Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Filtering Back


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!

27 comments:

mybrewerytap said...

I still visit a few pubs which use autovacs, where any spills are re-claimed and mixed with fresh beer automatically, notably the Kings Head at Huddersfield Station. The idea of it disturbs me but I've never ever had a bad pint in there. In fact the beer condition there is the best in Huddersfield imo.

HardKnott Dave said...

Illegal or not, it is a filthy practice. If beer has been in a dirty line then it is stupid to return it to cask. If beer has been exposed to air it is stupid to return it to cask.

I would say that investing in staff training to reduce wastage is far more sensible than trying to eek out a little more profit from slops; it distresses me when a bar person is so inept at pulling a pint half of it goes into the drip tray.

Brew Wales said...

My first job from school was working for Belhaven Inns and I can remember at the end of a Saturday night shift taking 17 industrial sized margarine tubs of Bass down to the cellar to be recycled. The filter dish went in the barrel with a sheet of filter paper and the beer went in. I asked what the filter paper was for and was told it was to stop the fag ends going in the barrel! Yes fag ends did find their way into the slop bucket! Naturally this had an effect on the beer which the old customers used to blame on the weather - thunderstorms etc rather than on the unhygenic bar practises. The bar was nicknamed GWR or God's Waiting Room due to the clientele.
Saying that, this practise is virtually extinct now around here, its even a sacking offensive with some companies.

HardKnott Dave said...

The autovac is something a bit different to returning slops to cask. I'm less bothered by that if the beer is good and staff cleanliness is observed.

Curmudgeon said...

And a further problem with this is that from the customer side of the bar it's well-nigh impossible to prove that certain pubs are doing it, and equally impossible to prove that they aren't. So it's very easy to make unsubstantiated accusations which amount to little more than mud-slinging. Can't say I've looked for the tell-tale stainless steel buckets under the bar recently, but even those don't amount to proof.

mybrewerytap said...

Yeah definitely a bit different, just thought it was relevant...

ChrisM said...

There are at least two well known GBG regulars in Newcastle that filter back. The beer in one of them is often mediocre, but in the other is usually very good so not sure it's this practise alone that kills the beer. The landlord in the latter is very open about this fact, but he also prides himself on the quality of his beer.

I was having this discussion with a friend last night as it happens (he's works in one of the aforementioned pubs) and he doesn't agree with the practise, but obviously doesn't have much say in the matter. He did provide a useful insight, though.


Autovac, as Dave says, is a completely different kettle of fish. Personally I think it produces a great pint.

Curmudgeon said...

"There are at least two well known GBG regulars in Newcastle that filter back. The beer in one of them is often mediocre"

Cough! Contradiction in terms?

RedNev said...

The autovac is not different; it just cuts out the bucket. If a single dirty glass is reused, then the beer is contaminated. But it goes further than that: the beer will contaminated if the bar staff's hands aren't sterile, which is impossible anyway, but especially as staff also operate the till (a magnet for germs), handle dirty money and collect dirty glasses.

Also, the beer, as well as flowing over the pourer's hands, will also run over the outside of the glass, the bottom of which will not be clean unless the shelf on which it is stored is sterile.

The autovac should be banned and pubs that recycle beer should be subject to penalties similar to those imposed on caf├ęs and restaurants that break hygiene regulations.

mybrewerytap said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cooking Lager said...

Oo, good god. Thank god I neck cans of Carling. And people pay £3+ in pubs?

If CAMRA do anything, it ought to be naming and shaming this. A campaign FOR something and all that.

RedNev said...

CL: for once I agree with you!

Tandleman said...

I don't like the practice either. Autovacs I can just about stand, but I have the same hygiene concerns as Nev.

Curmudgeon said...

It's not uncommon to go into a pub "early doors" and be presented with a duff pint, for which the excuse is "it's the first one out this session" or "it hasn't been pulled through yet". Is it such a bad thing to pull a couple of pints through the lines and immediately return them to the cask, when the alternatives are either serving poor beer or pouring it down the drain, with the attendant increase in cost?

Tandleman said...

I think that may be the exception if it is done hygienically, but it's a difficult one that.

Erlangernick said...

You people are nuts. If it's spilled, it's bloody well spilled and gone. Even issues of hygene (good God!) and non-sterility of hands and work surfaces aside, it's beer that's already been run out through the line, through the bloody sparkler, down a glass, through god-knows-what sort of contraption an Auto-Vac is (I can't find any diagrams or photos of such a thing online...anyone?), to be re-pumped and re-sparkled into some poor bastard's pint, all to save a fucking penny?

I shall have to write my Congressman.

Tim said...

Having inspected a few cellars, its the damp and mold that exist in the same place that beer is kept that I think should be a hygene issue.

Unless the pub is smart enough to use cask breathers, its fetid dank air that is being sucked into the cask with each pull of the pump.

All this mess can be avoided with the technical advancement that is proper real keg.

Anonymous said...

An Australian telling us about cask beer??? What the fuck? Stick to cricket

Tim said...

@Anon - you just go back to drinking your warm vinegar

Ron Pattinson said...

Ah, the autovac. The perfect way to serve a pint.

Barm said...

My local pubs don't have autovacs, so I have to ask the barman to dip his fingers in my pint before handing it over.

Ed Groves said...

I regularly filtered back when running a cellar in Covent Garden in th early '80s; everything went back into the cask from whence it came, virtually immediately as, with high turnover, it often meant a cask that hadn't settled sufficiently was broached and another put on. I was informed by the Area Manager (overseeing 200 pubs) that my beer was the best kept.

Pub Landlord said...

This has to be my biggest gripe over cask beer. It makes the infamous cask breather debate seem a ripple in an eggcup. For those who don't know about it, or think it is dying out, try the pubs in Huddersfield, Keighley, Leeds, Harrogate - effectively West Yorkshire and at least the southern half of North Yorkshire. Autovacs are rife in this area, especially Bradford, where it's difficult to find a pub without these slops-recyclers. What slops out of the glass should stay out of the glass.
Much as I'd like to attend the CAMRA AGM and propose a campaign to outlaw these hideous devices, I'm tied to the bar so I can't get there. Anybody else willing to run with it? Nev? Anybody?
Although personally I'd ban Autovac pubs from GBG listing entirely, surely as a minimum the Guide should have a symbol denoting Autovac in use?

Anonymous said...

I actually work in a pub that filters back beer that's been stood under the bar in stainless steel buckets for at least 24 hrs, in summer there's beer flies all over it and you also get some customers than insist on the same glass, I personally refuse this coz is disgusting, we use hand pulled bitter etc and to put the nozzle in a dirty glass that somebody's nose has dripped in or they've slaverd or have cold sores or anything then use that pump for the next person makes me cringe, but still the overflow gets poured back into the buckets and is filters back... This is endorsed by the brewery who are only botherd about profit margins..... So il name il name and shame JOSEPH HOLTS...

Anonymous said...

This still happens at the Puzzle Hall Sowerby Bridge. For all the fanfare of a real ale pub, look behind the bar and you will see the disgusting practise to this day.

Anonymous said...

Not now puzzle is dead.
I wonder if it happens at his new place in Halifax

Johnzo said...

When I used to work in London as a bar/cellarman we did that all the time.
The sad thing was I would get the complaints when I had just put on a new barrel! I suppose because the vast majority of the time it wasn't the true virgin ale that regulars were used to the 'added flavour'.
I recall tasting the wonderful flavour of virgin Burton real ale, then putting it online only to go upstairs and get complaints.
By the next day the punters were happy, after we had ruined it with 2 or 3 buckets of slops which included ALL drip trays (except guinness) and soda's except ginger ale.
It was highly embarrassing!