Where Would You Look for a Yard of Ale?
You would look for, and perhaps find, a yard of ale in an old public house or a tavern in England. It is a narrow tube, three feet long, opening out at one end and with a bulb at the other. When filled with ale or beer, it forms one yard of ale, it is a very tall beer glass used for drinking around 2 1⁄2 imperial pints (1.4 L) or 1 fl. yd of beer, depending upon the diameter. Although now rare, these strange shaped glasses can still be found hanging on the walls of inns, particularly old or historic ones, as a curiosity.
This odd drinking vessel was an example of the glass-blower’s art. But it was never in general use for drinking. Instead it was used either as a joke or as a challenge. When the glass was filled to the brim with ale or beer, the contestant had to drink “the yard” without pausing or taking breath.
At a really lively party, every man present would have had to take his turn. When this type of entertainment was popular, the locally brewed ale was probably less strong and intoxicating than it is now. But the feat still required considerable swallowing power and breath control.
The glass most likely originated in 17th-century England, where the glass was known also as a “long glass”, a “Cambridge yard (glass)” and an “ell glass”. It is associated by legend with stagecoach drivers, though was mainly used for drinking feats and special toasts.
Drinking a yard glass full of beer as quickly as possible is a traditional pub game; the bulb at the bottom of the glass makes it likely that the contestant will be splashed with a sudden rush of beer towards the end of the feat. The fastest drinking of a yard of ale in the Guinness Book of Records is 5 seconds.
Yard glasses can be found hanging on the walls of some English pubs, and there are a number of pubs named The Yard of Ale throughout the country. Some ancient colleges at Oxford University have sconcing forfeits. Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was previously the world record holder for the fastest drinking of a yard of beer, when he downed a sconce pot in eleven seconds as part of a traditional Oxford college penalty.
In New Zealand, where it is referred to as a “yardie”, drinking a yard glass full of beer is traditionally performed at a 21st birthday by the celebrated person.