As far as places to enjoy a post work beer on Friday night go, sitting on a wooden bench at a trestle table in a yard in the middle of an industrial estate is pretty unusual. We are surrounded by warehouses, crates and, beneath our feet, it’s solid concrete.
But we are not alone in what is essentially a car park. Others have made the trek out to Hackney Wick to visit Truman’s brewery (called the Eyrie) for its monthly summer yard party. It hasn’t attracted the biggest gathering, but the beers are flowing (I spotted at least six on draught – I’d only ever had its staple, the Runner, before). There is a van serving posh burgers and inside the brewery – surrounded by boxes – a musician is strumming away on his guitar.
When I told people I was off to Truman’s most assumed that I was heading to Brick Lane. But given that they are relatively new to Hackney Wick (they only arrived here five years ago), they weren’t such ludicrous comments to make.
Proudly displayed on the front of the new brewery building there’s a sign displaying a few dates that explains, in simple terms, the history of Truman’s – founded in 1666, closed in 1989 and re-established in 2010.
As Truman’s records on its website, “The Truman’s story is a tale of rise, fall and renewal. The rise lasted for over two hundred and fifty years and was based on great beer, great pubs and respect for the local community. The fall took just under two decades and turned all of this on its head”.
Founded in Brick Lane, when it was “just a track flanked by fields”, there are some wonderful memories from the old brewery (now an expansive creative space) in Rachel Lichtenstein’s fascinating book On Brick Lane, including the following interview with Pip Goldstein who remembers how the business once dominated the area:
“…one of the most important places in the whole street was the brewery Truman, Hanbury, Buxton & Co. They took over acres of land either side of the street. It was like going to a new world in there. You couldn’t get into the site but you could smell the hops coming out the chimney. You’d see the draymen coming down with the horse and carts piled up with barrels of beer. We used to jump on the back of carts.”
Lichtenstein records in her book how the first brewery on Brick Lane was possibly erected by a merchant taylor called Thomas Bucknell. And while a Joseph Truman may have worked there, a letter states that in 1666 he was running the Black Eagle Brewery on the street.
“Joseph’s son, Benjamin, inherited the business, and the site expanded over six acres, with large fields, malt and hop lofts, stables and huge warehouses filled with vast copper vats for storing Porter, a popular black stout that brought the brewery international fame in the eighteenth century,” writes Lichtenstein. Benjamin was even knighted in 1740 by King George for his contribution to commerce.
Fast-forward to the 1960s (when the Truman Brewery was still fully functioning) and another of Lichtenstein’s notes that there were “men in their boots and aprons rolling barrels of beer up the street and those old-fashioned carts with the writing on the side, pulled by horses, going into the brewery, and the sound that they made, with their hoofs on the cobblestones”.
Sadly Truman’s closed in 1989 – and the brewery and estate of pubs (many of which still retain the distinctive Truman’s livery outside) were sold off. The iconic buildings on Brick Lane – which stretch to over 10 acres – were, over time, transformed into “East London’s revolutionary arts and media quarter”. They now home to a number of creative businesses, shops and restaurants, as well as boasting a vast events space allowing markets and exhibitions to be held.
And the Truman’s name didn’t become completely extinct. Five years ago, two beer enthusiasts decided to revive the business and, as I found out when I went to the yard party in Hackney Wick, they are now producing some fine brews.
The tale of how Truman’s yeast returned is particularly fascinating.
“In July 2013, we made a pilgrimage to the National Collection of Yeast Cultures to recover our original yeast strain, which had been kept at -196c since 1958,” they say on their website. “It is now back being used at the Truman’s brewery, providing a direct link to the past and ensuring all of our beers are authentically Truman’s”.
Back at Hackney Wick, it may not be long until Truman’s is on the move again. According to a recent report in the Observer, the brewery had wanted to expand into adjoining buildings but, instead, is going need to leave the site altogether to make way for a residential development. The area is fast gentrifying on the back of re-generation brought by hosting the Olympics in East London.
Truman’s will need to move its yard parties to another industrial site.
The final Truman’s yard party of the summer takes place tomorrow (Friday September 4th). For more details see here.