It used to be common practise to filter overspilled beer - beer from the drip tray or from the pipes when cleaning - back into the cask. This had advantages stock wise to the publican of course, as sometimes his ullage allowance covered this and he effectively got some free beer. Sometimes it just enabled him to meet the greedy demands of brewery or owner to get xx number of pints out of a cask.
The method of doing so varied, but at its crudest, it just involved the "slops" being collected in a bucket and poured back into the darkest beer possible. From this evolved the tales of "never drink mild, it has all the slops in it". And you know what? Often it did. At its best, the beer was collected from drip trays etc. in a stainless steel, lidded bucket and using a funnel and filter paper, was allowed to drip back into the cask. If yiou were lucky bitter was returned to bitter and mild to mild, but trust me, this was not always so. Various on line systems existed too, to allow this drip, drip, drip of spilled beer to be returned to the unsuspecting drinker. It was so common to be almost the rule rather than the exception. When you hear how bad cask beer was when keg shoved it aside, this was one of the reasons why.
Now I bet you are saying to yourself. "What a filthy practice, thank goodness it doesn't happen these days." Health and Safety laws will prevent this you'll imagine. Hygiene laws will ensure that beer which has potentially passed over unwashed hands is never re-used. You'd be both right and wrong. Of course it would be illegal to resell contaminated beer, but you'd be hard pressed to prove it had happened. Does it still occur? Yes it does. Is it common? Not nearly as much as it used to be and these days mostly confined to beer from the lines. Is it approved by breweries? Yes, by some.
Don't believe me? Look up any "Cellar Sundries" supplier on the web and you'll find stainless steel beer filter equipment and the necessary filter papers. Next time you get a murky or duff pint, bear that in mind!
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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