Monday, 4 August 2014

The Faux Handpull

I got asked to do a survey today regarding cask beer. The first error in the survey was to ask me how much cask beer I drank a week. That would have been fine, only it clarified by saying cask beer was beer served by handpull. I'd agreed that largely this is true, but not always.

Hardknott OnTrack, for instance, does not have any handpulls, but does serve cask beer. Some pubs serve cask beer by gravity. I know of a few bars where cask beer is actually served through taps, much like keg beer. This does not stop it from being cask beer.

The handpull was a good way of getting beer out of the cellar and up to the bar, before the days of new fangled electric pumps and the like. It works well with a pub where the cellar is directly below the bar. Have a look at the picture I drew1. The handpull "sucks"2 beer up to the bar through good old fashioned beer hose. It's simple.

Many, and I do mean many pubs have no such arrangement. The beer hose can hold quite a lot of beer if it has any length. It is difficult to keep the beer in the pipe cool and there is significant wastage when line cleaning etc.

Most pubs have installed a thing called a python. It is especially useful where the cellar is not directly below the bar and where there might be some distance the beer has to travel. Suppose it is a more modern building that has a solid concrete floor and the cellar is a little way away on the same level. A python is a bundle of pipes, lagged and kept cool by a circulating cold water cooling system. The pipes are a lot narrower and so the wastage is less.

The problem with this is that the resistance to the flow of beer is much greater. Using a handpull with longer narrower pipes would at best be difficult and at worst pull the CO2 out of the beer.

This is solved by having a sort of servo pump in the cellar to pressurise the pipe. It's normally a FloJet diaphragm pump. The beer in the pipe is under a pressure all the way to the bar, a bit like kegged beers.

This is all well and good, only handpulls won't stop a pressurised beer from flowing, this is not what they are designed to do. Just before the handpull is installed a check valve. Basically this detects the reduced pressure caused by the "suction" from the handpull and so opens allowing the pressurised beer into the handpull.

This effectively makes the handpull act like a valve, rather than a pump. Its significantly faux and over complicated.

Those of us who are sensible omit the handpull and check valve and just put a tap in its place.


1I didn't draw the figures. These came from Brains during our recent collaboration3. I'm not sure who they are supposed to be.

2 Actually, it doesn't suck at all, it's atmospheric pressure that pushes it up. All my old physics teachers and lecturers would now, quite rightly, be shaking their heads at me for using such a stupidly non-scientific word like "suck" - however, I like to think that handpulls suck.

3More on this later, promise.


StringersBeer said...

Well, yes, but people like to see handpulls.

Unknown said...

Not quite Stringers, most of those who drink cask beer like to see them. The vast majority of beer sold in the on trade still comes out of things that are not handpulls. One would have to argue that most beer drinkers don't actually care about them.

It is frustrating that there is this false assertion that beer from anything other than that which might be considered true "real ale" is somehow flawed. This myth is helped in its propagation by many smoke and mirror tricks. The faux handpull is one such trick.

More effort goes into making sure that the customer perception of good beer is maintained rather than actually ensuring the beer is good.

Worrying about extraneous CO2, I believe, actually detracts from good beer.

Next time I open a bar I think I'll put in some handpulls and use them to serve keg beer.

StringersBeer said...

"More effort goes into [...] the customer perception of good beer" Well, duh, yes. Welcome to the business of show.

Tandleman said...

"Next time I open a bar I think I'll put in some handpulls and use them to serve keg beer."

That would be provocative, perverse and counter productive Dave, but I like to think you are joking.

While the handpull is synonymous with cask beer, very few I suspect, even amongst cask drinkers, assume it automatically means good beer.

And worrying about CO2 in beer goes with the territory if you are a beer drinker. Too much, too little? Indeed a matter for discussion.

Nor can I see any advantage from the customer point of view in blurring the lines between cask and keg. It would only lead to confusion and uncertainty and would contribute to the smoke and mirrors you are concerned about.

Jeff Pickthall said...

"More effort goes into making sure that the customer perception of good beer is maintained rather than actually ensuring the beer is good."

--Like sparklers.

Unknown said...

Stringers, I'm confused. Are you saying I'm wrong to discuss this subject?

Tandy, am I joking? I guess I wrote it as a joke. Would I do it? Probably, for a laugh.

I agree that the level of CO2 in the beer is very important. I don't feel it is important as to where it comes from.

Jeff, and I thought Tandy would be the one to point out that sparklers are not so easy to put on a tap.

Tandleman said...

Well they do it at the Euston Tap. It isn't very effective though, so that'll suit Jeff. But they do keep their beer well there, which suits everyone I assume.

StringersBeer said...

@Dave, not at all. It's an interesting post. But you know as well as anyone that window-dressing is at least as important as any inherent quality of the goods. It's why we spend so much time and effort of PR & showing our faces, innit?

Cooking Lager said...

All I want is sign saying "beard club approved" and I'll neck it.

StringersBeer said...

@cookie, isn't the handpull just that sign?

Tyson said...

The issue of sparklers is where your whole theory collapses. Having accepted that they don't really suit taps-which they don't-and since everyone knows that sparklers improve beer; the hamdpull reigns supreme.

StringersBeer said...

... How about a stout tap? Sort of used in reverse. You'd get a cracking head.

Yvan said...

"Next time I open a bar I think I'll put in some handpulls and use them to serve keg beer."

Yep, seen this in Australia... :) I was all "wow, you've got handpumps!" Barman was sheepishly honest: "it's connected to a keg under light pressure". It was a real handpump though... as opposed to...

Funny you should be writing about this, a couple of days ago I noticed something in a video that I saw a fair bit of in NZ. The "fake" handpump. The video reveals all at 32 seconds:

Now *that* is a "faux handpull" :)

These guys are known for their "British style" beer by the way. Then again in NZ the only British beer I saw was bloody Greene King IPA and Fuller's London Pride on keg... really. Oh, and BrewDog. I stuck the the local product.