Friday, 26 August 2016

Another reason for drinking bottled beer

I’m so pleased that I found these letter in the Yorkshire Evening Post. It explains both why some drinkers eschewed bottled beer and reminds me of my youth.

What’s being described is a autovac or economiser. A way of serving beer that was standard in any Leeds pub with handpulls. But also the reason why when I arrived in the city in 1975 almost every pub used electric pumps.

Beer overspill
A. M (Leeds 8): It is time the practice "pulling the plug" out of the beer trough was discontinued. This method of getting rid the over-spill is unhygienic.

Every pint or half-pint drawn is swilled over the glass into the trough, and a proportion is drawn back through the pump into the glass. I have no complaint against the publican, as he cannot afford the loss of much beer, but it is time the brewers did something about this so-called modern method of beer saving.”
Yorkshire Evening Post - Wednesday 17 June 1953, page 4.

The point was to serve a pint with a creamy head in a brim measure glass. To get the right effect you needed to pull at least a pint and a quarter to fill a pint. Which would be a lot of beer to throw down the drain. Reusing the overspill as described was the obvious solution.

There’s been some discussion recently of just how traditional a creamy Yorkshire head is. I seem to remember someone saying it only developed after WW II. The description of the Univac as a modern method of saving beer implies that its use was a fairly recent development.

I’ve just searched for autovac and it’s clear from this advert that they were in use before the war:

“DALEX 2-pull Beer Pump, fitted with auto-vac, no waste; nearly new. McGowan, Craven St., Hull.”
Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 18 July 1936, page 2.

The “no waste” promise is a sure sign they expected to owner to be pulling tight, creamy heads.

This customer agrees that the use of an autovac was unhygienic and had taken measures:

Beer overspill
P. M. (Leeds 7): A. M. (Leeds 8) makes pertinent comment on beer overspill. Until something Is done about serving beer in more civilised, hygienic way. I drink bottled beer (and ask for the bottle and a dry glass).

It would be simple to make glasses taller and mark them with half-pint one pint line. It would then be possible to get both beer and froth inside the glass.”
Yorkshire Evening Post - Friday 19 June 1953, page 4.

His suggestion was taken up. In the early 1970’s it was ruled that autovacs were unhygienic and as a result Leeds pubs ripped out their handpumps and replaced them with metered electric pumps. As the pumps were metered oversized glasses could be used without the risk of serving a long measure. That’s why there were virtually no hand pumps when I arrived in Leeds.

There was only one tiny little problem. Tetley’s didn’t taste right served that way. In 1976 handpumps started to reappear in Tetley’s pubs. Within a few years all the electric pumps were gone.

You know what’s really weird? I feel dead nostalgic for electric pumps. They were everywhere when I started drinking. Are there any still in use?


Matt said...

There's a picture of one on Pub Curmudgeon's blog here. Not sure where it is, but the fridges behind the bar look pretty modern.

Alun said...

Still pretty common across Yorkshire although a number of small chains have banned them, Market Town Taverns and Pivovar in particular. Well known Halifax landlord, Sean Garvey is an extreme advocate of them and has done one of his famous rants in Tyke Taverner on the subject.

J. Karanka said...

Maybe start your search in Shoreditch? I've never seen one but having seen then in old photos they'd be at home next to the Donkey Kong arcade

Curmudgeon said...

Martin Taylor found some Banks's Mild on a metered electric pump recently in Bewdley.

The last examples in Robinson's pubs in Stockport disappeared about six years ago.

Dave said...

Take a look at RetiredMartin's post on Bewdley. He mentions an electric pump there. I am curious, I posed this question to him, did the electric pump affect the beer taste? You mention it did. Can you say what it did? I am not sure the pump he mentions is the same pump you saw in your youth though.

Ross Slaughter said...

How does an electric pump differ to a keg system if at all?

Ron Pattinson said...

Ross Slaughter,

no CO2 involved in an electric pump. It just replaces manual effort with an electric motor.

Ron Pattinson said...


it depended on the beer and how it was usually served. Tetley's tasted like a different beer through an electric pump. Nothing like as good. It didn't seem to matter so much with the Nottingham beers.

Sanks said...

Auto vacs, Northern pour, knocks the bollocks out of the beer. True it looks pretty good in the glass but it dies much more quickly. Especially Tet's...You done need to do anything to a perfectly conditioned ale, it sits in the glass with a lovely head and leaves lace curtains all the way to the bottom..

Marquis said...

Point is that electric pumps delivered a measured half.The move back to handpumps pleased the breweries as people accept a 90 to 95% measure plus a head.That's a significant extra slice of profit

Curmudgeon said...

I've always found it a touch ironic that CAMRA, while in theory championing full measures, certainly never opposed the replacement of electric meters with handpumps, and on occasion actively encouraged it.

Another benefit of meters was that they greatly reduced the ability of bar staff to ruin a pint through incompetent pulling technique.