Truman's returns to Spitalfields
Ever since Truman’s closed the brewery in 1988 after more than three centuries of brewing in Brick Lane, their absence has been felt throughout East London, emphasised by all the ex-Truman’s pubs that are still emblazoned with the name as part of their architecture. Meanwhile, the venerable history and resonant name of Truman’s – which remains synonymous with beer in East London – got lost in series of corporate takeovers at the end of the last century. They were sorely missed. And it looked like it was all over, the barrel was empty, the last glass had been drunk and the dregs had been drained. But now, in an entirely unexpected joyous development, two fearless young men are bringing Truman’s back.
“It was apparent that everyone referred to Truman’s, but you couldn’t taste it – so it was a sad story,” explained Michael-George Hemus who, with his business partner James Morgan, has embraced the audacious challenge to re-establish Truman’s Brewery, working from an attic in Elder St. “There is a legacy of Truman’s that has to be taken up by a brewery of a certain size.” said James with an impressive clear-eyed confidence, declaring his ambition to open a brewery in East London, on a scale than can employ a significant number of people, within two years from now.
If Michael-George & James are successful they will become one more chapter in the long history that has seen many re-inventions for Truman’s Brewery. As Michael-George reminded me, Joseph Truman who gave his name to the brewery was not the one who started it, but an employee who worked his way up and took over the business. Joseph’s son Ben was in charge during the porter boom, building the business to become the largest brewer in East London, exporting overseas, supplying the army, the royal family and creating an imperial stout for the Tsar. When Ben Truman died without an heir, Sampson Hanbury bought up all the shares and took control. Industrialising the process, he was one of the first to use canals for distribution and bought a boat to ship his own exports. His successor Thomas Buxton was William Wilberforce’s right hand man in the campaign for abolition of slavery, who worked altruistically for the people of the East End, insisting all his employees learn to read on company time.
So Michael-George & James are following in the footsteps of some remarkable men, and last December, after two years of wrangling, they signed an agreement to buy the celebrated yet neglected name of Truman’s from the corporate owners. But since November, they had already been stealing a march in the London Metropolitan Archive which houses all Truman’s records, researching the history of their illustrious predecessors, poring through the photographic collection and most significantly studying the “gyle books” which contain the recipes for beer. Stretching from 1812 until the nineteen twenties, these volumes specify the crucial factors, namely the time of day, the weather and the ingredients for every brew. Before it was possible to store hops or malted barley, as it is today, achieving a consistent brew was almost impossible, so brewers blended beers – creating large vats of strong barley wine and carefully blending it proportionally with something weaker to produce a consistency of taste.
Michael-George & James boldly decided to launch their first beer at once, as a means to build up a sales volume that would allow them to open a brewery that matches their ambitions. “We thought about recreating an old recipe, but decided against it because we don’t want this to be a nostalgic project, it’s Truman’s for the twenty-first century.” said Michael-George, emphasising that they do not wish to wind the clock backwards. “We wanted a beer that everyone can drink, because that’s what Truman’s is about,“ added James optimistically, stressing the nature of Truman’s as a popular beer, not just for real ale drinkers.
Working with esteemed brewer Tom Knox of Nethergate brewery and in consultation with former Truman’s employees, such as Derek Prentice who was a junior brewer from 1968 until 1989 in Brick Lane, they set to work. The beers brewed in Spitalfields tended to be darker, and so, in opposition to the current fashion for lighter beers, they chose to create a darker beer in the best bitter style, christened “Runner,” meaning the staple brew. A decision that informed the choice of malts, which were Maris Otter pale malt, chocolate malt, crystal rye, wheat and a little dark crystal rye, complimented by a blend of two traditional British hop varieties Fuggles and Goldings.
Let me confess, these were mysterious terms to me, but it was a parching afternoon and I could sense a certain relish in the cadences that Michael-George adopted as he rolled these names off his tongue.“We tried about thirty until we worked out what we liked,” he admitted, in explanation of their research process, exchanging a glance of barely concealed glee with James.“It is a four per cent alcohol best bitter, darker than fashionable, though traditionally well bodied, full rounded, and which drinks stronger than it is.” announced James authoritatively, looking thirsty suddenly as he let these words overcome him, in the process of summing up their debut beer with the precise rhetoric of a professional brewer.
You may be assured that I shall follow this story of the return of Truman’s closely over the coming years, but in the meantime you can try a glass of Truman’s Runner for yourself – because it is already available in the East End. I must admit to having enjoyed a few pints of this delicious bitter myself last week at The Carpenter’s Arms in Cheshire St. You can also find it at The Water Poet in Folgate St, The Griffin in Leonard St, The Haggerston in Dalston, Indo in Whitechapel, The Scolt Head in De Beauvoir Town and The Wenlock Arms in Hoxton, with many more others to follow in time. Cheers!
Setting out for on inter-brewery football tournament.
Truman’s directors’ drawing room.
Truman’s workers’ football match.
The Golden Heart, Commercial St, Spitalfields, in its previous incarnation.