Monday, 9 March 2015

Cask beer in the 1950’s – Pipes, Taps and Pumps

We’re still in the pub cellar, but the beer is inching its way towards the glass. Only a few more weeks to go.

This time we’re looking at how the beer got from the cellar to the bar.

Pipes, Taps and Pumps
There is a right and a wrong way of doing everything, and this remark applies in no uncertain manner to the fixing of beer pipes in a cellar. To begin with, no more piping should be used than is absolutely necessary, because piping at all times is difficult to keep sweet and clean. It is advisable to connect up by the shortest possible way, but on no account must the piping run for any distance along the crown of the roof of the cellar, as is very often seen. It is here that the warm air in the cellar accumulates, and this air heats the pipes to such an extent that we have known beer which has stood in them for any length of time to be served up really unpleasantly hot. In our opinion, the correct place to fix the pipe is along the vertical front of the stillion to a point immediately below the outlet in the roof which leads to the beer pumps. Then, with unions inserted at convenient intervals, only a short length of pipe is needed to connect up with the cask. Very different is such an arrangement from the maze of twisted lead pipes sometimes seen in cellars. Such arrangements render abortive any attempt at cleanliness. It is not altogether realized that bends and twists in lead pipes decrease the internal passage and impede the free working of beer pumps. This trouble is sometimes so great as to upset the contents of the cask by creating a sudden back suction.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 253 - 254.

All very sensible advice. But I’m sure it’s not always heeded. I’m sure I can recall being in cellars with pipes all over the place. Not lead ones, obviously. Those are long gone from pub cellars. Though I believe there might still be some in our flat, which was built in the 1920’s.

“really unpleasantly hot” – sounds lovely. But you’d think a landlord would notice and do something about it, even if it is only the first few pints in a session.

Here’ more about lead pipes:

“Several improvements and substitutes for lead pipes have been introduced. First of all it was found desirable to line them with tin, a measure which health authorities now insist upon. Then lengths of glass piping connected by rubber joints were brought into use. It was very nice to see the bright beer passing through the glass tubes, but the joints proved to be harbourers of dirt and slime which was difficult to get at. Stainless steel and metal alloy pipes are now available with inside surfaces as smooth as glass, and it is hoped that these, in conjunction with ingenious  telescopic fittings, will meet all requirements.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 254.

I’d definitely prefer my lead pipes tin lined. Rather less chance of dropping dead from lead poisoning.

Glass pipes sound a bit weird. Isn’t glass too rigid and brittle to be suitable?

Now we get on to a more modern solution.

“Finally there are the various kinds of plastic beer pipe. These are mainly made of two types of plastic. Polyvinyl chloride, or P.V.C., piping is flexible and semi-transparent; unfortunately it sometimes has a rather distinctive smell and can impart a definite smell and flavour to beer which has been standing in it for some time. It is sold under a variety of trade names and some kinds are much better than others in this respect. It tends to improve with use, but it is well to test samples before use by allowing beer to stand in them for some hours and then tasting the beer. It is usually only after the beer has stood for some time in the pipe that the smell and flavour are noticeable, so that provided the length of pipe is not too great, the trouble can usually be obviated either by draining the pipe after use, or by not using the first pint or so drawn after the beer has stood in the pipe. There is no reason to suppose that the beer is in any way injurious to health. Pipe made from polythene is preferable from the point of view of any flavour being imparted, since it is practically odourless and beer can be allowed to stand in it for long periods without having any flavour or smell imparted to it. Polythene is, however, not very flexible and is therefore not very suitable for the end pipes which have to be connected to casks. Possibly the best solution is to use polythene for long pipes which do not need to be moved and to use a flexible length of P.V.C. tubing at the end.

Both types of plastic are softened by heat and should not be steamed. For cleaning, a caustic detergent, followed by a soak in a quaternary ammonium antiseptic where necessary is the most suitable means of keeping them clean and free from infection, with of course very thorough rinsing. P.V.C. tubing has the advantage over other materials (except glass) in being fairly transparent. Polythene is opaque. With the advent of stainless steel and plastic piping it is hoped that lead beer piping, whether internally tinned or not, will soon be a thing of the past. Samples of the first drawn off beer from such pipes have been found to contain dangerous amounts of lead.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 254 - 255.

What are modern pipes made out of? I’d have thought PVC. Not sure I’d want a plastic flavour in my pint. A quick web search has confirmed that PVC pipes are in use today.

Lead – I wonder if that adds a flavour in high concentrations? Though obviously the killing you effect is a slightly larger drawback of the material.

Speaking of which I can remember one of my teachers – probably the bullshitting Maths teacher who’d spend most of the lesson talking about himself – telling a tale of lead beer pipes. Weird the stuff you remember, isn’t it? The gist was that a bloke used to turn up at opening time every day and always got the first pint. Eventually the lead it contained killed him. Charming story, eh?

Taps and pumps next time.


Jeffrey Bell said...

We call them lines, not pipes, these days Ronnie.

I once worked out how much extra beer per year you'd lose on the weekly line cleans per metre of extra line. Convinced me to have mine at Finborough as short as humanly possible.

StringersBeer said...

Taste of lead? Lead salts are supposed to taste sweet - it's why kids chew old paintwork. Lead acetate was historically used as a sweetener. I dunno if there'd be enough to affect the taste of the beer much.