Saturday, 6 July 2019

Dispensing wisdom

I recently made a couple of posts that touched on issues of beer dispense. These spurred me to look at what was going on in pubs more closely than I had before. The first explained the development of the “swan neck” nozzle for serving cask beer, which originated as an attempt to emulate te creamy texture of beers dispensed using the “economiser” that was once commonplace in West Yorkshire.

These are often seen as something distinctly Northern, but when we went to Rugby in May pretty much every pub with handpumps seemed to be using them. Since then, I have had holidays in Bath and the surrounding area, and in Cornwall, where I observed that swan-necks seemed to have become pretty general as far south as you can get in the country. The only exceptions were pubs using gravity dispense, and those with very old sets of handpumps. A noticeable difference, though, was that they seemed to be of a thicker gauge than those usually found in the North, and were generally used without sparklers.

Someone made the point that dispense equipment was generally provided by brewers, not the pubs themselves, so the pubs had little alternative but to go along with the trend. The only exceptions would be some free houses which owned their own pumps. Swan-necks mean that, for most of the pull, you are dispensing beer in the midst of the liquid rather than on to the top, but in the absence of a sparkler it’s hard to see what difference it makes, or what advantage it offers. I would have thought it made it harder to bar staff to influence to final presentation of the head, which may or may not be a good thing.

Swan-necks by definition involve inserting the pump nozzle into the beer, but in this post on beer presentation it was strongly argued by Pete Brown that keg beers should ideally be dispensed without the nozzle touching the beer at all, a point echoed in this video:

I have to say I expressed scepticism at the time as to how often this was achieved in practice, and this was certainly borne out by my observations. Most keg beers nowadays are dispensed either from T-bars or tall fonts standing well above the bar top. The old-fashioned bar-top illuminated boxes have pretty much entirely disappeared except in Sam Smith’s pubs. They have a stainless steel nozzle about three inches long.

From what I saw, the nozzle was almost invariably inserted into the beer to a greater or lesser extent, and sometimes the pint glass was moved up and down, or swirled around, to achieve the desired final appearance of the head. So clearly the ideal is scarcely ever being achieved there and, to be honest, with brim measure glasses and nozzles of that length, it would be extremely difficult to do so.


  1. I am sure that I saw, and was served from, these taps in France over 20 years ago. Pression, s'il vous plait.
    Very recently, in my Scottish local, I was told that my glass, mug, tumbler cannot be refilled, as of old because I was the last person to use that receptacle , because this habit of dipping the tap into the beer means that my germs will be transferred to the tap and thence on to the next customer.

  2. Surely there is only one acceptable way to serve the bitter? With a Tandleman approved sparkler. Every other way is wrong.

  3. Essentially yes, but keg beers are another thing. The key here is to get the gas mix right. If you do that you don't need to do any swirling and other such things.

  4. my view and how I was taught to use them down south, is the swan neck doesnt touch the glass, and it doesnt touch the beer, thats exactly the "double dipping" technique in a used glass and how bacterial infections can spread across to equipment. The loop of the swan neck is tight enough to force some conditioning into the beer, not as much as a sparkler for sure, but down south we dont feel you need to have beer with a head you could put a flake in

    but its very hard to teach people that technique because whenever you see people pour beer in media representations, its invariably done in a northern style, with sparkle, and people copy what they see

    keg is different, but even if you get the gas mix right, there are beers that much like modern style lager counterparts need nucleation glasses, else they just dont work. Ive actually seen in a pub they experimented as people kept complaining the beer was off as it was flat,they poured in two different glasses, no other changes and it was remarkable how much difference it made

    1. No, a swan-neck by definition has a long spout so it's pretty much impossible to serve without dipping the spout in the beer. That's the whole point of it.

      The video explains why nucleated glasses are required for lagers and non-nitro keg ales.

    2. The Stafford Mudgie9 July 2019 at 16:39

      I agree with Stono here having seen swan necks without sparklers in use in Brighton about ten days ago.
      A handpump might or might not have a swan neck irrespective of whether or not a sparkler is used.
      Yes, a swan neck has a long spout but it's an upside-down 'U' through which the beer goes up before going down such that the nozzle is no lower than it would be without the swan neck.
      And a full pint couldn't be taken away on the level, without spillage, if it was pretty much impossible to serve without dipping the spout in the beer.


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