Friday, 25 May 2012

Unwanted Knowledge

Earlier this week, one hot sunny day, I found myself in a beer garden of my local, just hours after reading Boak & Bailey's blog posts, The John Smith's Experiment. Lucky me, my local serves John Smith's or... John Smith's, or Strongbow for the really adventurous. Since it needs ticking, and there were no other choices, I decided to see what I thought about John Smith's brew. There were two positives. First, it wasn't offensive. Second, it was creamy and smooth, with a really good head on it. That's all I can really say on it.

Halfway through my half, I commented on the head, and how I thought the lady behind the bar was a bit rubbish because she wasted about a quarter of a pint pouring over the side in order to get a good head. Mr T then explained. Explained the horrendous system that is the autovac. For those that don't know, the autovac system recycles beer that goes over the side of your pint, back into the barrel. Apparently this process makes your beer have a good head. Well. I wasn't sure what to think except for being a bit horrified. I was half way through my drink which had gone over the hands of countless people who may have been picking their nose, or scratching themselves...

Before I continue, I wish to clarify I'm not a clean freak, as anyone who has ever visited my house will testify to. But I'm not filthy.

So. I know that chef's handle food. And I know that although they should be, they might not all be hygiene sticklers. But, food generally is cooked after handling, and food which isn't, is only briefly touched by one person. Autovac, where a liquid runs over every nook, cranny and crevice of several bar staff member's hands and nails, taking with it dead skin, bacteria and I dread to think about the other grossness which lurks there... is a whole other kettle of fish. Yuk.

Now I know. Blissful ignorance is no more. Now, there are questions to be answered.

Am I really that unobservant that for my entire adult life that I have failed to notice this? Or is it not that common practice?

Does it make the head of the beer better?

Can I survive as a beerticker and avoid autovac beer, or am I going to have to suck it up and stop moaning?

And... I did finish my beer... does that make me a hypocrite?


  1. It's a foul practice, and I thought it had been thrown out as unhygienic (with the ark). I'm surprised they serve JS through it, certainly big brewer tech services wouldn't maintain the autovac.

    No bar-person's hands can be clean enough to touch your beer. They use their hands too much. At busy times do they wash their hands properly every time they touch money? Doubtful.

  2. I know at least one real ale pub in Cambridge, no less, where the landlord empties the drip trays back into the barrels.

  3. I've heard this is a northern practice. I'm a foreigner who goes pub-crawling around England at least a couple of times a year. I THINK I've only encountered it at the otherwise charming King's Head in Huddersfield, where I've been a couple of times.

    The first time, I didn't notice the autovac, but I did find the condition and flavour of the beer I drank a bit different than other good places. The next time, I noticed a distinctively metallic note and observed the barmaid wasting a lot of beer while pulling pints. And then I noticed the hoses running from under the drip trays back to who-knows where, and how they were obviously sucking the slops with each pull of the pump.

    I didn't finish my beer.

    And I won't be back. Except to show my wife on some future trip, as she wasn't along on this one, maybe have a nitro stout or something. I'll be on the look-out for this nasty, disgusting consumer rip-off (I pay for fresh beer in prime condition, don't I?) and will give my custom elsewhere and explain why when I so.

    Even *if* the barman manages to keep his fingers out of contact with the beer, who knows how many flies and whatever else have been crawling around in the slop trough, how often and how it's cleaned and rinsed, etc. Unbelievably nasty. It is truly, mind-bogglingly bizarre, not only that the practice exists in a country that is, IMO, otherwise quite hygiene-conscious, but that so many Northerners appear to accept and maybe even like it.

    I can't believe CAMRA isn't on about this. Or are they?

  4. Thanks for all your comments, I'm very relieved it is not just me thinking it is gross! Will watch out for it like a hawk in future. Would be interesting to hear from anyone who likes it, and find out why...?

  5. And this is why people don't go back to real beer. Bad experiences with crap beer. *shakes head*