The Old Truman Brewery is an East London icon that has played a significant role in the history of London since its establishment in 1666. Despite having been the largest brewery in the world at one point, Truman’s sadly had to close its doors in 1989. The following decades the name Truman’s was just a remnant of the past you saw on old pub facades and the majestic chimney that still stands proudly on the former brewery grounds in Shoreditch.
But when the two local beer enthusiasts James Morgan and Michael-George Hemus discovered the name Truman’s was for sale – and affordable – they didn’t have to think long about the purchase. They re-established the Truman brand in 2010 and opened the new Truman Brewery in 2013. Their beers not only bear the name Truman’s but even contain the original yeast they found in the national yeast archives. Truman’s is now brewed in The Eyrie in Hackney, near the Olympic Park and not far from the original brewery site. And where there’s beer, Dutch Girl in London can’t be far 😉
I had the pleasure of joining a guided tour around the new brewery last summer. After sampling some new Truman beers, our guide told us some entertaining facts about the Old Truman Brewery including exciting stories of exploding vessels. Our guide denied the claim of eight people drowning at one of such unfortunate events at Truman’s, but didn’t dismiss the possibility it had happened somewhere else. A sad and rather bizarre way to go.
Truman’s was originally owned by the three families Truman, Hanbury and Buxton. If you’ve ever been to Shoreditch, you might recognise these last two names as two streets near the old brewery are named after these men.
Just before the 1880s Ben Truman took the company from a small brewery to a world-wide enterprise. The brewery sent beers to the Russian court and even to the Indian Raj. During its golden years, the brewery was 11 acres in size, completely filled with fermentation vessels. Nowadays the Old Truman Brewery is a true cultural hub filled with numerous entertainment and retail facilities such as art galleries, cafés, restaurants, pubs, clubs, boutiques, shops, the independent record store Rough Trade, pop-up designer clothing outlets and the famous Sunday Upmarket that’s visited by hundreds of tourists each week.
I wonder what it would have been like in Shoreditch around the 1880s. Brick Lane and the surrounding streets weren’t as trendy as they are now. Back then it was a real slum where violence, prostitution, body snatching and murder (remember Jack the Ripper?) ruled.
I’m sure it wasn’t helped by the brewery: alcohol was easily accessible and probably better for your health than water at the time. Our guide told us that Truman’s beers had a very low alcohol percentage, which made it ‘suitable’ for drinking it for breakfast. Quite different from the green smoothies served at East London cafés for breakfast these days!
The 1960s-1970s were an absolute low point for the brewing industry in the UK and in the 1980s Truman’s was bought up. Sadly the new owners were only interested in the Truman pubs and not in their beers at all. Despite its unfortunate closing down, the Truman legacy still continues, thanks to the micro brewery revolution that took off in the early 2000s.
The current Truman’s portfolio contains 17 contemporary beers, no longer sour – they didn’t understand yeast nor the fermentation process back in the days – but rather complex and bold.