Cheers: More than average Joe

By Don Kavanagh

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Next time you have a beer be grateful to one of our heroes, says Don Kavanagh.

Beer taps helped improve the quality of beer. Photo / Getty Images
Beer taps helped improve the quality of beer. Photo / Getty Images

Whenever I am snugly ensconced in a comfortable bar, I often raise a metaphorical glass to the heavens for my good fortune in living in a time when the entire process of going out for a drink is as far advanced as it has ever been.

More specifically, I discovered that this year marks the 200th anniversary of one of my heroes and a man who did more than most to improve the lot of drinkers - Joseph Bramah, who was born in 1748 in Yorkshire.

Bramah was one of those wonderful men whose inventions helped chivvy along the Industrial Revolution. Somehow, in the space of roughly half a century, a disparate group of men came up with fascinating inventions that revolutionised the way we lived and worked, shifting Britain and then the wider world away from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing one.

Old Joe, as I like to think of him, is probably most famous for his work in hydraulics, specifically the hydraulic press, examples of which are still in use today.

Overall, he secured patents for 18 different inventions, but it is his first two that have made visiting the pub such a pleasant experience. Before Bramah's time beer was usually served from large casks kept behind the bar and therefore open to all manner of fluctuations in temperature, light and movement. The beer was dispensed through a small tap, letting gravity do the work.

Old Joe came up with a far more efficient delivery system when he designed his beer pump in 1785, the forerunner of today's beer tap. The next time you are being hypnotised by the coloured lights twinkling on the bowser at your local, spare a thought for the likes of Joseph Bramah, without whom we'd still be licking it out of the end of a tap.

His invention meant beer barrels could be stored in a cellar beneath the tavern, meaning the storage temperature could be kept constant, thereby improving the general quality of the beer. Old Joe also came to the rescue of the desperate everywhere with his first patent, which was for an improved flushing toilet. If latrines were still holes in the ground out the back, far fewer people would go to the pub, even though some of the toilets I've encountered in Auckland would make a cesspit look attractive.

It took a lot of people a lot of work to make our lives as easy as they are today, so give thanks that basically all the hard work is done and all that remains is to enjoy the fruits of the labours of others.

I'll certainly drink to that.

- Herald on Sunday

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