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.
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:
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?