Controversial as it may be, I would like to offer an alternative position on the auto vac question. I am Mr. Ticker. A 10 year veteran of pub drinking and a proud Yorkshireman. I have worked in many pubs, pubs that use the auto vac system and pubs that don't. I believe the auto vac system serves the best kind of pint, it leaves a creamy, creamy head and enhances the flavour.
Some people think that auto vac is used to minimise wasteage, in my experience, however, this is untrue. If a pub uses drip trays the waste should be nil. It has become common practice for barstaff to fill a pint glass 3/4 full and then let this settle before topping the beer up, so there are no drips and no overpour. Auto vac however needs cleaning DAILY and there is 1 to 2 pints left in the pipes which becomes waste. In Auto vac, when a pint is being pulled, the beer does not go back into the barrel it stays in the pipe, and is reintroduced along with fresh beer when the next pint is served.
The only argument against the auto vac system in my eyes could be cleanliness. The auto vac itself is, or should be (it was in every pub I worked in) cleaned after every shift. It is completely dismantled and all parts get washed in the dishwasher apart from the tubing which is cleaned as regularly as other pub lines. The dishwasher sterilises as it cleans. Personal hygiene of bar staff is a different matter, I will concede that as beer spills over hands, there is no room for mediocre hygiene.
I may be old fashioned, but I enjoy seeing a pint served through auto vac, it is a symbol of local tradition. Maybe my rose tinted glasses are side effect of all the 'bacteria' ridden beer I have consumed, or maybe I am getting so old I prefer the way things were in my youth.