Friends visiting me recently questioned the two odd shaped glasses hanging on the sunroom wall above the fireplace. My explanation left them somewhat incredulous.

These glasses are referred to as a yard of ale or yard glass used for drinking around two and a half imperial pints (1.4 L) of beer, depending upon the diameter. The half yard glass is obviously half the latter’s size.

The glass is approximately one yard long, shaped with a bulb at the bottom, and a widening shaft, which constitutes most of the height. Because the glass is so long, and in any case does not usually have a stable flat base, it is hung on the wall when not in use.

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 of beer as quickly as possible is a traditional pub game in the U.K.; 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.

Sconcing is a tradition at Oxford University of demanding that a person drink a tankard of ale or some other alcoholic beverage as a penalty for some breach of accepted etiquette. Minor offenses for which a sconce might have been imposed including talking at dinner about women, religion, politics or one’s work, referring to the portraits hung in the college hall, or making an error in the pronunciation of the Latin Grace.

The amount of a sconce varied from two pints at Corpus, Oriel or Jesus, up to three and three quarter pints at St. John’s College. Several colleges retain impressive antique sconce pots in their silver collections.

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 11 seconds as part of a traditional Oxford College penalty.

In New Zealand, where it is referred to as a “yardie”, drinking a yard glass of beer is traditionally performed at a 21st birthday by the celebrated person.

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