Saturday, 18 March 2017

Truman's in the RAW

Last week I was invited to a function held at a West London pub. The event was a beer and food pairing designed to introduce people to RAW; a  new “tank lager" from Truman’s Brewery. The function  took place at the Eagle, in Ladbroke Grove; a pub which has only been open a few weeks in its present guise. It was chosen as a suitable place to launch the new Truman’s beer, as it was originally a Truman’s pub. This was back in the day when the Black Eagle Brewery of Truman, Hanbury & Buxton, in London’s East-End, was one of the largest in the world.

The original Truman brewery, at Brick Lane in Spitalfields was founded in 1666. It grew steadily and during the 18th Century, under the management of Benjamin Truman, it underwent a period of rapid expansion, driven by an almost insatiable demand for porter, to become one of the largest brewers in London. This growth continued into and throughout the 19th Century with the expansion of the brewery and the enlargement of the company’s pub estate. In 1873, Truman’s purchased the Philips Brewery in Burton-on-Trent and became, for a while, the largest brewery in the world.

Truman's "tank system" - at the Eagle
Things changed during the 20th Century, not just for Truman’s but for many other similar-sized breweries. The deprivations of two world wars, followed  by the rise of lager, competition from cheaper foreign imports and the unprecedented  consolidation of some of the biggest names in British brewing through mergers and acquisitions.

Truman’s managed to avoid these destructive forces for quite some time, so much so that by the end of the 1960’s they were the last major independent brewery left in London. Unfortunately this happy situation did not continue into the next decade, because in 1971 Truman's became the centre of a bidding war between hotels group Grand Metropolitan and Watney Mann. Grand Metropolitan eventually emerged as winners and then immediately turned their attention to Watney Mann. After taking over the latter, Grand Metropolitan merged the company with Truman's, and from then on the company’s fortunes declined rapidly. Despite a series of management restructures and a major re-branding, Truman’s continued to go downhill, and in 1989 the inevitable closure of the brewery was announced.

And there the Truman’s story would have finished, were it not for the efforts of two local beer enthusiasts, James Morgan and Michael-George Hemus who, in 2010, purchased the Truman’s name from Scottish and Newcastle, thereby re-established this much loved London brewery. The two partners based the brewery’s revival on the principals that had made the original Truman’s great; starting with making great beer and having a profound respect for pubs and pub culture.

After trialling various test brews, under contract at both Everards and Nethergate breweries, a new brewery in Hackney Wick was completed in August 2013. The brewery officially opened a month later and Truman's beer once more rolled out of the East End to be gratefully received by a number of discerning London pubs.

Eagle- upstairs dining room
The Eagle is one such pub, and its owners, Hippo Inns, were pleased to invite a group of beer and food writers along a beer and food pairing evening, designed to highlight both the pub and its food, plus some of the beers from the new Truman’s brewery. As mentioned earlier, the Eagle’s management and senior figures from the brewery, were also keen to show of their “tank lager” installation, designed to serve their “brewery-fresh” RAW lager and the gleaming copper equipment associated with this, was quite apparent in the bar.

The system used is similar to those used by Czech brewers Pilsner Urquell and Budvar, where the beer is contained in a large “bag” within the tank, and dispensed by either gas or air-pressure applied from the outside. This means the beer never comes into contact with either, and therefore remains as fresh as it was when it left the brewery.

A pint of RAW
Upon arrival at the pub, I didn’t go straight in on the RAW, as there were a couple of other Truman beers I wanted to sample. These included Gypsy Queen, an unusual, seasonal pale ale, containing 10% oat meal in the grist, plus Zephyr; a double-hopped pale ale. Both these beers were cask, and it’s encouraging to report that cask accounts for 60-70% of Truman’s output. This sampling took place in the busy ground floor bar; but it wasn’t long before we were all ushered upstairs for a couple of short presentations and the main part of the evening,

Once seated we were give our first taste of RAW, and it is here that the surprise comes, because the 4.5% ABV RAW is a Kölsch -style beer, rather than a true bottom-fermented lager. Now I’m sure many people know that Kölsch is a beer which developed in the city of Cologne. It is a top-fermented beer with a similar bright, straw-yellow hue to other beers brewed from lightly kilned malts, such as Pilsner. Somewhat unusually, Kölsch is warm fermented at around 13 to 21 °C before being cold conditioned at traditional lagering temperatures. Kölsch is also a  product with protected geographical indication, as defined by the Kölsch Konvention; an association of Cologne breweries formed to promote this distinct style of beer.

Kölsch apparently, requires less lagering time than a true, bottom-fermented beer such as a pilsner would. This is good news for breweries such as Truman’s, which have a limited fermentation capacity and maturation facilities. My fellow writers and I certainly enjoyed the beer, which had a malty and slightly sweet taste.

A rather large pork knuckle
We were given a number of “sharing” starters to try, including pork terrine, cheese soufflé and salmon tartare, all of which matched well with the food. Our pre-ordered main courses then arrived. The Eagle describes its menu as “The best of British with a Bavarian twist”, so for this reason I opted for the crispy knuckle of roast pork with fried potato dumplings.

Without wishing to sound churlish, it was actually a roasted ham hock, as later confirmed by the pub’s chef, who gave us a brief talk about the Eagle’s food offering, and the philosophy behind it. There was rather a lot of meat on my knuckle, irrespective of whether it was pork or ham, but fortunately one of my fellow diners helped me out with it. There was also a selection of “sharing” desserts to follow, including mulled pear and apple crumble, with custard plus bitter chocolate fondant with cherry vanilla.

Halfway through the meal, we were given a short presentation from Frazer Timmerman, who is Truman’s Business Development Manager. I have already covered some of the point he told us, but amongst others of interest, is the size of the brew-kit (40 barrels), and the fact that Truman’s only sell their beer within the area bounded by the M25. They are currently looking to treble their fermentation capacity, in order to cope with increased demand for their beers. RAW is currently only being sold in a few “flagship” outlets, of which the Eagle is one. This may be down to the high “up-front” costs of the tank system.

It was an interesting evening, and it was good to meet up with representatives from Truman’s, as well as members of the pub’s team. Special thanks go to event organiser, Kristel Valaydon of KV Communications; and yes Kristel I know I said I would include some of my personal recollections about the original Truman’s beers, but there just wasn’t sufficient space to include it here. I will however, be writing a separate article about Truman’s in my “Old Established Family Brewers of Britain” series, so watch this space.

Finally, as if I didn’t have enough Kölsch -style beer at the presentation, I’m off on business to Cologne on business, this coming Monday, where no doubt, I’ll be able to enjoy a few glasses of the genuine article.

ps, Special thanks to Kristel at KV Communications for the photos.

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