When Karl Mason posted a Facebook status about his Friday night gin and tonic, he didn’t realise it would be the catalyst for creating Yorkshire’s first gin. Savour’s Rosie Jenkinson chats to husbandand-wife team Karl and Cathy Mason, owners of Masons Gin, about their gin journey.
“Gin and Tonic Friday?” A simple question that Karl sent to his wife Cathy after a hard day’s work. Little did he know it would lay the foundation for their gin empire.
“I got home, the gin was already poured and I took a picture and put in on Facebook. Friends started joining in, and we ended up giving each other gin and tonic recommendations a few Fridays on the trot,” says Karl, managing director at Masons Yorkshire Gin.
“I set up a Facebook group for us called Gin and Tonic Friday and made it open so anyone could join in. Before I knew it, I had 10,000 followers,” adds Karl. That was in 2011 before the gin ‘boom’ and it ended up being one of the most popular gin and tonic social media pages in the country.
“All of a sudden gin companies started to get in touch saying, ‘Can I send you some of our new gin? Would you like to feature this on your Facebook page?’ “I’m like great, yeah, of course I would,” he laughs. With an influx of gin to try, Karl and Cathy became fascinated with the spirit, and the different varieties on the market.
“I started to think some tasted exactly like others, that we could do better and then I thought, ‘I am going to do better!’,” says Karl.
“I had no knowledge of making gin. I had no knowledge of the drinks industry. I’d never worked in a bar and I had no contacts,” he explains. “I didn’t see that as a hurdle. I researched how it was made and a friend of mine, who worked in a local delicatessen that had a small wine and spirits department, said if I was the first person to launch a gin in Yorkshire it would be big news and if it was good, she’d sell it. I had one potential stockist. So, I thought, right I’ve got a business plan!”
At that time, there was no distillery in Yorkshire, so Karl and Cathy had to go to a small distillery in Cambridgeshire to help them make their gin. They developed a recipe and launched in 2013 with Masons Yorkshire Gin. “It was most certainly big news,” says Karl. “A lot of the spirit journals picked up that Yorkshire had launched a gin. We got a lot of press, and I got most of our new customers by using Twitter.”
Karl and Cathy found a premises in Bedale, North Yorkshire where they lived, and ordered their own stills so they could take over the distilling of the gin. “When I look back and think of the three of us at the beginning to what we’ve become now, it’s just unbelievable,” says Cathy, humbly. “There was myself, Karl and the distiller. I used to do all the bottling and labelling, really badly by the way, so I was soon taken off that,” she laughs.
In the summer of 2017, Masons Gin moved into its third premises – still in Bedale – where it now employs 27 staff.
As well as the first expression, Masons Yorkshire Gin: The Original, the couple have a Lavender Edition, a Tea Edition, a Vodka and a Peppered Pear Limited Edition which was so popular in 2017 they plan on bringing it back.
Now Cathy heads up the development team, coming up with new ideas each week. “Up until this year, I used to organise all the events we did up and down the country, and attend them, but I’m trying to get a bit more normality back into our lives.
“With the development team, five of us sit down every four weeks and taste whatever Barry [one of the distillers at Masons Gin] has been making. We try it neat and then we try it in a gin and tonic. Every now and again we hold a cocktail night as well.”
The passion, research and taste testing that goes into creating the gin makes Masons what it is – an award-winning brand.
As Karl explains: “The intention from day one was that our gin had to be more than just a different label. It had to be a different liquid in that bottle, it had to taste different and it had to be better.”
“Masons gin is smooth enough to drink neat. It’s distilled slowly, it’s got a lot more flavour,” says Cathy.
The couple attribute the mass popularity of gin to people’s attitudes towards the drink changing. “There are better quality gins made now that have a better flavour and don’t fit that stereotype that it’s an old person’s drink,” says Karl. “Companies like ours, doing 120 shows a year and giving away samples and educating people, that’s opening the public eyes – and their taste buds.”
And the pair plan to educate people further by opening a visitors’ centre at the distillery in the future.
“We’re always looking to do something exciting,” says Cathy. “We’d like to launch some liqueurs and we are working on some fantastic ideas.”
“I’d like to go on holiday and have a Masons Gin wherever I am. That would be the dream,” adds Karl. “We’re looking at exporting now, and we’re already exporting to the Seychelles, Italy and Switzerland.”
And the icing on the cake? “I would like a brown tourist sign on the A1 that points to our distillery,” says Karl. “I really want to put Bedale on the map.”
All images by Sean Elliott Photography.