The Friday Fermentable: Do you know how much you pour?

In a fitting end to what became simple math week here at Terra Sig, an article by Tara Parker-Pope in the Wall Street Journal addresses the issue of supersized alcohol portions. A subscription is required so I'll quote heavily.

Considerable data has accumulated to suggest that there are health benefits from one alcoholic drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. But Parker-Pope notes that as stemware has grown bigger bowls to fully experience the aromas from swirling wines, we are pouring wine servings that cause us to border on binge drinking.

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as four drinks for a woman and five drinks for a man over a two-hour time frame. "People do not know how to assess how much they are drinking, and when they have two drinks on a Friday night, it is really four or five because there are multiple doses in one giant cup," says Julia Chester assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University.

Try this experiment at home. Take your favorite wine or beer glass and use water to estimate drink size. Pour the contents into a measuring cup to see how close you come to the standard 5-ounce wine portion or 12-ounce beer portion.

I did this myself, and was stunned by the result. I filled my favorite wine glass just half full. But I still ended up with 300 milliliters or 10.14 ounces -- double the standard serving size. I tried again -- this time with a smaller wine glass and then again with a large bowl-shaped goblet. But each time I still poured 200 milliliters or 6.76 ounces -- 35% too much.

Yes, just like we learned in first or second grade, a shallow wide vessel can sometimes hold more than a tall skinny vessel filled to the brim.

The British Medical Journal published a study of 196 college students and 86 bartenders, asking them to pour drinks into different-size glasses. The study used 355-milliliter glasses, but one was a tall, thin highball glass and the other was a short, wide tumbler.

Study participants were asked to pour a serving of alcohol (1.5 ounces or 44.3 milliliters) needed to mix a gin and tonic or other popular drinks. They over-poured by 33% when using the short glass, but came close to the right serving with the tall, thin glass, pouring just 3% too much. Even the bartenders, who had an average of six years experience, poured 25% too much when using the tumblers.

Another Duke University study also found college students over-poured shots by 26%, mixed drinks by 80% and beer by 25%. And the bigger the cup, the more the students overestimated a serving size.

I did the experiment with the short brandy glass I use for wine drinking. (We got some nice Reidel stemware for our wedding but I am prone to knocking over this expensive crystal with the huge bowls and narrow stems.) I filled my usual portion that allows for maximum swirling and surface area and came up with 142 mL, or 4.8 fluid ounces. So, I guess I am in the clear.

I also drink beer out of the Queen's certified pint glasses, a gift from PharmGirl a few years ago.

But no matter how vigilant we are at home, the article notes that drinking out poses the greatest risk for overpouring. Personally, I think we might do well to adopt what is often seen in Europe, Germany especially, where wine is served in a vessel marked to the 0.25 or 0.5 L mark. I'm sure that this practice is to partly assure that one is getting their money's worth but it also encourages an awareness of how much one is actually drinking.

Parker-Pope certainly raises a good point as to why this issue is important:

While too much alcohol obviously adds calories to your diet, other consequences of supersizing alcoholic beverages are even more worrisome. The health benefits of alcohol disappear and risk increases when you drink more than a few servings a day. And because over-pouring can double or even triple a standard serving size, many of us are technically "binge" drinking without knowing it, wreaking havoc on our livers and overall health.

Parker-Pope is hosting a comment forum open to the public at

However, I welcome your comments here.

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You can get free access to that Wall Street Journal article with a netpass from - that was on television last week

And because over-pouring can double or even triple a standard serving size, many of us are technically "binge" drinking without knowing it, wreaking havoc on our livers and overall health.

Not to mention our bodies and others', when we get behind the wheel after what we think is 'two safe drinks and I'm all right', only to find too late that it was really five or six, and either our licence or our stay on Earth is about to get revoked.

By Justin Moretti (not verified) on 06 May 2007 #permalink