Thursday, 12 March 2015

Cask beer in the 1950’s – Pipes, Taps and Pumps (part two)

This has been the year for interminable series. Though I doubt I’ll ever match the series on draught beer quality in the 1920’s That lasted almost a year. I’m amazed I saw it through.

As for now, we’re back down in the cellar, rubber mallet in hand about to tap a cask.

“As regards taps, we wish to impress upon our readers the necessity for having sufficient of them to tap every cask as soon as it is placed on the stillion. It is then possible to sample the contents from time to time in order to see how they are behaving, without the necessity for boring a hole in the head. This often-indulged practice ruins a head very quickly. When every cask is tapped, the next one due for consumption can be examined in plenty of time, in order to ascertain if it is in good condition. In this way, an awkward situation which often crops up is avoided, when a cask is tapped immediately before being required and unfortunately proves to be thick. To work thus from hand to mouth is only inviting trouble.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 255.

Again, this sounds like very good advice. If you wait to tap a barrel there’s always a chance you’ll disturb it. Drilling through the head sounds just crazy. You can feel the brewer’s exasperation of landlords ruining his casks through stupid practices. It’s clear he wasn’t very impressed with publicans in general.

Now the taps themselves:

“It is satisfactory to note that it has at last been realized that the construction of a beer tap is not only of importance, but that there is room for much improvement in its design. For a long time, the brass tap with the angular neck, and rough internal passage left just as it came out of the casting mould, was in general use. Only the outside was polished up a little in order to make the tap look more attractive. A dirtier and more difficult utensil to clean was never made. Some of these taps are still to be found, but they should be immediately discarded and more modern and cleaner ones substituted. The angular outlet has been dispensed with, and the tap is more like a straight piece of pipe. It is tapered, turned, and perforated at one end. A plug valve as before is situated in the middle, and the remaining open end screwed for the union coupling. A screwed blank cap to fit the open end is provided, and this cap is adjusted for tapping purposes. Were it not for this provision the threads on the screwed ends of the cap might get knocked up by the hammering.

Of still greater importance, the perforated end of the tap can also be unscrewed, thus giving a clear passage through from end to end and making the tap easy to clean. The internal surface of the tap is also made as smooth as glass, so that there is no excuse for any tap being unclean.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 255.

Back in the 1970’s when me and my brother Dave had half a dozen wooden firkins, we used a wooden tap. My guess is that it was never 100% clean after the first time it was used. A brass tap, as described above, would have been much better. But they were too damn expensive.

The old-style brass taps, with an unfinished interior sound almost as bad as our wooden one in terms of hygiene. The perforated end is the bit that goes inside the barrel, the perforations being what the beer gets into the tap through. While holding back and hops in the cask.

Now it’s the turn of beer engines:

“We have often heard beer pumps alluded to as 'devils in disguise'. From the brewer's point of view this description may have been warranted, because, with so many hidden corners in which dirt could accumulate, and with bucket leathers to go soft and slimy, trouble with beer was often traceable to the pumps. It is impossible to imagine how trade in some houses could possibly have been carried on without them, with the cellar some distance away: from the beer-drawer's point of view, a notice to the effect that all beers are drawn direct from the wood is a great selling point."
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 255 - 256.

Note how cleanliness is a recurring theme. Soft and slimy bucket leathers sound pretty vile. Yet another way for beer to get infected. It took me a while to work out what the last sentence meant. By “drawn direct from the wood” he means as opposed to being first filled into a jug in the cellar, then into the glass.

This doesn’t sound good:

“The trouble involved in replacing bucket leathers has been responsible for much evil with pumps. "When the pumps get worn, beer passes back into the casks and disturbs the sediment. We are therefore more than delighted to note that it is now possible to obtain pumps in which no leather or any similar soft material is used in connection with the plungers. In fact, an all-metal plunger is fitted. The improvement is a great one, and should in itself advertise the use of such a type of beer pump.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 256.

I’m not sure I see how beer can get from the pump back into the cask, but it’s obviously not a good idea. Not just from the point of view of sediment. It could also get dirt into the cask.

Finally, more good advice about cleanliness:

“Before leaving the subject of beer pipes, taps and pumps, we would impress upon the users of them the absolute necessity for cleaning the whole system with hot water and soda or better still one of the newer detergents at least once a week in winter, and twice a week in summer. A clean pipe is easy to keep clean if systematic attention is given to it, but once allowed to get fouled, it is extremely difficult to sterilize. Incalculable harm and loss of trade will result from dirty pipes.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 256.

How true is that last sentence. When I was in Brooklyn last year I ate in a Polish restaurant with Dann and Martha of Pretty Things. Despite there being a couple of draught Lager on the menu, Dann chose something bottled, unlike me. It tasted a bit weird. I gave Dann a taste and he said: “Dirty pipes. That’s why I went for a bottle.”

Fining and secondary fermentation next. Before we get to the fascinating topic of ullage.


Gary Gillman said...

The issue of clean pipes and cellarmanship in general was the Achilles heel of genuine draught beer. I say was because the only chance real beer had to resist the lager tide was to be ship-shape almost every time the pint was lifted. Of course, the reality was far from that. I recall on my initial visits to England in the mid-80's how often beer was spoiled from dirty lines or some other fault in keeping, often every second pint, which is unacceptable.

This is where the chilled fizzy all-malt unpasteurized American "craft keg" alternative made sense. Unfortunately the British beer industry elected in the pre-lager phase to go with the Watney Red-type product which seemed to attract neither the real ale crowd nor the budding lager market. Of course it is still with us in the form of the widely distributed nitrogen-dispense ales, and I suppose Guinness. Together with the much greater market for lager, this took up the great majority of the sales bitter and mild had in the 50's and 60's. Unfortunately too, the problem was self-exacerbating in that as real beer slid in sales, it tended to decline in serving quality because people didn't order it as often. Worst of all possible worlds.

However, 40 years on, U.S.-style craft keg seems finally to be making inroads in the U.K. And real beer will never die of course, so a reset has occurred to a point and we must be grateful for that.


Chris said...

It seems I never fail to learn something new when I read your blog. I had no idea what the 'leather bucket' was or why it would be slimy, but after some more reading and research it was interesting to discover how those old beer pump must have worked.
I can imagine if the leather was working as the seal in the pump cylinder if that letter wasn't seated right the pistol would pull and then push the beer out of a and then back into the cask. once you Lowe positive pressure on the system I can see the beer having the potential to flow back into the system.

Tandleman said...

"I’m not sure I see how beer can get from the pump back into the cask, but it’s obviously not a good idea. Not just from the point of view of sediment. It could also get dirt into the cask."

Lack of a one way no return valve.