Saturday 23 October 2010

The deception that isn’t

Last night, the local CAMRA branch did a crawl of some of the pubs on the east side of Stockport town centre. One of the pubs visited was the Queens on Great Portwood Street. Go in, and you’re greeted by the sight of two handpumps dispensing Robinson’s Unicorn and Hatters. However, ask for either, and the barmaid will not pull the pump but flick a little switch to dispense your beer. Shock! Horror! Fake handpumps! But, in fact, the beer you get is cask-conditioned, served via electric meters, so while it may on the face of it look like a deception, it isn’t. The Unicorn was fine, and a beer I could happily have drunk all night, although those who went for the Hatters weren’t so happy. It’s a smartly-decorated, comfortable pub that, while never likely to be a CAMRA favourite, perhaps gets dismissed too easily.

I’ve expressed in the past a certain amount of nostalgia for the disappearance of metered real ale dispense. I know handpumps are an unequivocal symbol of cask beer, but in my view electric meters provide the ideal halfway house between sparklering a beer to death, and serving it flat, they remove the ability of incompetent bar staff to cock up dispensing a pint, and they give you a full measure too! Once very common in the North-West (especially in Robinson’s, Hydes and Greenalls pubs), the Queens and the Flying Dutchman on Hillgate are the only pubs I know of that still have it.

Incidentally, the best beer of the night was (handpumped) Robinson’s Battering Ram in the Tiviot – a wonderful pub that is like stepping back into the 1950s.


  1. I remember the half-pint, metered-dispense electric pumps from my time as a student in Salford, during the mid 1970's. The glass cylinders were mounted horizontally on the bar, and I used to like watching the piston move from one end to the other, as it dispensed the beer (I'm easily pleased!).

    I would endorse everything you say about then, Curmudgeon, and was surprised when they were phased out. (Presumably this happened beacause brewers, like CAMRA, viewed the handpump as a universal symbol of real ale). Like you say, the were especially prevalent in Robinsons, Hydes and Greenalls pubs, but I remember quite a few Boddingtons houses having then as well, (that was back in the day when Boddies was worth drinking!)

    Perhaps we should start a campaign to re-introduce them, especially as they ensured one always got a full pint!

  2. Of course the key reason for replacing meters with handpumps was that you could serve at least 5% less beer per "pint", thus increasing profit margins.

    And CAMRA, seeing handpumps as a symbol of real ale, actively connived in this process, despite theoretically supporting full measures.

    It's a dead issue now, but twenty years ago a significant number of CAMRA members would regard handpumped beer as inherently superior to that dispensed by meters.

  3. Great Pic of the Queens, spent many a friday night there , the landlady Sue was brill. The pub was great and really friendly.


  4. Hand pumps in the Tiviot? What happened to the gas dispense and fake hand pumps?

  5. I do vaguely remember them having fake handpumps with free-flow electric dispense behind, but not sure I'd describe that as "gas dispense". Before that it had meters. Definitely proper handpumps now, though.


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