A brewery built around women, both as workers and drinkers
Saturday 20 November 2021
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When Mothership was conceived by designer Jane LeBlond in 2018, it was as a brewery built around women, both as workers and drinkers, in an industry that she felt was still massively geared toward male needs and privilege. Whether or not Jane would ever have predicted the reckoning with sexism that continues to engulf the brewing industry, it still feels like Mothership was way ahead of the curve, and continues to lead the charge on driving change.
Having started out as a cuckoo brewer, the first couple of years of Mothership’s existence were geared toward building the brand and earning a reputation for great beers. It achieved both of these handily, thanks in no part to Jane’s seemingly boundless artistic and brewing creativity. The next step of the plan though, to build a brewery of her own, was – like so many great plans – vexed by the pandemic. My first question to Jane is where the past couple of years have left her and the business.
“When the pandemic hit, we immediately shelved any plans to open a physical brewery. I know some people still went ahead with their plans, but it didn’t make sense for us. Plus I was heavily pregnant at the time, so… no. Now things are picking up again it’s kind of back on the agenda again though. Because this cuckoo/contract for model was never intended to go on for very long. And although we've built a great brand, it's time to build a great business.”
And things definitely have picked up, with a flurry of new beers launched over the summer, including Say No To Sexism and Text me When You’re Home, which is in this month’s box. One senses this patch of frenetic new releases was the result of Jane’s pent up invention – she says creating and releasing new beers is her favourite thing. As well as creating though, she’s also missed the pub, and we reminisce about our first post-lockdown pints; hers was small-batch cask brew in a Herefordshire pub, mine was a pint of Tennents at my local (I panicked).
“Outdoor pub drinking culture in London is a huge thing, and I think people really missed it. But then I think when you could only drink outdoors, people were desperate to go in the pub! To be honest, I don’t often stray that far from my local area because I have young children. And I love my local area, Nunhead, because we’ve got some great pubs nearby. There’s Ivy House, which is a fantastic community pub, and The Old Nun’s Head, which is a Laine pub that hosts some really good street food pop-ups. And then some classic boozers as well, so there’s something for everyone.”
Saying no to sexism
Given Mothership’s mission, I want to get Jane’s view on this spring’s revelations (if that’s the right word for something that’s been in plain sight) of deep-rooted sexism in craft beer, and how she views this as a time for women in general.
“We’ve always aimed to represent women in beer with us, whether they’re making it, selling it or drinking it,” she says. “And obviously, there’s been a lot of big issues around sexism, which we’ve tried to address head-on with our Say No to Sexism beer. That beer comes with a pledge, that we sent to everyone we do business with and asked them to sign. It highlights where sexism occurs in the hospitality industry, covering things like gendered job titles, gender inclusive spaces, hearing and taking women’s voices seriously, investigating all reports of sexual harassment, whether they’re in the workplace, or people drinking in a bar. It’s things I think most people would agree with, but we have to say these things out loud, together, and make people listen.”
The reaction from Mothership’s fans and the beer community in general though, was heart-warmingly positive.
“The support this beer’s had is really overwhelming. Every time I kind of put something up about it on the Instagram, I just get so many messages from women and men. I posted something the other day, asking if anyone else was finding it hard to sleep because they’re so upset about what’s happening in the news at the moment, with our sisters just being plucked off the street. And I got so many personal messages from people, really heartfelt, relating to what I was saying and just being really honest about their own feelings and experiences. It’s all about starting conversations.”
This brings our own conversation onto the painful story behind Text Me When You Get Home, Mothership’s excellent NEIPA that was Jane’s creative response to the murder of Sarah Everard.
“I was devastated,” she says. “The fact that this happens is just unbearable. But the thing that actually upset me the most was when I realised that, for most of my life, I have been living in fear. As have all of my friends, and every woman I know; we walk home with our keys held in our hands, choose what to wear based on not wanting to draw attention to ourselves or give the wrong impression. You walk home, head down, don’t look up, try not to make eye contact with anybody. And this was normal behaviour, this still is normal behaviour. And I hadn’t realised that we don’t talk about these things, we just live with them. Why is this okay, that women live in fear?”
Jane and her all-female team may have been slowed down by the pandemic, but their rallying cry has never been more timely. Not content with making craft beer the welcoming and inclusive space it should be, Jane sees the potential for brewing to carry a wider message about equality and the need for fundamental change.
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