It may be hard to believe today, but in the first decade of my drinking career, most of the cask beer in the North-West and the Midlands was served by electric, generally metered, dispense. It was well-nigh universal in Banks’s and Hanson’s pubs, and very much in the majority in the Greenalls, Robinson’s, Hydes, Home, Border* and Burtonwood estates. Plenty of Holts and Lees pubs had it too. Large numbers of Mitchells & Butlers pubs served cask beer from illuminated boxes indistinguishable from keg dispensers.
Now, it has pretty much entirely disappeared – my last sighting was of Robinson’s Unicorn in the Flying Dutchman in Stockport. I entirely understand the reasons why this has happened, that handpumps give a clear and unambiguous signal of the availability of cask beer in a way that electric meters can never do. But I can’t help feeling that we have lost a piece of tradition and a valuable element of diversity in the pub trade. And the old glass diaphragm pumps were, in my experience, just as good a guarantee of cask beer as handpumps.
Electric meters also had two significant advantages over handpumps – they minimised the influence of incompetent bar staff on how beer was served, and they dispensed full pints into oversize glasses. I continue to think it was a disgrace how many CAMRA branches, nominally committed to full measures, actively encouraged the replacement of meters by handpumps even though they knew at the same time that would lead to the replacement of oversize glasses by brim measures - a fact that may have given breweries a financial incentive to make the change.
* btw, anyone still remember Border Breweries nowadays?