First Brew at the New Truman’s Brewery
When Truman’s Brewery closed in Brick Lane in the last century after brewing there continuously since 1666, there was a widespread recognition that the soul of the place had been diminished – which makes it a great joy for me to announce the glorious news to you today that Truman’s Beer is back brewing in a new brewery in the East End.
Contributing Photographer Simon Mooney & I were privileged to be the first to visit the New Truman’s Brewery and join Master Brewer, Ben Ott, as he set the whole thing in motion again, using yeast from the old brewery that has been cryogenically preserved at the National Yeast Bank in Norwich for decades.
As I turned the corner in Hackney Wick at seven on that misty morning of early autumn, the unmistakeable whiff of a brewery caught my attention, even before it came into sight, and when I entered the brewery itself I was greeted with clouds of vapour emanating from the plant. Emerging from the humid haze to meet me, as if he had materialised like a sorcerer out of the ether, Ben was ready to undertake the seven-to-eight hour sequence of alchemical transformation from raw ingredients into the forty barrels of golden nectar which comprise a day’s brewing.
Gesturing to his magnificent array of gleaming new steel vessels stretching up to the ceiling, Ben explained that he was sluicing the lines with fresh water prior to mashing – the process by which malted grains are soaked to create a dark liquid ‘wort.’ At my feet, the floor was awash with drainage from the system as, from above, the golden grain cascaded down into the hot water of the mash tun, releasing a sweet porridge-like aroma into the steamy atmosphere. Once the grain was soaked, sparging began – rinsing hot water through the mash to create a whirl and, once it was time to run off the wort from the tun – three hours later – it was very pleasant to drink a glass of this warm sweet pungent liquid that, in brewer’s lore, is considered a universal panacea warding off all illness.
Ben took me up to the grain store, reaching excitedly into sacks of barley, rye and wheat, and producing handfuls of malted grain, toasted to different tones from pale golden to chocolate brown, and we chewed thoughtfully upon the dry husks comparing the subtle distinctions of flavour. Then he unsealed tinfoil bags of hops, inviting me to stick my nose deep inside and inhale, contrasting earthy citrus aromas of flowers grown in different locations. “It’s a fantastic hop, I could smell it all day,” confessed Ben, holding up a cherished specimen. Despite his generous temperament, sparkly eyes and cheeky quiff, it is obvious that Ben is a man driven by a passion and, even as he supervised the work of the day, I was aware of his intense mental activity, holding the entire brewing process in his mind, and weighing all the infinite variables of the day’s brewing, even the effects of the weather. The New Truman’s Brewery is in Ben Ott’s mind as much as it in the temporal world.
By then, it was time for the wort to be transferred to the enormous copper, standing upon metal legs in the centre of the brewery like a lunar module, and, once the liquid came to the boil inside, it was ready for the addition of hops – requiring Ben to climb up a step ladder and open a hatch in the top of the vessel to drop in the hop flowers that contribute such a distinctive fragrant aroma to the brew.
Hours passed and the sun moved round the sky to shine in through the huge doors, sending sparkling reflections of light from the watery floor dancing around the vast space, as Ben strode around with Sandro, his fellow Brewer, in the narrow passages between the steel cylinders, turning levers and checking the progress of his creation critically. At the rear were fermentation tanks containing the product of his previous days’ brewing and, as we opened each of the hatches to peer inside, the yeast was at a different stage of its work – from complete stillness in one to vibrant bubbling life in another.
“It has a lot to do with chemistry,” Ben admitted to me when I asked him to assess his role, “But you’ve got to go deep to create a new beer, I sat here for months to work out what I would do. You need artistry, and I’ve created something new – Truman’s Keeper – based upon a recipe brewed by Trumans’s in 1880, ninety-nine years before I was born.”
Once the day’s brew had cooled, it would be stored in one of these vessels and the yeast added last of all. After three to four days of fermentation, it would be chilled down for a further two days before the beer was ready to be put into casks. Upon the other side of the brewery, Caldwell, the Brewery Assistant was already filling steel firkins from a long hose attached to one of the fermentation tanks containing a brew from last week.
Thus, the whole process was underway, and Truman’s Brewery is producing beer to quench the thirst of the East End once more. Throughout London, the signage from the former brewery survives upon innumerable pubs, yet it was proclaiming the name of Truman’s Beer in empty words until this week – when they all regain their meaning once again – because Truman’s is back, Truman’s is real again and Truman’s is here to stay.
Photographs copyright © Simon Mooney
Readers are invited to the opening of the New Truman’s Brewery, 2-3 Stour Rd, Hackney Wick, E2 2NT, this Saturday 14th September 2pm – 10pm with Opening Ceremony at 4pm
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