Weights & Measures

Since publishing our recent news article on the amendment to the Weights & Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order 1988 which deals with Wine Samples, we have received a number of more general enquiries from our clients in relation to weights and measures.

I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to write a more comprehensive guide to the role of weights & measures plays in relation to the sale of alcohol.

The point of the weights & measures act is to control measures in which alcohol and other products are sold, in order to protect consumers from rogue operators who may be tempted to short pour drinks to increase margins.

The second important function it plays, in relation to the sale of alcohol, is to allow consumers to calculate for themselves the quantity of alcohol they are consuming.

We can not discuss weights and measures these days without making reference to the mandatory condition which requires alcohol to be served in their smaller measures. I have therefore included in the summary below, not just the options you have with relation to the sale of different types of alcohol, but also the unit sizes you must make available in order to comply with the mandatory condition.


Beer & Cider

Beer and Cider may be sold in measures of:

  • One Third Pint
  • One Half Pint
  • Two Thirds Pint
  • Multiples of One Half Pint

Mandatory Condition – Where beer & cider are sold in draught form, they must be made available for purchase in a one half pint measure. 


Still Wine

Still wine may be sold in measures of:

  • Below 75ml1 (sample)
  • 125ml (small) or multiples thereof
  • 175ml (large) or multiples thereof
  • Carafe (jugs) of 250ml, 500ml, 750ml or 1ltr
  • Bottles

Mandatory Condition – Any wine which is sold by the glass must be made available for purchase in a 125ml measure.

1Sample measures can be sold in any measure providing it is below 75ml in size. However if the retailer chooses to advertise a specified measure for the ‘sample’ they are selling, then they must sell in one of the measures set out in part iv of schedule 3 to the Weights & Measures Act 1985; these measures are 20ml, 25ml, 35ml, 50ml & 70ml.


Fortified Wine

Fortified wine may be sold in measures of:

  • 50ml or multiples thereof
  • 70ml or Multiples thereof



The first thing to note is that the term ‘spirit’ only refers to:

  • Whiskey
  • Rum
  • Vodka
  • Gin

Spirits may be sold in ‘single’ measures of:

  • 25ml or multiples thereof or2
  • 35ml or multiples thereof

Mandatory Condition – All spirits which are sold must be made available for purchase as a single measure; either 25ml or 35ml2.

2Retailers must choose to serve in single measures of either 25ml or 35ml as standard; only one or the other size may be used, NOT both.

Note – As only gin, vodka, run and whiskey are officially defined as ‘spirits’, other products such as tequila, brandy, sambuca etc. are not constrained by the same terms and may be sold in other measures. The measure which is used to dispense these ‘other spirits’ must be advertised for the consumer to be able to make an informed choice. Most retailers choose to use the same measures for these ‘other spirits’ as for the four defined spirits, in order to provide more clarity for the consumer.



A cocktail is defined as a drink which contains three or more different liquids.

Where spirits are sold as a combination of three or more liquids (ie. in a cocktail) the rules in relation to selling in specified measures do not apply and measures need not be defined.

Note – Retailers may choose to apply in-house rules in relation to the maximum quantity of alcohol, particularly spirits, which they choose to allow for consumption in any one drink. In practice this is usually between two and three single measures (50ml – 75ml). This type of in-house rule helps promote the responsible alcohol retailing credentials of the premises licence holder.



Normal practice with regard to measuring quantities of alcohol is to use either a stamped thimble, government stamped / lined glass or other suitably endorsed measuring instrument. However some alcohol retailers may choose to use the art of free-pouring; which is permitted in relation to the dispensing of spirits.

Where free-pouring is used to dispense spirits (with the exception of cocktails as described above), each member of staff entrusted with this responsibility must be able to demonstrate that they are capable of dispensing in the prescribed measures as set out in the Weights & Measures Act and a documented record of their ability to do so must be kept. Free-pouring does not exclude practitioners from the measurements prescribed in the Weights & Measures Act.

In order to show compliance with the Act and to ensure a solid defence of due diligence if challenged, strong quality assurance procedures should be put into place. These should include:

  • Training must be given to all employees in the art of ‘free-pouring’ and dispensing accurate and consistent measures.
  • Training must be assessed and recorded.
  • Refresher training should be given regularly
  • Employees should be given ample opportunity to practice their skills


Under-Pouring’ is an offence that carries a maximum £5000 fine on conviction.


Date – 11th February 2012

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew is the Managing Director of Beyond the Blue Training & Consultancy.

More News Stories from Beyond the Blue>> 


At Beyond the Blue we deliver professional Training and Consultancy Services. Anyone interested in this blog post may find the following pages from our website useful:

For more information on any of our services, please call us on 01784 434 392 / 0845 602 55 95 (low call rate from UK landlines) or Contact Us.