With its traditional distillation method, Harrogate Spring Water and just the right balance of juniper, citrus elements and secret botanicals the husband and wife team, Karl and Cathy Mason, have created a distinct gin they are proud to call Masons Yorkshire Gin.
Karl and Cathy have a real passion for gin.They launched G&T Friday, a Facebook group for gin lovers, just for fun and that led to them launching Masons Yorkshire Gin, using an external distillery. Seven months later, they were the first to establish a distillery in Yorkshire. Recipe after recipe was rejected in the search for a gin they felt deserved to be called after their name. Today, it is distilled in 200 litre batches, each bottle bears its own hand written batch and bottle number.
Q. A bit of a leap for you (Cathy) as a former Special Needs Teaching assistant – to gin? What happened?
Well, my husband Karl and I have always loved gin. But one Friday night, he turned to me and said ‘Shall we have a G&T?’ and that led to us launching a Facebook page – Gin & Tonic Friday – and it grew to 10,000 followers. We started receiving all types of gin to review. It was then where we realised that there was a gap in the market – and Masons Yorkshire Gin was born!
Q.10,000 followers must have been a Eureka moment! Were you expecting that?
To be honest it all happened so fast. I think, because gin has become such a trend and consumers are really looking for that unique, artisan twist, Masons seems to fill that gap.
Q. But that was 2012. Facebook has changed its rules now. Do you think it’s still possible to achieve what you did using social media?
I believe so. I mean we have a great team who work across our social channels that really seem to get what the consumer wants to see and read. I think it’s all about reacting and creating your own trends.
Q. Was it a big learning curve moving from drinking gin to making it?
If you’re passionate about something, then it makes it easy. We did everything step by step, from distilling to choosing the botanicals. We were careful with how we did things; we stuck with our guns and ran with it.
Q. What do you class as ‘boring generic gins’?
I don’t want to name brands, but I would say gins which don’t have a depth of flavour and smoothness. That’s what we look for. A good test is whether you can have your gin neat.
Q. Which gin inspired you to create Mason’s Gin?
I guess it was a case of finding the gap in the market. Which we now hope to have filled!
Q. Describe the taste profile you were anchoring for, especially one made in God’s own country?
We wanted to create something that was a bit different from other gins. Masons is a smooth spirit with malty, grain notes. We wanted it to reminisce one that is made with a white whisky base. We also ensure that the ingredients for our Lavender and Tea editions are locally sourced.
Q. Why did you choose to work with Cambridgeshire based English Spirit Company to launch your gin – it’s down south for a start?
To be honest, it was simply because we felt that by working with their smaller distillery would result in them listening to our desires and help us create the product we envisioned. Which they have!
Q. What was it like taking delivery of a 300lt still just seven months later and why did you call him Steve?
It was so exciting, such a beautiful thing to look at! The name Steve just came from a private joke between karl and I – maybe it was taken from the artist Steve Stills accidentally too!
Q. What’s his twin brother called?
Lefty, because it stands on the left of Steve; however we do have a few arguments about the preferred name!
Q. How did you feel when you opened your distillery?
Really proud! The unit did take quite a while for us to get used to though. Our team our really great, the majority of our employees are local, which is lovely and really helps keep Masons true to its roots.
Q. What advice would you give to someone else wanting to start an artisan food or drink brand?
Talk to lots of people. Exhibiting at shows has been a fantastic way of marketing Masons. Trade shows come at such a low cost but you get some really great feedback and get your product out there nationally.
Q. Is it easy working full time with your husband?
I love working with my husband and we make a great team. Although we love our brand and what we do, sometimes we do miss having those relaxing, quiet weekends together.
Q. Isn’t there enough gin being made up north and across the UK?
I guess with gin being such a trend, there are quite a lot of UK gins. However, we are really proud to be the first one to be created in Yorkshire, as now there are six.
Q. What attracted you to Bedale, North Yorkshire?
It’s been my hometown since I was little. It’s such a lovely place to grow up and I still love it now. Beadale’s still has an amazing community feel.
Q. How much gin do you produce these days?
It depends. Christmas production for example means we will produce 2000 bottle a week.
Q. Your distiller is former Gordon’s & Tanqueray distiller, Gerard MacKluskey, what does he bring to the business?
His knowledge is just great. He is a pure artisan distiller, a person who is just able to use is nose – he really does know his trade like the back of his hand.
Q. Why do you use the single shot process – explain this please?
We only distil once to ensure that we get the ideal product slowly and carefully.
Q. Do you use traditional methods to make the gin?
We use the traditional method as it’s what we know, it’s proven and we don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. Our gin tastes fantastic as it is, we may use other distilling techniques in the future but only if the recipe calls for it!
Q. Do you make the gin with bartenders/mixologists in mind?
We originally made it with just ourselves in mind as Gin & Tonic drinkers, but due to interest from the hospitality industry we are now looking to create an edition specifically for bartenders/mixologists.
Q. Do you recommend a cocktail using Mason’s Gin?
Drinks such as a Gin Old Fashioned are perfect with our gin.
Q. What are your expansion plans and ambitions?
We’d love to have a bigger distillery and create a visitor centre so people get to know our brand. We bought our exporting licence last year, and currently export to Italy and Switzerland. That is exciting.
Q. Let’s mention the impact of Brexit here shall we? What are your views in terms of opportunities and challenges?
At the moment it hasn’t affected us thankfully, as we have only just started exporting.
Q. You have launched a Mason’s tea gin? This is a trendy right now isn’t it?
We launched both the Tea and Lavender editions last year. I guess it was a trend yes; however we liked the idea that they are full of unusual flavours, which allowed us to use local ingredients.
Q. Tell me more about this: The botanical line-up is undisclosed…it’s likely to contain flavours we can smell and taste – juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, cardamom, cinnamon, dried lemon peel, fresh lime peel, bay leaf and fennel, pepper, lemon lime and orange.
We like to a use a mixture of botanical to be honest. Coriander seed, cardamom, bay leaf, pepper and a citrus mix of lemon, lime and orange are all used within our products. We feel this is a great mix and gives a perfect balance of flavours.
Q. I hear you have your own juniper bushes and use Yorkshire water: Do you use local produce where possible?
We do yes. Our lavender is sourced from Yorkshire’s own Lavender farm and our tea is Yorkshire’s finest!
Q. What are your views on the North UK food and drink scene at the moment?
Very inspirational! There are a tremendous amount of smaller companies who make great products and work so hard, it’s amazing to be surrounded by some of them.
Q. And the UK market overall? Is it lagging behind any other countries and what do feel the British food and drink scene does well?
I think the UK has turned a big corner. Years ago, perhaps the UK was known for poor food and drink. However, now I think we are becoming world class.
Q. How do you like to drink your gin?
Lots of ice, premium tonic water with a slice of orange peel.
Q. Do you like to cook? If yes what?
Yes – fresh, homely dinners for the family. We like to use as many locally sourced ingredients and suppliers as we can – we really think it makes a difference!
Q. If you were to recommend four ‘hidden food and drink gems’ to visit in Yorkshire, where would you choose?
Sun Catchers café in Masham North Yorkshire (renamed Johnny Baghdad’s Cafe); The Wensleydale Heiffer in West Witton; The Black Bull in Paradise, a bar attached to the Theakston’s brewery in Masham which is great, and finally Lewis & Coopers in Northallerton. It was founded in 1899, and their deli and wine store is such an Aladdin’s cave which is full of fabulous produce!
Q. In your opinion, what are the best food and beverage parings?
Although gin is my favourite beverage. I think a beautiful wine will always work well, or even some beer and food pairings. The latter is becoming more popular.
Q. What do you do when you’re not working – hobbies/interests?
What’s not working? Although Masons Gin has totally taken over our lives, and is a seven-day a week job, we love taking long walks and exploring Yorkshire. We also have family in Switzerland, and can’t wait to visit them again.
Q. And finally comfort food and drink?
Always gin. And for my comfort food, fish, chips and mushy peas or a classic Sunday roast.
Tasting Note: Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin – 42%
Nose: Light fennel (aniseed) and some maltiness on the nose with soft juniper, lime and orange rind.
Palate: Specifically fennel now, getting towards liquorice, fresh feel with bold citrus, especially the orange rind, pine and juniper.
Finish: Juniper, green apple and lingering lemon zest. A lovely long, fresh finish.
RRP: £39.99 for a 70cl bottle.Available from Harvey Nichols and small independent retailers which can be found here
Despite not having visitor centre facilities (yet) the door is open Monday to Friday 8.30am until 5pm. Visits are welcome and you can chat to the team who may be distilling or packing on any particular day and they will happily let you sample gin, often straight from the stills.
9 The Craft Yard
Bedale, North Yorkshire
Tel: 01677 426467