Countries around the world have their own customs and traditions around serving and drinking beer. Canada’s provinces all have their own liquor laws and licencing regulations, but now their pubs, bars, and beer halls just barely maintain a distinct regional character.
When I was a kid—I mean, a young adult—in Manitoba, hotels were licenced to operate beverage rooms, and restaurants were able to run cocktail lounges. (A hotel with a restaurant could have one of each.)
The beverage rooms were updates from the old beer parlours, which typically served only beer (no hard liquor) and catered only to men. There was an old-style beer parlour in Winnipeg’s Roblin Hotel into the 1980s, the last in Canada.
A beverage room welcomes men and women and offers beer, wine, and spirits. When liquor laws in Manitoba were updated they required beverage room floors to be carpeted and the chairs to have arms, ostensibly for atmosphere, but I wonder if safety wasn’t also a factor. At least they didn’t require us to wear helmets.
In those days, drink prices were regulated by the Public Utilities Board, a legacy of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. When I was a kid—I mean, a young adult—a bottled beer or a shot cost 75 cents, and two draft cost 70 cents.
The draft was served in little glasses of eight fluid ounces. They had a “tide line” near the top, indicating the minimum fill of beer. Any foam had to be above the line. Of course, you could buy just one glass for 35 cents, but nobody did. The standard order was “two draft.”
You didn’t get a choice of brand, because the breweries distributed the kegs to the bars according to an agreed-upon formula. It was just draft. And because you could get 16 ounces of draft for 70 cents while a 12-ounce bottle of beer cost a nickel more, many tipplers looked down on the draft product as being somehow inferior.
The regulations were different from province to province, but anywhere you went in Canada the standard offering of two draft was always available.
When I first visited Montreal as a kid—I mean, a young adult—I was amused to hear men in taverns ordering “deux draff.” But in Montreal there were other options. You could order “un bock,” which is a mug containing 10-12 ounces of draft, or pitchers of beer (which were forbidden in Manitoba at the time). You could even order a table of draft: the server would cover your table with as many of the little 8-ounce glasses as it could hold.
Beer service has improved over the years, and today a glass of draft might be a “sleeve,” a “pint,” or a “schooner.” The pints vary in size from 14 ounces to 22 ounces, which is a point of contention with me: one Imperial pint equals 20 ounces, no more no less. Oh well.
But nostalgia being what it is, I miss the sudsy little draft glasses, and I miss the old custom of ordering two at a time.
As you will have read in my last column, I brew my own beer. I have a fridge with a couple of draft taps and I have a collection of beer glasses of different shapes and sizes. A couple of years ago I was visiting Sugar Belle Antiques in Bonnyville and I spotted two of the old 8-ouncers, complete with ALCB tide lines printed on them. Of course I bought them.
Strangely enough, I only use one at a time. But also strangely, I rarely have just one 8-ounce glassful—I almost always go back for a second one.
I don’t know why a 16-ounce serving of beer was delivered in two little glasses instead of one bigger one. It took up more space on a server’s tray, and of course it meant more glasses to wash. My nostalgia for “two draft” has yielded to the efficiency of one glass at a time, large or small.
I guess like so many other things, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.