The Mothership Connection
Award-winning beer, great design and proudly flying the flag for women in the beer industry: Mothership is a force to be reckoned with
Tuesday 03 September 2019
This article is from
Raise the Bar 2019
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Having been in the same situation myself, I sadly can’t claim to have had any particularly brilliant ideas while trying to comfort a screaming baby at 3am. Yet that’s exactly how Jane started on the path that would eventually see her open Mothership, the new brewery that’s wowing beer lovers across the capital, and is one of this year’s Raise the Bar competition winners.
Jane fell in love with fermentation during a school summer job as a wine-maker’s assistant at Chapeldown winery in Kent. The experience sparked a passion that continued through her subsequent years studying for a degree in graphic design, during which she avidly brewed hedgerow wines from foraged fruit such as plums and blackberries. But it wasn’t until almost a decade later, when she bought her husband a simple homebrew kit, that her attention turned to beer.
“This thing sat in cupboard for a year before I decided to just do it myself,” she says “It was a boring Timothy Taylor clone that you made by boiling a can of extract, but I was hooked on beer straight away. I did quite a lot of research into brewing and went straight into making my own recipes on an all-grain kit.
“Even at that point I wasn’t really a beer drinker, but I was fascinated with the process and spent a lot of time trying to nail it technically. So I was brewing single hop beers, experimenting with when and how I added the hops… not really trying to make drinkable beer, but trying to understand the effect of the different ingredients and when you add them.”
Jane had been honing her craft in this way, alongside her day job as a designer, for about four years when she and her husband had two children in pretty quick succession. As anyone with young children will confirm, it’s easy to lose sight of your own passions in the chaos of night-time feeds and constant cleaning, and Jane says brewing was one of the things that “anchored” her sense of identity.
“It became about more than making beer; it became a ‘this is me’ thing,” she says. “And that made me think about other things in my life. I’d spent 12 years as a graphic designer, with a lot of time in design agencies and eventually found myself in an advertising agency. I really didn’t enjoy being there, working for some questionable clients, and felt I had more to offer than that.
“So after my second son, I decided not to go back, and that’s when the idea for mothership came about. All the initial recipes were designed and practised in nap time; everything happened very much around raising children”
As you’ll see from the cans in your box this month, Jane’s design background hasn’t gone to waste, as she’s clearly put a lot of thought into creating a brand that would stand out. In this, she says, her relative inexperience of the beer industry and its trends has been something of an advantage, as she wasn’t consciously looking to what’s considered cool, but has instead enjoyed the freedom of creating without preconceptions. Creation of the first beers has been a similarly liberating creative process, as she explains.
“Coming up with a beer recipe is the same as being a designer, just in a different medium. I did quite a few iterations, some more successful than others, but eventually ended up with some beers I was really happy with. I just released three to start: a brut pale ale fermented with champagne yeast, a cardamom and rose milk Summer stout I’d made as a homebrewer, and a single-hop IPA called Hypergalactic.”
As well as these three beers, Jane also recently put out a watermelon gose, the proceeds of which have all gone to a women’s charity. Her plan is to put out a new range of seasonal core beers once every six months, with another limited charity beer each mid-season. For now, Mothership remains a cuckoo brewery, using the kit first at U-Brew, and latterly at a cukoo-focused brewery in west Sussex called Missing Link. She’s also taken on Carla, who works on the festivals and events side, and Zoe, the head of sales.
While she ultimately plans to open a physical brewery of her own, Jane has already come a long way since her home brew days.
“When I first started, there wasn’t much information about how to brew without a brewery,” she says. “I had a storage unit at the back of Asda and was doing local deliveries myself, out of the back of my car. A lot of people who wanted the beer, but I was struggling to find ways to get it to them. Now have a warehouse that deals with deliveries, and bringing on Zoe has made a huge difference; it finally feels like we’re a proper functioning brewery! So it’s been a learning curve definitely.”
An important part of Mothership’s mission is advocating for women in beer, whether they’re brewing, selling, writing about or simply drinking beer.
“As well as the six-monthly fundraising beer, we do these social media spotlights every week or two, where we focus on a woman in beer, and get them to talk about their experience. We want to normalise it – it shouldn’t be about the fact they’re women, but their expertise, knowledge and creativity. We’ve also done an event called breaking into beer, featuring a panel of five women who’d moved into the industry from other industries, talking about their experiences, what challenges the overcame and how they overcame them.”
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