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Truman's: the Eagle has almost landed...

Added: Friday, December 14th 2012

The eagle has landed...well, almost. A new Truman’s Brewery should be fully operational by March and it will restore the name of a brewer that once bestrode East London, with its Black Eagle symbol gracing hundreds of pubs.

The young men behind the new brewery, James Morgan (left in photo) and Michael-George Hemus, know that Truman’s is still fondly remembered by legions of Cockney drinkers. It was a massive brewery, founded in Brick Lane, Whitechapel, in 1666.

Its success was built on porter and mild ale and by the 19th century it was the second-biggest brewery in Britain, outranked only by mighty Bass in Burton-on-Trent. In the 1970s, when there was a mad scramble by property tycoons to buy breweries and their pub estates, Truman’s had the grave misfortune to become part of the Watney Mann brewing division of the Grand Metropolitan leisure group.

Truman’s closed in 1989, with production moved to Watney’s plant in Mortlake. Today, a tall chimney, decked out with the name Truman in white lettering, still stands in Brick Lane. A black eagle glares out from the top of buildings that have been chopped up into workshops for graphic designers and other contributors to the “new economy”.

Brewing is long gone but now, in Stour Road, Hackney Wick, a stone’s throw from the Olympic Stadium, two substantial buildings, with 10,000 square feet of space, have been acquired by Morgan and Hemus. In far away Lancashire the company that designed a new micro plant for Thwaites of Blackburn is busily building a 40-barrel kit for Truman’s. The new brewery will be a little shy of the 400,000 barrels churned out in Brick Lane but Morgan and Hemus aim to produce a sizeable amount of beer.

“To bring Truman’s back properly, our brewery has to be on a certain scale that’s true to its East London roots,” Morgan says. He’s a passionate beer lover and ran a company that imported foreign beers but the sterling devaluation in 2007 wiped him out. With Hemus, an IT expert and designer of trademarks, he started to lay the plans for their new Truman’s brewery.

Since 2008 they have been producing a bitter called Truman’s Runner, brewed for them Everards in Leicester. Around 130 pubs take the beer on a regular basis while a further 300 sell it as part of guest beer programmes.

The name recalls the “running beers” – today’s cask ales – that replaced porters and stouts that were aged for months in giant wooden vats. The choice of name shows the depth of the research that has gone into the old Truman archive and Morgan and Hemus are determined to bring back porter, the style that made the Brick Lane brewery famous. But in today’s pub trade, with the emphasis on guest beers, they know they will have to produce a range of beers, pale as well as dark.

One idea is for a beer called Fire Starter, a smoked beer that will recall the Great Fire of London in 1666, the year Truman’s opened. Malt will be treated in Forman’s, the last remaining fish smokery in London, just a few yards from the new brewery.

After several years of negotiations, Morgan and Hemus got permission to use the Truman name, brands and trademarks. This involved talking to Scottish & Newcastle and then its new owner, Heineken.

How did Truman’s name and brands end up with a Dutch company? It’s a long story that I’ll explain in a further article. The important point is, thanks to the success of the negotiations, the black eagle will soon be flying once again over East London.

All this activity has cost money. Morgan and Hemus have raised £750,000: back in the days when Truman’s was brewing in Brick Lane that was the maximum you could win on the football pools. The money has been raised by a scheme called the Truman’s Eagles, with donations coming from retired Truman’s workers and beer drinkers in the East End.

“Local people want to feel involved and have a sense of belonging,” James Morgan says. The scheme will close at the end of January: for further details email trumans@trumansbeer.co.uk.

Work will start soon to make the buildings on Stour Road fit for brewing. Drainage will be put in and then a ceramic tiled floor will be laid on top. To meet with Health & Safety requirements, the walls will be covered in dairy boarding. Next to the brewhouse, there will be a cold store and offices.

A new brewery is coming to life. I will follow its development over the next few months with keen excitement. I still recall from my youth posters promising “There are more hops in Ben Truman” and the revival of the name is full of eastern promise.

*This article first appeared in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, 13 December 2012.

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