THE practice of placing dye or ‘ethyl violet’ in beer trays was legislated by the NSW Government in 1939. Other Australian states and territories also legislated to make the dye a requirement in trays at pubs and clubs.
Reports of ‘slops’ – or access beer, after pouring – being poured back into kegs or bottles to re-sell, lead to the requirement for publicans to add purple dye into trays in an effort to prevent the practice.
Adding ethyl violet to beer trays was eventually phased out in pubs from the late 1980s and early 1990s when specially sealed kegs were introduced that were only able to be refilled by the breweries.
The Glycol system replaced the old Temprite system in the late 1980s, eventually doing away with the need for the dye (Although, I believe the law has not been repealed and is still in place).
Ounce of Dye Colours a million gallons
Hotel keepers unaware chemist sold drip beer colouring
One ounce of methyl violet, costing about 4 shillings, would colour 1,000,000 gallons of beer. Methyl violet is the dye with which hotel keepers are now compelled to colour drip beer.
Methyl rosaline, as the dye is known to chemists, is used in England to colour methylated spirits to protect people from drinking it by mistake.
“In the small quantities needed to colour beer violet it would have no harmful effect on anyone who drank it,” said Mr. A. W. Dye, Sydney analyst, last night.
The gazetting on Friday night of the regulations requiring the dyeing of drip beer caught many publicans without methyl violet on Saturday. Many were unaware that it could be obtained from pharmacies. Washing blue was substituted in some hotels. In others, barmaids were instructed to throw away drip beer without waiting for it to accumulate.
– Sydney Daily Telegraph Monday 10 July 1939
BRISBANE barmaids are feeling a bit superior to their Sydney sisters these days. Like their Southern sisters, the Brisbane girls don’t like getting their hands stained by ethyl violet, the dye that has to be put into drip-trays so that unscrupulous publicans won’t serve up the drips again. Now they, won’t have to worry, because the health authorities have found a substitute, a non-staining oily dye called Bronbus Oil B, which turns the beer slops a cloudy white.
– The Sydney Sun Saturday 19 November 1949.
DRIP BEER PROBLEM
Hobart – Because of the dismissal of a prosecution in Hobart Police Court by Mr. Moore, P.M., against a publican for not using coloured dyes in drip beer receptacle, it has been held there is now nothing to prevent the sale of drip beer to customers. The magistrate held there was nothing in the regulations to show that drip beer was harmful to health. Hobart City Council is much concerned, and a special meeting of the health committee has been called to discuss the position.
– Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) Saturday 4 November 1950
Members of various Facebook Groups have responded to the story on colouring beer slops with dye with the following comments.
Colin Carrington (Australian History – The Way It Was – A Nostalgic Look At Our Past):
“There was a lurk (at least around 1970), some publicans in out of the way locations in NSW could risk, by not putting the dye in the drip tray. I used to relieve many Postmasters in ‘out of the way places’.
“One Postmaster, upon taking over as he was leaving town on holidays, advised me; ‘The Publican’s had a bad batch of kegs. He might come in with the appropriate form completed – details of the keg – and get you to go down and witness it being emptied. If so ‘YOU’ will get a cheque later for your time and services’.
“Sure enough a week so later he came to see me and I witnessed and completed the Postmasters, or in my case Acting Postmasters, part of the form.
“I later heard on the grape/beer vine, that Publican had an unusually high number of ‘bad kegs’. He was not using the dye. I never got my cheque. It must have been collared by the Postmaster upon his return.
“I never had the opportunity to ‘discuss the matter with him later’, as he soon after shot through with a lot of PMG/Post Office money. He made a clean break.”
Ross Palm (Bygone Brisbane and Vintage Queensland):
“Yes…the good old days. Many Brisbane Pubs didn’t bother. There was often an empty keg, with funnel, kept in the cool room for ‘slops’ but mostly for the beer which was drawn when a new keg was put on. The ‘slops’ keg, when full, was normally placed in between two others before the beer in same was dispensed. Waste not want not…..”
Mark Hewitt (Sydney’s Past):
“I remember the dye , made from commonly Potassium Permanganate. Beer in drip trays was referred to as Ullage and at the end of each day was recorded into a log book. An excise was credited at Tax Time upon the Ullage recorded. Each new day the freshly tapped beer was drawn up with water ahead of it. once the beer appeared the temprite cooler was turned on ready to serve. That beer went back to the cellar and put into the called tail keg via a funnel. It may contain less than one percent of the drawing water. Hotels were visited by inspectors from the Dept of Excise.”
Paul Anthony Coghlan (Sydney’s Eastern and Southern Suburbs Memories and History):
“Working in a pub from 1973 to 1975, the purple dye was certainly used in the drip trays or “scoobies“ as the barmen called them. The licensing coppers always rang the manager to give him notice of when they were coming for an inspection mainly looking for under age drinkers rather than purple dye checking. At Xmas time, a good supply of grog and spirits was loaded into the back of the coppers station wagon. That’s how the system worked!”
Narelle Levitt (Old Sydney Album Facebook Group):
“I’ve worked in pubs from 1979 till recently. I reckon the purple dye didn’t end until the late 80s or early 90s. The tradition of recycling the slops was that it would be put back into a keg… most likely a dark beer keg like black or brown as the slops were bits of all the beers. But it NEVER went into the cellar mans keg…. hence the saying… always drink what the cellar man drinks. The dye was no longer needed once the kegs changed from the old kegs that you speared, to the kegs we have now. If you look in old cellars, at the ceiling, you can often see a multitude of holes, from where the spear in the keg shot back out and straight up, often almost taking out an eye.”
Robert Nicholson (Old Sydney Album Facebook Group):
“The blue dye was to stop the slops being reused. Drip trays now have drains so there’s no need as the dye would go down the drain with the slops. The slops are now at a minimum with the introduction of the Glycol systems rather than the old Temprite systems.”
Allison O’Sullivan (Old Sydney Album Facebook Group):
“I used to work at the old Oxford (now Webster’s) in Newtown (Sydney). They were definitely still meant to be using it in the mid 90s, and I know for a fact that the dregs were poured back into the Resch’s keg! There was nothing we could do to stop the publican doing it. Resch’s was slightly darker so it hid the dregs better, and they were the last brewery before they were bought out to use the old ‘spike’ kegs, so very easy to slip the beer back in. Modern kegs won’t allow you to put anything in.”
Jason Davis (Vintage and Nostalgic Sydney in Photos):
“I worked in Jamison Hotel, Penrith in the mid 90’s and we made the purple dye up in both bars in bottles with the tablets and water… And licensing cops used to check the drip trays every time they came in…”
Bruce McCarthy (Vintage and Nostalgic Sydney in Photos):
“I worked at the Albion in the seventies. We used condies crystals in the trays. It was a regulation to stop the slops being put back into the kegs. If a health inspector found no dye in the trays the publican was fined – lookout the offending bar staff!”
Andrew Macaulay (Vintage Sydney (Private) Facebook Group):
“Curious. The practice certainly occurred, but like most romantic recollections of other eras the story gets enhanced in the retelling. I was a cellarman for a long time, in very colourful bars, with larger than life publicans, and my understanding is that this practice only ever occurred in the ugliest kinds of bars. As well as the beer becoming sour from exposure to air, the drip trays were collecting from multiple taps for beer ranging from light beer to stouts, and the ullage drains in a large pub would consolidate drips trays from many bars throughout the premises. Consequently, the slops in the ullage keg, even if mixed into a large bank of kegs (allegedly the method) to dilute the taint would have alerted any drinker with a pallette. A well run pub cleaned it’s lines regularly, as even slightly dirty lines tainted beer. Putting slops through the lines, unless you were serving wretchedly drunk patrons, would be a swift way of emptying a bar.”
Less Williams (Old Sydney album):
“They would have a bank of 18 gallon kegs and the last keg would be a 9 gallon; that’s where the slops would go, and run through all the 18s, to the taps.”
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