Thursday 6 July 2023

Can you learn too much?

Just been thinking about one of my favourite beers, ever: Tetley's Mild. A beer I adored in those far off days of my youth. When my legs still obeyed and my lungs weren't fucked.

We have to mention univacs/economisers here. The devices that recycled beer from the drip tray.

I was used to electric dispense when I arrived in Leeds as a scruffy student in 1975. It was almost universal in the Midlands, for both cask and bright beer. (An annoyance right there. Metered electric pumps were ambiguous, being used for both cask and bright beer.) Seeing cask Tetley's dispensed that way wasn't a surprise.

My initial impressions of Tetley's Mild were: pretty deccent, nothing special.

Until me and Matt ventured down into Sheepscar. To a pub surrounded by nothing, called, the Sheepscar. Probably being destined for demolition, they'd let the handpulls be. And the associated economisers. What a revelation.

Tetley's Mild was promoted from a supporting role to a star. Fuck me, it was such a better beer. How could the method of dispense make such a difference?

I cherished every Tetley's pub with handpulls I found. Mostly located in the less fashionable bits of Leeds: Sheepscar, Cross Green and Hunslet, for example.

When the Cardigan Arms went from electric to beer engines, their Mild went from decent to amazing. Overnight. No wonder the possible hygiene problems were overlooked.

Tetley was the one bit of the Big Six I had a very soft spot for, not just because of the beer. Also how they didn't fuck up their pubs. When the Big Six swapped pubs in the 1980s, Bass immediately buggered up the pubs they acquired in Leeds. Whereas Tetley very rarely did. Weird that, despite owning almost all the pubs in the city, Tetley and their beers were incredibly popular.

That says to me that the Big Six overall could have pursued a different strategy and still made money. Maybe even more than they did.

I didn't immediately realise, after discovering and then worshipping handpulled Tetley's Mild, exactly why they could so recklessly spill it over the top of the glass. The niceties of serving weren't drawing my attention. Not like that lovely Mild.

That sea of Mild in the drip tray wasn't just there for decorative purposes. As lovely as it looked. (I'm thinking Brassmoulders Arms in Hunslet. Loved the photos of international Rugby League games they had on the walls.) That was getting recycled into your pint.

You know what? I didn't care. The beer only tasted right served that way. Well, the way I liked it. And I think the brewery did, as they reinstated handpulls and univacs in most of their pubs in Leeds.

Recently, I got my hands on the Tetley standards manual from 1985. With too much detail possibly even for me. Lots of the way they were brewing was the same as in 1945, the most recent of their records I've photographed.

The standards say for additions post-fermentation:

"Sterilised beer, 12.5% max, 1031º, racking tank"

I think I know what that means: ullage. Returned beer and all sorts of other crap. The type of thing Watney got up to. Evil brewers like those. That's why their beers were crap.

But, if you talk to brewers, well, almost everyone did it. To one extent or another. Because there was so much money in, essentially, untaxed beer. The tax system hugely incentivised this behaviour. Until they changed the tax to being based on the ABV at the brewery gate.

Does that mean that all beers were crap? No. Objectively, they weren't. Surprisingly.

That Tetley's Mild I loved. Drip ray and ullage combined might have been 20% recycled. How eco-friendly is that?

More than I needed to know? Maybe. Well, no, not at all. It could have been 50% slops and 50% spit, for all I care. The taste was great great. I'm not going to worry about the nicetie of how it was created. Flavour beats everything.

To answer the question in the title. If you can remember that. No. Not in the case of Tetley's Mild. Learning of its faults makes it no less wonderful. Like Maradonna. But less druggy. The truth hasn't spoilt my, retrospective, enjoyment.


Anonymous said...

When I get to your age Ron I probably will be talking about the joys of Sullivans red.
I am enjoying your book on mild so far.

Rob Sterowski said...

Brewers are very fond of saying that oxygen is bad for beer, but a very little oxygen, in the correct timeframe, can be beneficial. That’s why experienced cellarmen vent strong beers and let them breathe in the cellar for a few days before serving, and why the second last pint from a cask sometimes tastes the best. The splashing and recirculation through the drip tray would have the same effect of aerating the beer.

This only works with very fresh beer with a fast turnover. Obviously too much oxygen wrecks the beer and serving oxidised beer through a tight sparkler makes it worse.

The ullage might also add some complexity to the running beer, in the same way that blending a portion of acidic stock ale once did.

arnie moodenbaugh said...

Good reminiscence of your favorite beer; I'd like to be able to time travel back to have a few of those mild ales. About 20 years ago in New York City I had a memorable craft mild ale gravity poured from a cask sitting on the bar; that's one cask mild in my life! Economisers and other British "recycling" strategies are an interesting contrast with my experiences the US. In the 70s in Oregon, all unpasturized kegs were by law kept refrigerated. Even refilling a drinker's beer glass at the tap was against the rules. Unpasteurized bottled beer was outlawed (no Coors or Lucky Draft there). But back then, there was no saving our beers, no matter the tight regulations. Where was the health department in Britain? At least you had universal health care for the odd infection or communicable disease.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

My Grandparents kept a brand new state of the art Webster's pub in Wakefield with all electric pumps, late 60a after keeping an old Victorian pub with hand pumps. His beer was always spot on and from his POV, clean, he explained why, you couldn't always trust the bar staff had washed their hands. Mind you the hand pulled Tetley's bitter in our local was nectar a very scrupulous landlord but no one bothered the mild,

Chris Pickles said...

Looking back, the demise of the autovacs was the beginning of the end for Tetley's. I occasionally drank Tetley's Mild, but the Bitter was my drink of choice - I think that perhaps bitter ruled in Bradford where mild ruled in Leeds. Everyone used to rave about Tetley's hand pulled but really they meant autovacs.

After the autovacs were banished, you could still get hand pulled Tetley's but it wasn't quite the same. It was still far better than the Tetley's smooth flow that came in later, but the damage had been done.