Food & Drink

The Eagle Has Landed: Truman’s Beers, Version 4.0

The black eagle is an icon of East London’s working class heritage. After the Truman Brewery shut its doors in 1989, part of its make-up disappeared forever… Until now, that is


Words Betty Wood
Photography Jasper Fry

The late-80s: the glory days of perms, shell-suits and large international conglomerations, the products of which were consumed across the Western world with unprecedented hunger. Economic recession wasn’t a conscious possibility, commercial markets and new international trade paths opened up with boundless possibility. And in the shadow of these international giants, smaller companies like Truman’s brewery, whose iconic eagle signage became synonymous with East London’s working class heritage, struggled against the current. The outcome of this battle was defeat – in 1989, it closed the doors of its Brick Lane brewery site for the last time, assigning itself to the history books as another footnote on the local walking tours, their remaining signage their only epitaph as the Old Truman Brewery site was repurposed for Sunday Up Markets, shops, gigs and vintage sales.


But as with any good pint, the taste lingers long after the final sip. And for beer enthusiast James Morgan and his partner Michael-George Hemus, it felt like part of East London’s heritage had been ripped out from under it. “Part of it’s soul was missing”, says Truman’s Head of Operations, Jack Hibberd. So James and Michael-George set about putting it back.

“We started looking to buy Truman’s in 2008-9” says James, searching the intellectual property office website to find that the brand was owned by Scottish & Newcastle. “They didn’t know they owned it” he adds, having made contact with their legal department. “We printed off the page from the IPO website and sent it to them, at which point they said “No, we’re not going to sell this to you”. Calling them twice a week for 18 months, they were handed a break when the Scottish & Newcastle was itself sold to Heineken, who agreed to the sale where S&N had refused.

Truman’s Beers were back in business – tentatively at least, for a brewery needs a beer. In 2010, the company started stretching its wings for the first time. “We spent a lot of time developing our first beer, which is now our flagship beer, Runner”. Working with brewer, Tom Knox, they developed the Runner using all British ingredients  – traditional hops, fuggles and goldings, “they’d have been in the old Truman’s bitters… we took the best bits and modernised it”. After strenuous scientific testing – which involved inviting hundreds of friends to a pub for taste testing – they refined the Runner six times until it was just right. The result? “A slightly darker, slightly more full flavoured, but also very satisfying bitter”, the best in the London dial.

diptych1 – Jasper Fry Truman Beers

diptych2 jasper fry truman beers

Brewing initially under license from 2010, by 2012, they had full ownership of the brand and they opened their Hackney Wick brewery in September 2013, brewing the first Truman beer in East London 24 years after the original brewery shut its doors. Truman’s was back, and in more than just name.

“The type of yeast that we use now is an original Truman’s yeast which was put into cryogenic freezing in 1958, at the National Collection of Yeast Cultures” Jack tells me. That’s right. Cryogenically frozen yeast. “There’s a direct link between what we do now and what we did then, our beers share the same heritage  as the original Truman Beers”. In terms of taste, if the hops provide the aroma and the flavour (and the malt the body), then the yeast is its soul, giving the beer a unique quality. And this soul was chosen as it marked Truman’s glory days.[/one_half]But that’s not to say the beers taste like a post-war throw-back. “We don’t want them to taste exactly like the beers they were brewing back then, we’re not a heritage recreation society” Jack stresses, “this is about thinking about what beers they’d be brewing now, what Truman’s represents”.

That’s Britishness, to a large degree. Master brewer Ben Ott, who joined the company in June, is focused on reviving English hops. But what does an English hop taste like? “Earthy”, Ben enthuses, “they get less sun. American craft brewing swept over here, so at the moment, American hops are very popular, but there’s a new wave of English hops coming. Back in the day, they didn’t like the taste so they’d put it away as an off flavour. Nowadays, it’s a desired taste”.


Like the Runner, Ben’s focus on hops is testament to the desire to revive Truman’s heritage, but with a modern twist. “One of my tasks is to bring back Ben Truman’s Pale Ale”, he adds. “I’ve been talking to some of the old head brewers that worked [at Brick Lane] because I’d like to get that near to the way it used to taste. That was one of their biggest selling beers”.

To mark their grand opening in September, the old Truman employees were invited down to the new site to celebrate the company’s revival. And a special beer was on the menu… “I went down to the Metropolitan Archives hoping to find a beer that was brewed 100 year before my birth. Sadly, that was a Sunday, so they weren’t brewing” Ben adds with a wry smile,  “but I found an 1880 double export stout that jumped at me.” The London Keeper was re-born, 20 barrels brewed only once, at 8 percent.

Still small – “super-micro”  – the new brewery is a sommerlier’s wet-dream: “We can do just over 10,000 pints per brew. It’s a traditional ale system, hand built in the UK from stainless steel with some automation, but it’s mostly hands on – the brewer still works it all the way through from mashing in the grain to racking it off into cask. We’re 100 percent cask, all unfiltered, unrefined, no preservatives, nothing. It’s a natural product – you can taste all of the flavours”.

Opposite: Truman’s master brewer Ben Ott


“Our fermentation space is just over 200 brewers barrels (800 firkins a week, or 80,000 pints per week.)” 60-70 percent of those pints are Runner or Swift, with speciality modern lines like the Lazarus (a restorative beer with flavours of lemon and ginseng), Emperor (a nutty, hoppy ale) and Bold as Brass (a coppery ale) making up the rest.


Sold across London, the black eagle is flying once again. But East is where the heart comes to roost. As the Old Truman Brewery is once again a focal point of community life, it seems fitting that the final piece of the Truman’s puzzle is in place now that Truman’s Beers are being enjoyed by London’s workers once again.

Opposite: Truman’s MD, James Morgan
Above: Old Truman beer bottles