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Time to meet Masons Yorkshire Gin

 

Time to meet Masons Yorkshire Gin

 

 

Talk about perks of the job! One Autumn morning armed with cake (always!) we took a road trip to Bedale and went to visit our good friends Cathy & Karl Mason, good friends and founders of Masons Yorkshire Gin. As soon as we entered their reception and gift shop we were greeted by all things gin – with curiosities aplenty! Jars filled with botanicals, old copper stills, decorative bowls of juniper berries. A feast for the eyes and setting us up perfectly for what we had come along to do – create a one-off unique bottle of gin to celebrate our 10th year!

But more about that later, it was time to get settled on the ever so comfortable traditional leather sofas in the reception and talk about all things Masons!

Cathy & Karl may have told their story time and time again, but we know how much they like to share, so we started at the beginning. Karl explained that ten years ago he had never ordered a glass of gin, but as a couple they had gone along to a friends house and offered a G&T and they both really liked it! Karl having a self-confessed obsessive nature, decided to start buying gin and looking into the spirit further. He set up a ‘G&T Friday’ community Facebook page for fellow gin fans to share the love – what they were drinking, where and how, and over a very short time the page grew to 10,000 followers which made him realise there was a gap in the market for a gin made in the heart of Yorkshire. They decided they had had enough of Karl sitting on his laptop for hours on a Friday night with fellow obsessives (despite the free gin!), and after drinking a very dull glass of gin one day, Karl commented he could do better, so Cathy set the challenge, and knowing he’d need a companion on what could be a ‘silly’ journey, she decided to get involved too.

At this stage, nobody in Yorkshire had a pot still (used to hold and vaporise the botanicals when distilling) so they went to work with a small distiller in Cambridgeshire who had one of the smallest pot stills and they helped nail the distilling process and get them off the ground. They first put the pot still in premises, not far from home, but very quickly had to move and find a larger site, all the time with no distiller, it really was an upward learning curve for them both.

One thing they did know from the start was that the branding had to be strong. They worked with a designer with their original concept, but the Masons brand sang out loud and clear! The ‘Mason’ family crest was adapted with a Yorkshire Rose and the identity of Masons Yorkshire Gin was born. Did you know that it was originally going to be called Drystone!

We wondered how they formed their signature recipe and their own combination of botanicals and found out this was purely based on their own favourite choices. They wanted to have a strongly identifiable flavour, and not just a different label. This had to be a different gin. They blind tested different recipes on friends but most sessions ended up with well imbibed friends who claimed they liked them all!

So Cathy & Karl sensibly went with what they preferred. As we all know, you can’t please everyone! Cathy tended to be drawn towards a sweeter taste with the Original being her favourite, with Karl preferring their Tea flavour (made with Yorkshire Tea, of course!) and all in all a drier blend. They also felt the recipe had to come from them, as if you are fully 100% behind it, your passion will show and that will speak volumes.

The two Lavender and Tea flavours were developed to show the true backing of Yorkshire, and they also use pure Yorkshire water to make all their gin. The connections are strong.

Talking Yorkshire, we always ask our guests what they think makes Yorkshire such an abundant larder and gives it its strong connections to food and drink, and Cathy was quick to share that it’s the people, the farming community, the need for no frills, but quality all the same. We all heartedly agreed that we are blessed with the area where we all live – with the county covering coastline, cities and countryside. We were keen to find out if the Yorkshire branding had been a big selling point for their brand.

Like us, we are so proud of our links to the county, it just had to feature. Cathy thought the popular Mason surname helped, and the crest they designed with the family crest and Yorkshire Rose opened conversations, particularly local ones, in the early days but now it was the gin that did the talking.

So since launching on National Gin Day back in 2013, it’s been a pretty epic journey with the business moving to even larger premises and now having a team of over 30 people, many locally based. We wanted to find out what had been the biggest change led by growth – was it industry led, or something else? Cathy & Karl had started off with no knowledge of how to sell gin, work with stockists, bars and restaurants, or the major retailers, so they learnt on the job. Their first large event was the Country Living Show on home ground at Harrogate. This got them off to such a great start and they were able to communicate their passion, brand and great gin to a large audience and get valuable feedback too! So, they made the decision to concentrate their efforts into attending shows across the length and breadth of the country to grow the brand, and currently attend 120 shows per year, supplying over 150,000 samples annually! As with our own brand when people meet you face to face it’s a physical connection to the brand – they get a little bit of you, we find out a little bit about them and it’s powerful!

There’s been lots of talk about the boom in gin and the loosely held perceptions of only being drunk before dinner by expats and older women, and we chatted about how that journey has been for them, but what we really wanted to get to know was an insider opinion on the ‘next big thing’ in the drinks industry. Cathy shared rum was still being discussed, along with tequila too. Though no boom will be as big as gin as it’s such a versatile spirit and perfect for so many cocktails. With the cocktail making trend showing no signs of going anywhere, we’re certain it will be here for some time!

Talking all things new, we were keen to find out a little more about G12 – the new gin that Masons have produced and currently selling through Aldi. It all seemed a little secretive, but we found out that’s not the case. Aldi won’t be the only place to get your hands on this botanically rich, fresh, Mediterranean flavoured gin – they just happen to have their hands on all the gin crafted so far! We loved that they named it after developing the 12th recipe and deeming it the one for them! A little secret – next year there will be a whole new range!

Next steps for Masons Yorkshire Gin? 2019 will see a Special Edition for the Great Yorkshire Show for the second year. After last year’s success of selling out on the second day, it seems demand is certainly there! Also, there are plans for a citrus based gin which may form part of the newer range, but as always this depends on feedback. Cathy & Karl listen very closely to their followers. The Tea and Lavender flavours were never meant to stay but I don’t think would have been forgiven them if they hadn’t.

Each had different highs on their journey. For Karl it was showing off the gin at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Paris, and for Cathy it was a rather personal moment, remembering the escalator ride with her daughter in Harvey Nichols, going to see their bottles sitting proudly on their shelves. There’s nothing like seeing your results of your hard work on the shelves anywhere. We know how she feels.

Time away from gin and the highs and lows, we wanted to find out where Cathy & Karl sneaked away to enjoy good food and drink in Yorkshire, and it was decided simply on location! With the Bruce Arms, an 18th century coaching inn, just down the road in Tanfield it was the first choice. Though if exploring a little further, The Ivy Brasserie at Harrogate is just perfect for relaxing with friends or celebrating the highs of being owners of Masons!

Just as we were about to think about booking a table at The Ivy sometime soon (well it was lunchtime!), we remembered why we were here! Back in January we’d asked Cathy & Karl if they would like to be involved in our 10th year celebrations. They jumped at the idea and after a very excited chat we decided to make just one bottle of a special edition gin and we had just the ingredient to make it extra special! Gooseberries! Not just any gooseberries – these are foraged from a very small wild gooseberry bush growing in a hedgerow on the farm! Jennie picked them back in (date) and we kept them safely tucked away in the freezer (labelled very carefully to keep the family away from eating them!).

So, a quick Health & Safety brief later and we were let into the distillery itself! Standing in all their glory were the two copper stills that are used daily to make the good stuff! ‘Steve’ their first still that could produce gin in 200 litre batches, with ‘Leftie’ standing to the left, of course! It was a big day in the distillery as ‘Steve’ was being replaced! The new still had arrived and at that time had not been named, but everyone seemed to have their favourite name in mind!

We then turned to see the smallest still ever which was going to be used to produce our one, never to be repeated, bottle of gin! Lewis was the junior distiller on hand to create the magic! The core ingredients were decided on, with the botanicals including juniper, coriander seed, orris powder, cassia, orange and lemon peel, whole almonds, Yorkshire grown Orange Pippin apples, along with our own foraged gooseberries! We couldn’t believe we would be really here whilst our gin was made!

After such a wonderful day talking all things gin with this warm and hospitable pair, and our favourite people in the world of gin, we had to grasp the fact that unfortunately this one bottle is not for us, nor the Mason’s family – it’s only for our 10th competition winner!

The things we do in the name of celebration!

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