How many Standard Drinks did you consume last week?

[box border=”full”]John Furbank is a member of the Consumers’ Federation of Australia’s Executive Committee and also represents consumers on Standards Australia Committees. John is CFA’s representative on the National Measurement Institute’s Consumer, Industry Liaison Committee.[/box] John Furbank

If you enjoyed a glass of wine or draught beer in a restaurant or bar last week you probably have no idea how much you drank.

Australian standards for capacity measures, relate to English law which goes back to pre-Saxon times. The Magna Carta (1215) laid down a single measurement system throughout England.

There shall be but one Measure throughout the Realm. One measure of Wine shall be through our Realm, and one measure of Ale, and one measure of ………

Unfortunately the 13th-century rights laid down in the Magna Carta did not make it into modern day Australian legislation. Current trade measurement legislation, the National Measurement Act (1960), does not prescribe the quantity of wine or beer to be provided and, in relation to wine, provides no requirement to use a ’badged’ glass.(1)

Some hotels and restaurants have a Plimsoll line embossed on their wine glasses enabling the seller to work out costs and ensure staff are not too generous or too conservative when pouring. This line is normally set at 150ml to provide for five glasses from a 750ml bottle.

However, the Plimsoll line can be misleading too. Licensees have been known to have the line set at 130mL or as low as 120mL.

Some restaurants and hotels appear to use of the logo or motif as the measuring mark, while elsewhere, apparent even to the naked eye, the same wine, served in the same glass, for the same price differs with each pour.

There are some licensees who use badged Plimsoll line glasses for wine. Several restaurants now show the quantity of wine on the menu. These restaurants have a legal obligation under National Measurement legislation to serve the quantity purported. There is no requirement to use a badged glass but without such glass the seller has no way of determining the actual quantity.

With so many different size glasses and different fill heights it is almost impossible for a consumer to know how big (or small) a measure is being poured or whether they are being served a standard drink. An 18 month survey conducted by AlcoCups(2), showed 66% of their session attendees initially thought the line on a wine glass indicated one standard drink.(3)

An Australian standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol (12.5ml of pure alcohol). By counting standard drinks you can keep track of how much you are drinking and how that compares to the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.(4)

The Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging state that a 150mL glass of red wine (13% alc.vol) is equal to 1.5 standard drinks and a 150mL glass of white wine (11.5 alc.vol) is 1.4 standard drinks. A full strength (4.8% alc. vol) 425 mL glass of beer (Australian pint in SA – schooner in NSW) is 1.6 standard drinks.

Apart from health and safety concerns consumers are entitled to know how much wine is being served particularly where actual value of wine purchased at $9.50 to $14 a glass can vary by one or two dollars or more between glasses or serves.

A standard drink or value for money is difficult to determine if you have no bench mark with which to start. In their submission on the proposal to amend the National Measurement Regulations in February 2009 Consumers South Australia (CSA) strongly supported the introduction of a single size measure of 150mL for a glass of wine and 0.5L and 1L carafes.

Queensland Consumer Association proposed having only one volume for wine glasses, one volume for a carafe and one volume for a half carafe.

In their submission on the proposed amendment, the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) strongly opposed the extension of measurement regulations to wines sold by the glass because, they argued, it would impose a significant cost burden on every licensee as new glassware would need to be purchased containing the required Plimsoll lines.

It is difficult to obtain details of the glass replacement cycle but hotel industry sources state the life of a wine glass is dependent on the type of glass, the clientele and hotel environment. In any event most legislation requiring changes to trade practices provide an implementation date in the future to facilitate change and reduce cost to industry.

Beer drinkers are slightly better off because sales of draught beer are required to be sold in a badged glass. National Measurement regulations allow any size beer measure between 100mL and 1Litre providing it is marked with the quantity.

Unlike most western countries, however, the legislation allows the quantity statement to be on the bottom of the glass. Beer may be promoted at ‘$X per pint’ but a consumer has no idea if it is an ‘Australian’ (420mL) or ‘British’ pint’ (568mL) or some other quantity until the beer is consumed and they invert the glass.

The sale of alcohol is possibly the only retail industry where, in most instances, a consumer does not know the size of the commodity they are about to receive or the price they will be required to pay. Imagine going into a supermarket where no prices or quantities were displayed!

The AHA state there is no history of consumer complaint about the service of wine glasses on-premise in Australian hotels. Whilst it may be difficult to gather statistics on this topic, for consistency and clarity for the consumer, CSA recommends that the present regulations concerning the sale of both beer and wine be reviewed with particular regard to the wide range of sizes and stating the quantity on the side where consumers can readily see it so they know what they are consuming.

Should wine be sold in standard sizes in badged glasses and, when supplying wine or beer by the glass, the badge mark and glass’s capacity be visible to the consumer purchasing the drink?

Have your say! Because of the multitude of government agencies dealing with alcohol it is very difficult to get accurate statistics and gauge interest. Your feedback on this issue is important. Please make your comment on

[1] A badged glass is a glass that has been tested and ‘badged’ with a stylised beam scale to show it holds the quantity of beer or wine purported. The glass must be permanently marked or moulded with the manufacturer’s identification, the capacity, and the batch testing mark. (Note that ‘glass’ includes other approved materials.)

[2] AlcoCups are alcohol and drug education specialists providing interactive alcohol and other drug education sessions.

[3] The quoted standard drink statistic is from AlcoCups alcohol and other drug education sessions collated from pre and post questionnaires from 2,973 participants, from different sectors, over the past 18 months.

[4] Australian Drug Foundation

[5] Commonwealth department of Health and Aging Standard Drinks guide