The Mothership Beer team at Brew//LDN 2020 with founder, Jane Frances LeBlond, in the middle - image by Robin Goldsmith
Women have been involved in making alcoholic drinks for thousands of years. In medieval Britain, 'brewsters' took charge of beer production. They often did this within the home. Over time, as brewing became a commercial business, men began to dominate the industry. Even until relatively lately, men (including brewers) have hugely dominated the average beer festival.
However, more recently in beer, cider and wine making, women have become much more involved with a succession of initiatives and award-winning drinks. One company at the forefront of this success is Mothership. They are an all-female brewery that champions women in craft beer. At the inaugural Brew//LDN 2020 beer festival in February, I spoke to Jane Frances LeBlond, founder of the company.
"Mothership has been going for a year now. I was a wine maker's assistant for a couple of years, while at college and university. That's where I fell in love with fermentation. I've also been a lifelong home brewer and discovered brewing beer about eight years ago. I wasn't really a beer drinker though. However, I did enjoy the creativity that brewing beer offered with all the different styles, ingredients and challenges."
Having worked most of her career in design, brand consultancy and advertising, she then decided to change direction. She wanted a job with more flexibility to work around her young family. "After I had my children, I became aware of the phenomenon of 'mum bloggers' and 'mum entrepreneurs'. I was really interested, not so much in what they were offering or what their products were, but more in the support they received from other women. I found that solidarity really powerful. This kind of sisterhood was something I felt I really wanted to be part of. So, I guess I took that and my passion for making beer and so Mothership was born."
Although setting up a new business in a male-dominated industry might have been off-putting, Jane was not deterred. "I didn't know much about the beer industry - the commercial side of it. However, I had a suspicion that it was predominantly male. The design, branding and advertising industry I came from was predominantly male. So, it was not something I was unused to or intimidated by. There was a place for women to be represented [in brewing]."
"We've had so much support from both men and women", Jane confirms. "The men have recognised that there needs to be more women in the industry. They have really supported us in our mission, because they want it too. That's something that's really surprised me."
In addition to seasonal releases, Mothership also brews beers from which donations on each can sold go to a women's charity. The latest of these is Codebreaker.
Jane tells the story behind this beer. "It's the first in our series called 'Extraordinary Women'. We're going to be featuring women who've done amazing things in history, but haven't necessarily been recognised for them. So the first in this series we're dedicating to Joan Clarke, because she was a little-known cryptanalyst. She worked in World War Two, cracking the Enigma code, alongside Alan Turing who everybody has heard of. Yet, no-one's really heard of Joan Clarke, but she was just as important in cracking the code and saving thousands of lives. She and Alan Turing together invented the [decryption] machine!"
Mothership Codebreaker NEDIPA - image by Robin Goldsmith
Codebreaker is a New England Double IPA. It's brewed with Citra, Mosaic and Enigma hops and dry-hopped using 50% Enigma and 25% each of the other two. "It's fairly heavily dry-hopped with Enigma", describes Jane. "That is why we decided to dedicate it to Joan Clarke. We're going to be brewing this beer for three months. Then we have another three to go over the course of the year. We will be releasing them quarterly, each dedicated to different women who've done amazing things."
Although 8% ABV, the alcoholic strength is not so obvious. The beer feels smooth and easily drinkable, packed with juicy fruit notes. It is available in cans at selected retailers and online.
This is the first of three reports from the inaugural Brew//LDN beer festival. The others will be posted in subsequent months.