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First Brew at the New Truman’s Brewery

September 12, 2013
by the gentle author

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

You may also like to read about

The Return of Truman’s Yeast

The New Truman’s Brewery

Tony Jack, Chauffeur at Truman’s Brewery

Derek Prentice, Master Brewer

Truman’s Returns to Spitalfields

At Truman’s Brewery, 1931

14 Responses leave one →
  1. September 12, 2013

    Good to see them in action again! Valerie

  2. Greg Tingey permalink
    September 12, 2013

    NOT a small plant @ 40-barrels!
    I do hope that they make a proper go of it …
    “Ben Truman” was my first & first leagl drink of beere @ age 14
    (Yes, that is a true statement – there is a loophole that allows one to acquire the taste, with adult supervision. )
    I hope to be along for the opening, if I’m not too knackered ….

    P.S. Was drinking in an ex-old-Trumans house, superbly decorated in their 1930′s style last night.
    The Cock, in Mare Street.

  3. Dave Wright permalink
    September 12, 2013

    Great news !Does anyone know the where abouts of Andrew ”Archie” Jones,a welshman who worked in the brewery on Brick Lane back in the early/mid 1980′s ?

  4. September 12, 2013

    Beautiful photography, it gives a great sense of the process and the hard work it takes to create a top brew.

  5. September 12, 2013

    How fantastic that a great tradition has been revived, with great potential for the future. I look forward to my first pint.

  6. Alex Pink permalink
    September 12, 2013

    Great photos Simon.

  7. September 12, 2013

    Tasty!

  8. Matt Johnson permalink
    September 12, 2013

    Sad the new Truman’s couldn’t move back into the old premises on Brick Lane (as a belated two fingered salute to Maxwell Joseph) but great news nonetheless.

    For those who haven’t read it, an interesting history of Truman’s can be read here

    http://tinyurl.com/bohx7zq

  9. Peter Holford permalink
    September 12, 2013

    A very good piece of news. May the new incarnation of Trumans become as embedded in the East End as the first one and let’s hope it lasts longer. It looks as though I will have to make the journey south to have a pint – I’m sure it will be worth it. Happy memories!

  10. Kevin Jordan permalink
    September 13, 2013

    Thoroughly enjoyable read yet again, and wonderful beer process photos. London Brewing and Truman’s go hand in hand, so it’s fantastic to know they’re back in the east end.

  11. September 14, 2013

    So pleased to see one of my favorite topics on my favorite blog. Wonderful news, especially to see the historic recipe revived; that’s my specialist subject!

  12. Henry connor permalink
    February 6, 2014

    good to see Trumans is back worked in the old brewery 28yrs in cold store 7rs 21yrs on the road deliveries till closure played football in the old brewery league then the London business house league great memories good luck to all

  13. Michael Higgins permalink
    October 10, 2016

    I lived in Princely Street & then Thrall Street & went to St Patrick Rc infant School; & later St Anne’s RC school.
    I will never forget the smell of Ben Trumps brewery in the air all around those places where I grew up.
    Well done the “Gentle Author” you bring back memories for me & the early 1950′s

  14. billhammond permalink
    March 13, 2017

    I was employed and worked in the display department with the late Larry Martin the best part of my working life ever and that is after working most of my working life in the brewery trade . thanks to all the old reps and and friends who knew me
    Cheers
    bill hammond

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