Is a pint really a pint in Wellington?

How big: An imperial 568ml pint, a New Zealand 425ml pint and a 300ml half pint.
How big: An imperial 568ml pint, a New Zealand 425ml pint and a 300ml half pint.

Wellingtonians love beer. We have the largest annual beer festival in the country, 12 dedicated craft beer bars and we would have drunk our fair share of the 300 million litres of beer consumed in New Zealand last year.

But there is one question that seems to bug many beer-drinking Wellingtonians. What exactly is a pint?

In the United Kingdom a pint is 568.26 millilitres, in the United States a pint is 473.17ml and in New Zealand a pint can be anywhere between 400 and 500ml depending on which bar you go to and which beer you order.

British beer historian and author of Beer: The Story of the Pint Martyn Cornell said the size of a pint was determined by the size of the gallon it was taken from.

"The pint is one eighth of a gallon, and a gallon was originally the volume of eight pounds of wheat, making a pint the volume of one pound of wheat," he said.

"By the 18th century a number of gallons were recognised in Britain, including the wine gallon and the beer or ale gallon. The Imperial Weights and Measures Act of 1824 abolished all other gallon measures and brought in the imperial gallon at 4546.09ml. The imperial pint, one eighth of this, is thus equal to 568.261ml."

The US adopted the 231 cubic inch wine gallon as its standard gallon measure, making a US pint 473.176ml.

The Malthouse in Courtenay Place is one of the few bars in Wellington that serves a British pint.

Proprietor Colin Mallon said cost was a big factor in why imperial pints were not popular in Wellington.

"I have been in New Zealand for nine years and 425ml has pretty much been the standard," he said.

"The reason why we don't offer this [UK pint] as the default size is because if a standard beer, a Mac's or Monteith's, is costing $8 these days and an imperial pint is 24 per cent bigger, it means the cost of the beer is getting up to around $10. Also you would pay $10 for a craft beer in the standard size, so it starts to get scary when you go up further."

Mr Mallon said the size of the pint they serve often depends on the nationality of the customer.

"If someone comes in and says, 'Can I have a pint?', then we default to the 425ml size," he said. "If someone English comes in and asks me for a pint, I'll clarify with them that the 425ml size is what Kiwis call a pint and this is a real pint. Then they realise they would be paying about [PndStlg]5 for it so they generally go for the standard size."

If you do order an imperial pint with five per cent alcohol content, be aware that it is equivalent to 2.24 standard drinks, while a six per cent beer would be 2.69 standard drinks.

"Most craft beers in New Zealand start at 5 per cent and upwards. So to be honest, if you are drinking four imperial pints that's five-and-a-half of the standard size," Mr Mallon said.

"People look at it and think whether it's a gin and tonic, a bottle of Sol, one of the standard size drinks or one of the imperial pints, it's a drink.

"So when you are getting up to six or seven percent alcohol, a standard 425ml size is big enough."


- In 2010, the global consumption of beer was 182.69 billion litres. That's the equivalent of 553.6 billion 330 millilitre bottles.

- Imperial pints can be found at The Malthouse, Sprig & Fern, Hashigo Zake, Khandallah Trading Company and Bar Edward. Beer can go off when it's exposed to light.

- This is known as skunking. Brown glass slows this process down better than clear or green glass. Malted barley gives flavour and colour to beer.

- The darker the roast, the darker the colour. Hops give beer its bitter taste. It is a close relative of cannabis.

- Tamarillo, rata honey, rimu, chocolate, kawakawa and even pineapple lumps have been added to New Zealand beer.

- DB and Lion Nathan make nearly 90 per cent of all the beer we drink in New Zealand.

- The most of the kilojoules in beer come from the alcohol, not the carbohydrates. Therefore, it's better to drink a low-alcohol beer than a low-carb beer.

- The first commercial brewery in New Zealand was established in 1835 by Joel Samuel Polack in Kororareka, now Russell, in the Bay of Islands.

The Wellingtonian