Fake beer engines are being actively pimped in the U.S.

1st November 2006

For a number of years, a U.S. importer of British beer offered fake beer engines (a.k.a. 'handpumps' or 'handpulls') as an option for dispensing some of their regular pressurised keg brands. These sly contraptions craftily mimic the pulling action of a real beer engine, giving the impression that the liquid being dispensed is cask-conditioned ale - i.e. living beer that has undergone natural secondary fermentation in the cask due to the continued presence of yeast, and which has been dispensed without being pushed by extraneous gas.

Thankfully this importer has now seen sense and has pledged not to install any more, at least around this area and I believe nationally. And shipments of casks from the UK are about to begin for the first time with this company, they now acknowledge the ever-growing potential for sales of real cask-conditioned beer is something they can be part of.

However, despite interest and availability of true cask-conditioned ale snowballing (my online directory has expanded by 42% in the last 2 years) and the aforementioned importer giving up on them as a failure, a drinks dispense company in southern U.S.A. has surprisingly started to promote these bogus engines.

This is a move totally in the wrong direction; a couple of breweries (Burtonwood and Greenall-Whitley) tried this in the U.K. in the 1980s, as did Scrumpy Jack Cider in the early '90s. Those were simple devices which just had an on-off switch, the handle was depressed just once and the beer or cider flowed freely with no faux pumping action necessary - so identifying those was easy. Following an outcry by the Campaign for Real Ale, and associated boycotts of pubs which had installed them, they all disappeared suddenly. You will often see the Scrumpy Jack ones for sale on eBay, most of those end up as doorstops.

Back to the present situation here in America, the new generation of fakes bear little relation to the failed crop in the U.K. a decade or two ago. These new ones have a hydraulic damper which makes the pulling action slow and steady, just like the correct pouring speed of a real beer engine. They look just like the real thing to the customer who, commonly knowing what cask-conditioned beer is, will assume that to be the case where in actual fact they will be receiving a pint of standard gas-infused keg beer.

(For the bar owner / manager)

This page was put up in response to a general press release I received pimping the fake contraptions - appropriately sent out on Halloween!

It is reproduced below for educational purposes, with selected details omitted. Note in the 4th paragraph, the dispensed product is incorrectly, misleadingly, and probably illegally described as "cask-conditioned". Beer pushed with gas is not true cask ale - EVER.

PRESS RELEASE [Somewhere], [Some State] - October 31, 2006 [Brand name] Cylinderless Beer Engines now available in the United States
The [brand name] beer engine has been designed to have the appearance and action of the traditional hand pull beer engines but with the latest cylinderless technology. When the handle is pulled the hydraulic damper provides enough resistance to open a valve allowing the product to be dispensed; when the pull is stopped the damper allows the valve to shut stopping dispense. The damper also simulates the pull force of the traditional cylinder style engines. The engine is be operated by giving the handle a firm but steady / constant pull, the slower the pull the more product will be dispensed as the valve is held open longer. If more product is required to be dispensed per pull, slightly increasing the dispense pressure can be quite effective. As the engine has no cylinder the dispense temperature can be more easily controlled, and wastage during line cleaning process is reduced. The engines are designed for use on pressurised systems and should not be installed with a check valve. Standard operating pressure is 25 - 38 psi depending on the length of the python. "Designed and manufactured by us, the [brand name] is a perfect alternative to traditional beer engines, offering easy and flexible use, low maintenance and affordable cost, to Publicans wanting to properly dispense cask conditioned ale", said Business Development Director, [name]. [Company name] have created a range of simple yet effective beer engines to offer maximum performance and durability while responding to the ever changing demands of the trade. From the widely compatible [brand name], with its integral water jacket to prevent beer from warming, to the simulated hand pull [brand name] cylinderless, [company name] can offer a solution, whatever the requirement. [Company name] Beer Engines are now distributed in the United States by [Company name] located in [Somewhere], [Some State]. Telephone: (000) 000-0000 - Fax: (000) 000-0000 -
If a you know of a bar near you that employs a fake engine, why not politely suggest they toss it out and install a real cask system? They probably won't regret it. Details of how to do that are available on the other pages of this site, or feel free to email me for advice (address below).

One bar here in New York City has recently replaced a bogus beer engine (rightfully putting the filtered keg product that was on it on a regular tap line) and has put a real engine in the spot it occupied. Business is reportedly booming there through interest in true cask ale - and they have only had it a month at the time of writing.

©  Alex Hall, 1st November 2006.