type to me in an angry missive, the serving of half pours can sometimes necessitate the purchase and storing of new glassware, which is an expense/investment some breweries don’t want to make. However, that doesn’t stop some of my favorite breweries from simply offering “half pints” or half pours in their standard glassware, which is simply filled to a halfway mark. In these cases, the breweries incurred no extra expense, but are able to offer a much more flexible experience, just because they chose to make half pours available.
And that’s just it—one of the biggest arguments in favor of half pours is the issue of the customer’s drinking experience. If you’ve been drinking from taster glasses in brewery taprooms for years, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Put simply, a 4 oz tasting glass (even when properly filled, which many aren’t) often isn’t a great way of truly appraising a new beer you’ve never sampled before. For one thing, they warm very quickly, which might be desirable for an imperial stout, but is hardly what you want most of the time in a sample of lager or pale ale. You might be saying “so drink it quickly, then,” but what happens when you’ve got five glasses in your flight? Even drinking at a normal rate, the tasters you get to later tend not to be at their best, especially if you’re outside on a patio on a warm summer day. Rarely is the best version of any beer the one you drink from a 4 oz taster glass.
Flights serve a purpose, but they’re cumbersome for employees and rarely the optimal way to appreciate any given beer.
This is not to mention the fact that with a lot of beer styles, you simply don’t feel like you’ve had a complete experience in evaluating the product while consuming only 4 oz. I realize that it might sound a little arbitrary to claim that the experience is far superior if you double that amount in an 8 oz half pint, but to be perfectly honest, that indeed tends to be my experience, and I can only speak for my own perception here. An 8 oz pour of an IPA is just about the exact amount I want in most cases, if I’m trying to assess its merits before moving on to the next thing. Where 4 oz isn’t enough, and 16 oz is really more than I genuinely need, 8 oz is the true sweet spot—a full beer experience that leaves me free for my next 8 oz pour.
In fact, I suspect that making half pours available at some breweries would largely relieve the need to offer those 4 oz “taster” pours at all, something that the bartenders would probably appreciate—not that I’m specifically advocating for it. It’s still nice to be able to get a 4 oz pour in certain scenarios (especially for high-ABV monster beers), but their utility is decreased by the fact that some taprooms don’t offer individual taster-sized pours, and only offer them within the context of a full flight. But presumably, incorporating half pours would reduce the number of cumbersome flights that bartenders have to pour in every shift.
To their credit, many breweries seem increasingly cognizant of the fact that sometimes, these mid-size servings are simply more satisfying, and have begun offering half pours in their taprooms as a result. Some have even gone a step further, introducing related concepts into their packaged beer lineups, like Hopewell Brewing Co.’s 8 oz cans of helles lager, or 21st Amendment’s 8.4 oz cans of barleywine (really a perfect serving, there). It’s clear that things have greatly changed since the craft beer world of the 2000s, where seemingly anything bigger than 8% ABV found its way into a 22 oz bottle. The greatly reduced bomber section at your local package store speaks to which way the wind has been blowing for years now.
Of course, the fact that we’re looking for an 8 oz method of drinking barleywine rather than a 12-or-more one is suggestive of the other major reason beer fans are looking for half pours these days: Many of us are increasingly trying to be deliberate in our individual levels of alcohol consumption. And in a taproom environment, half pours can be a godsend for this reason.
This is another case of speaking from personal experience, for me. In recent years I’ve taken assessment of the amount of ethanol going into my body in any given week, and decided I should make efforts to bring that number down to a more moderate level, while still being free to sample new beer and you know, do my job. And when you’re in that position, a half pour is often the best option, rather than full pints or flights that can only be had in sets of four or five. That goes doubly for higher gravity styles, even the ones we rarely think of as “higher ABV” these days. Pint of 7% ABV IPA? That’s almost two “standard drinks,” folks. Hardly ideal as a “first drink,” especially if I’m intending to have more than one.
And to be honest, I’ve come to appreciate those smaller serving sizes as reasonable for a lot of beer styles. Sure, a 16 oz pint is fine for lagers, or classical British ales, or session-strength pale ales, wheat beers, porters or stouts. But DDH, hazy IPA? Heavily sugared fruited sours? Barrel-aged pastry stouts? The beer styles that, not coincidentally, are collectively driving the hype cycle of the beer world at the moment? I’d prefer them all in half pours, not only thanks to the alcohol involved, but the sheer caloric intake of all that sticky sweet beer as well. As numerous beer styles simultaneously trend toward the saccharine, does it not make sense that portion sizes should decrease almost automatically to compensate? I’ve certainly changed my own at-home drinking habits in that way, routinely splitting 16 oz cans of hazy IPA with my girlfriend. Surely, I’m not alone in this.
There will obviously always be a place for “full pours” and full pint servings of beer in the taproom setting. Hell, there are beers out there where liter servings will remain the go-to. But even more so than the too-small 4 oz taster, the “half pour” represents the most ideal, happy medium for both appreciating a brewery’s taproom experience and remaining moderate in one’s consumption at the same time. And for a lot of beer drinkers, myself included, that’s exactly what we’re looking for when we visit a brewery.
So please, breweries: Better serve your customers by embracing the flexibility that half pours provide. The taproom patrons will thank you for it.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.