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The Math of Beer
by Tom Schmidt

Jonathan Bramen was extremely excited about his upcoming assignment to teach abroad in Oxford, England, an assignment where he would be a visiting professor in Mathematics at the prestigious British university. The MIT associate professor from Boston, Massachusetts had always wanted to have an extended visit to the U.K. and this foreign teaching assignment was a dream position for him. So it was not surprising that Jonathan quickly accepted an offer to visit a local public house with his host Geoffrey Kensworth shortly after starting his year abroad.

On the way to the pub, Bramen regaled his host with his extensive knowledge of British drinking, in particular his awareness than any good “publican” would never dare to “pull a short pint” when serving the local citizens. Kensworth nodded as Bramen talked extensively about the “British pub experience”, wondering all along what might take place when they visited “The Load of Hay” just down the road from the university.

“What will it be mate?” The gruff bartender at “The Load of Hay” looked at both men who had bellied up to the bar.

Jonathan pondered the question while first inquiring “how big the pub’s mugs are”.

“They hold a pint, by law. Each mug has a pint fill line on it, set by the government.” The bartender seemed perplexed by the question but he shrugged it off as the man was obviously from “the states”. 

“Ah”, replied Bramen. “473 milliliters of honey brown nectar.”

The bartender shrugged and replied “whatever” in an attempt to make the Boston mathematician feel at home. Was his patron just being a jackass or was he a bit of a dweeb?

Bramen looked at the glasses behind the bar and then asked if he could look at one of the mugs. The bartender thought it odd but he passed one over to Jonathan to examine.

Bramen immediately pulled out a ruler and his hand calculator as he went to work. He measured the diameter and height of the mug and then started to do some calculations. “Pi R-Square times height gives 39 cubic inches. 2.54 cm per inch gives us 640 cubic centimeters. Assuming a specific gravity of 1.00 gives us a final volume of 640 ml. Right?”

The bartender looked shocked. What the hell was this oddball asking?

Bramen could see the confusion in the bartender’s eyes so he decided to explain himself. “Your mugs hold up to 640 ml. But a pint is only 473 ml. You fill each mug to the brim and that means you are actually providing 1 and a third pints for each drink. Are you aware of this?”

The bartender seriously considered sucker punching the snarky Yank but he somehow held that urge in check. Instead, Geoffrey Kensworth piped in to break the uncomfortable silence.

“Um, Jonathan. We use the Imperial pint here in Britain. It’s larger than the U.S. pint. It’s 568 ml, not 473.”

“Oh.” The embarrassment was obvious on Bramen’s face as he realized his faux pas. “But you are still over filling each drink.”

The bartender smirked slightly as he replied. “You explained that earlier mate. No good publican will pull a short pint when he serves.”

Bramen nodded as he considered the bartender’s reply.

“So what will it be mate?”

Bramen replied without any thought “yes, I’ll have a pint.”

The bartender rolled his eyes as he replied. “A pint of what mate?”

“Um.  Budweiser?”  The reply came without any thought and Bramen regretted it as soon as he spoke his reply. Geoffrey Kensworth cringed with embarrassment as the bartender went into the back of the bar to retrieve a 16 oz bottle of that fine American import. 

Opening the bottle, the bartender smiled as he poured the beer into a mug. “Looks like you’re getting an American pint mate. It won’t reach the fill line on the mug.”

Too embarrassed to admit his ordering mistake, the Yank simply nodded in reply….