Food & Drink: When is a jar not a jar? When it's a pint

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Brewers and pubs are secretly inflicting massive price increases on drinkers by pumping air into beer, according to The Good Pub Guide. Up to 10 per cent of a pint may be lost in this way. Glenda Cooper, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, investigates.

"I'm the man the very fat man that waters the workers' beer/Yes I'm the man, the very fat man that waters the workers' beer/What do I care if it makes them ill or it costs them terribly dear?/I've a car, a yacht and an aeroplane and I waters the workers' beer".

That ditty, sung by Norman Willis at past Trades Union Congresses, sums up the British feeling: Mess with anything except a pint of beer. In the past drinkers feared the beer being watered down. But now experts warn that we are in danger of losing up to 10 per cent of a pint by having air pumped into it to create a head.

More pubs in the Midlands and the South are picking up the northern practice of using a device known as a "sparkler" which pumps air into the pint. As a result as much of 10 per cent of the pint may be air, equivalent to increasing the cost of the remaining beer by 11 per cent.

Rob Unsworth, associate editor of The Good Pub Guide, said yesterday: "If you get 88 pints in a barrel by careful pouring pubs can squeeze 96 pints - that's eight pints more. Throughout the country that's quite a lot of money saved ... It's absolutely disgraceful."

The survey of 1,338 pubs comes as an investigation by trading standards officers in Liverpool also estimates that beer drinkers are being shortchanged by up to 6p. The survey of beer measures conducted by trading standards officers in city pubs during September produced some sobering statistics.

Only three drinks out of 60 measured could boast a full pint of beer and almost 40 per cent contained less than 95 per cent of liquid - the brewing industry's own unofficial guideline governing the height of the head. On average, drinks were deemed to be around 4 per cent short of a full liquid pint with some customers sacrificing up to 23p on their tipple.

As a result a Labour MP, Dennis Turner, is to introduce a Private Member's Bill to clearly define the size of a pint. He has already won the backing of Nigel Griffiths, the consumer affairs minister, who said: "When the customer asks for a pint and is charged for a pint, that's the quantity that they should be served."

But a spokesman for the Brewers and Licensed Retailers' Association said it was an issue which attracted few complaints from customers. "Our members are encouraged and encourage their bar staff so that if people are unhappy with their pint they can always get a top-up," he said. "But it really isn't something that happens very much."

The Good Pub Guide also points out that pubs tied to the big national breweries are still the high-cost option for customers - smaller and local regional brewers can save as much as 41p on your pint.

l The winner of the Pub of the Year award is the Wykeham Arms in Winchester.