A beer engine is a device for pumping beer, originally manually operated and typically used to dispense beer from a cask or container in a pub's basement or cellar. It was invented by John Lofting, a Dutch inventor, merchant, and manufacturer who moved from Amsterdam to London in or about 1688. He became a citizen and patented a number of inventions including his "Sucking Worm Engine", a fire hose and engine for extinguishing fires, and also a thimble knurling machine which revolutionized thimble making. He also invented a device for pumping beer. The London Gazette of 17 March 1691 stated "the patentee hath also projected a very useful engine for starting of beers and other liquors which will deliver from 20 to 30 barrels an hour which are completely fixed with brass joints and screws at reasonable rates."
Strictly the term "beer engine" refers to the pump itself, which is normally manually operated, though electrically powered and gas powered pumps are occasionally used; when manually powered, the term handpump is often used to refer to both the pump and the associated handle.
The beer engine is normally located below the bar, and the visible handle is used to draw the beer through a flexible tube to the spout, below which the glass is placed. Modern hand pumps may clamp onto the edge of the bar or be mounted in a more permanent fashion integrated with the top of the bar.
A pump clip is usually attached to the handle by a spring clip giving the name, and sometimes other details such as the brewer's name, beer type and alcoholic strength, of the beer being served through that handpump.
The handle of a handpump is often used as a symbol of cask ale, although this can also be served by electric pumps, air pressure pumps, or by gravity. By contrast, keg beer dispensers usually feature illuminated countertop fittings behind which a handle opens a valve that allows the gas pressure in the keg to force beer to the attached spout.
A swan neck is a curved spout. This is often used in conjunction with a sparkler - a nozzle containing small holes - fitted to the spout to aerate the beer as it enters the glass, giving a frothier head; this presentation style is more popular in the North of England than in the South.
A sparkler (also called a sparklet) is a device that can be optionally attached to the nozzle of a beer engine. Designed rather like a shower-head, when beer is dispensed through a sparkler, the beer becomes aerated and frothy which results in a beer that has a noticeable head on it. Some CO2 is carried away into the head, resulting in a softer, sweeter flavour due to the loss of normal CO2 acidity.[dead link]
There is some dispute about the benefits of a sparkler. There is an argument that the sparkler can reduce the flavour and aroma, especially of the hops, in some beers. The counter argument is that the sparkler takes away harshness. A pub may favor sparklers because the larger head they produce means it does not need to supply as much beer.
Breweries may state whether or not a sparkler is preferred when serving their beers. Generally, breweries in Northern England serve their beers with a sparkler attached and breweries in the South will serve them without, but this is by no means definitive.
Pump clips are badges that are attached to handpumps in pubs to show which cask ales are available. In addition to the name of the beer served through the pump, they give other details such as the brewer's name and alcoholic strength of the beer.
They can be made of various materials. For beers that are brewed regularly by the big breweries, high quality plastic, metal or ceramic pump clips are used. Smaller breweries would use a printed plastic pump clip and for one-off beers laminated paper is used. There are variations on the material used, and the gaudiness or tastefulness of the decoration depending on how much the brewery wants to market their beers at the point of sale. Novelty pump clips have also been made of wood, slate and compact discs. Some even incorporate electronic flashing lights. Older pump clips were made of enamel.
The term "pump clip" presumably originates from the clip that attaches it to the pump handle. These could consist of a two-piece plastic ring which clamps to the handle with two screws. Plastic and laminated paper pump clips usually have a white plastic clip fixed with a sticky double-sided pad that simply pushes onto the handle.