The earliest chemically confirmed beer ever discovered dates back to around 3000 BC. Despite about five thousand years of beer drinking having passed since then, beer is still generally considered the beverage of men. In celebration of the UK’s national Beer Day (15 June), I spoke to the founder of a women-run brewery that’s working to change that.
Jane Frances LeBlond, founder of London-based brewery Mothership, began her career in beer with a homebrew kit she’d originally bought for her husband. After winning first prize in a homebrew contest, she decided to make a small commercial batch—and Mothership was born. As a mother-of-three—she gave birth to her third child just weeks ago—she says that her mission is to champion and inspire women in craft beer.
“I was not intimidated going into a male-oriented industry,” LeBlond told Screen Shot. “I felt like I wanted to kind of stand up for women—not just women in the industry, but women who were drinking beer as well.”
“I thought, well, I’ve got an opportunity here to make a stand, and to tell people women do drink beer. It’s normal and it’s good, and it should be encouraged,” she added. It’s true. While women may be the minority of beer drinkers, they exist and their numbers are rising. A recent report by the Society of Independent Brewers found that the number of women drinking beer in the UK has almost doubled since last year.
I asked LeBlond whether or not she’d say Mothership makes a political statement. “Yeah, I would,” she said. “Because we support women in the industry, but we also support women doing great things around the world, who aren’t necessarily recognised for the greatness that they do.”
This year, Mothership launched their Extraordinary Women series, dedicating each beer to a pioneering woman in history who hasn’t been adequately recognised for her contribution. The first in the series is ‘Codebreaker’, an IPA made in tribute to Joan Clarke, a cryptanalyst whose work helped to decrypt Nazi Germany’s secret communications during the Second World War.
There’s also their mid-season charity beer release, which sees a donation from each can sold going to a women’s charity—the first of these beers, ‘Watermelon Gose’, raises money for Women for Refugee Women.
LeBlond also shared that the brewery plans to release another special beer in the next few weeks, a portion of the profits from which will be donated to a Black Lives Matter education charity. “It’s something that we’re not just keen to support, but feel like we have to support because it’s such a vital issue,” she said.
While Mothership aims to empower women, they make it clear that women are not their sole target market. Their branding is not typically feminine; the use of vibrant, bold colours and abstract shapes makes their cans universally appealing.
“We definitely don’t brew beers for women,” LeBlond said, “so we don’t feel the need to particularly appeal to women visually through our designs. We make beers for everybody—it was very much a conscious decision to make that branding upbeat and positive and appeal to all.”
In addition to the work being done by women-led breweries like Mothership, the beer industry as a whole must commit to making itself more inclusive and diverse. According to LeBlond, the main obstacle is how beer companies recruit. “Companies I speak to say ‘all right, we’ve put out an advert and got one hundred per cent male applicants. What do we do?’” she explained. “And so I’ll say, well, I think you need to think more creatively about how you recruit.”
“You know, not just putting it on the beer jobs board, where mostly men would look. Actively go and find women with transferable skills who you might have to train up a bit more, but they will bring that kind of extra dimension to your business,” LeBlond added.
Mothership has established itself very comfortably in the UK craft beer scene. In 2019, it won an industry award less than two months after starting up. But, like every other business that relies on pubs, Mothership faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“The whole pub issue is a very serious issue for us, because we historically have sold almost all of our beer to pubs,” said LeBlond. “We would like to see them up and running again because we love pubs, and we love our customers. We’ve got very loyal customers who we want to support as much as we can through this, because they’re the ones that are really struggling.”
Fortunately, the brewery has been able to adapt; its online store has been a success, and it has already sold out of most of its beers. While Mothership is able to keep things running remotely, the team is keen to be reunited. “We all miss each other as a team; it’s really hard because we work very closely together,” said LeBlond. “And just not being able to bounce ideas off each other, you know. That’s so much a part of Mothership; just getting great women together that have great ideas.”