Amongst a number of interesting points which came up at last week’s “Meet the Brewer” evening at the Vauxhall Inn, Tonbridge was the subject of branded glasses. The pub’s duty manager happened to ask Tonbridge Brewery’s Paul Bournazian if he could supply some branded glasses. Paul replied that he could, but asked what had happened to the ones the brewery has supplied earlier in the year. “All gone”, was the manager’s reply, at which point, in my naivety, I asked if this was due to breakage? “No, they were all pinched”, was our host’s response, "and they vanished fairly quickly!"
I hadn’t realised this was a growing problem for many pubs; something exasperated by the rise of glasses branded specifically for different brewer’s beers. According to the Vauxhall’s manager, the problem initially started with lager glasses, such as Stella, which were amongst the first beer glasses to be branded and promoted in this way. Now most ale brewers also produce glasses, emblazoned with their logo, as a means of promoting their beers.
I thought back to my student days when, whilst it wasn’t uncommon for the odd glass or two to find its way back to our lodgings after a night in the pub, the theft of glasses was on the whole, pretty minimal. After all, most drinking back then was done in pubs, and the only time students would drink in their accommodation would be if they were hosting a party.
Now the problem appears much more widespread, with attractively styled, branded glasses disappearing from pubs, on a regular basis. Glass theft is much more of a problem in summer, when people are drinking outside, and it is easier to sneak the glass into a bag, and then drive off with it. Presumably, branded glasses appeal sufficiently to certain drinkers so as to make them want to pinch them.
Some drinks manufacturers are resorting to desperate measures, as this national newspaper article shows, but fitting tags which douse customers in ink, if they take them beyond the confines of the pub or bar, does seem pretty extreme and could, potentially, leave bar owners open to claims for damages.
The use of branded glasses is obviously much more widespread on the continent, with Belgium being the ultimate example where for every beer there is the right glass to drink it from. (Note: it must be a nightmare running a bar in Belgium!). However, the spread of the branded glass across to this side of the Channel is one which should be welcomed, as nothing sets a beer off properly than serving it in the correct glass. If that glass is further enhanced with the name of the brewer whose beer the customer is drinking, then so much the better!
At a time when we are trying to educate people about the finer points of beer appreciation, rather than just necking the stuff straight out of the bottle, the correct glassware can make all the difference. It would therefore be a real backward step if pubs were to move back to plain glasses, just because a few light fingered individuals want to half-inch the branded ones!
It would be interesting to hear from brewers and licensees about how extensive they feel theft of glassware, from pubs and bars, really is.