Masons of Yorkshire
Chatting with Karl and Catherine Mason from Yorkshire’s first gin distillery
Wednesday 05 May 2021
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Yorkshire’s first gin distiller, Masons is the product of superhuman levels of determination and grit. It was founded in 2013 by husband and wife team Karl and Catherine Mason, a publisher and high school teacher respectively, who decided to get into the gin game because they were fed up of drinking gins where “the labels changed, but what was in the bottle was always basically the same”.
“Making that first gin was really exciting,” says Karl. “Cathy really likes orange, so we started there, then leaned toward cardamon and fennel as big flavours. We worked with a couple of guys who had a small still down in Cambridge to make small batches of around 120 bottles. And I mean basically all our friends came around promising to give us feedback, but at the end of the night they all just got drunk and said they liked them all.”
As the first gin made in Yorkshire, there was a surge of interest from media and customers, encouraged by Catherine tirelessly working food and drink shows across the UK. Masons bought its own still and moved into a permanent home in the town of Bedale, and then again in 2017 to an even larger premises on the same street, from where it was able to produce 400,000 bottles a year.
And then, disaster.
“It was the first of April, April Fool’s Day, and we’ve completed a full order for 26 pallets in the room where it was to get collected the next day,” says Karl. “We woke up to find there had been a fire overnight and one of the stills had exploded, destroyed the entire premises, literally everything we had.
“The very next day, the staff turned up at our house, with whiteboards and so forth, saying ‘alright, what’s next then how do we carry on? It was just amazing.”
Catherine picks up the story: “We literally haven’t had a day off, we just continued. The distillers found space at other people’s distilleries, then it all got sent back to this tiny unit where it was bottled by hand. Yorkshire gin was actually being made in Lancashire! It put everyone under a lot of pressure as you can imagine. And then we found this premises, thank goodness.”
Six months later, the luxurious new distillery in which we now sit chatting, opened its doors, complete with bar, shop and visitor centre. The opening party was, naturally, one week before lockdown was announced.
“I’m the best customer at the bar,” grumbles Karl, as he gets up to show us around the distillery floor. Two handsome copper column stills sit in the centre of the cavernous brewing hall, one of which escaped the great fire of 2018 only because it was waiting to be collected from the manufacturer. Behind them are racks of botanicals and large containers of spirit in various stages of blending; getting to a finished gin is a long and involved process.
“I think the biggest difference between us and the big guys is that mass produced gin is often distilled in concentrated form, so they’ll have 1000 litres that’s actually gone through the still with the botanicals, and then dilute that with maybe 10,000 litres just of neat alcohol. So what you get in your glass is a mix of concentrate and base spirit in a ration of nine-to-one. We make our gin in what’s called a single-shot method; it all goes through the still and when it comes off we only water it down to bottling strength. That’s why there’s no burn or anything.”
Other Yorkshire gins have launched after Mason’s, but it remained the largest and best-known, a fact that Karl puts down to the couple’s policy of putting all the profit back into the business, and hiring good staff as quickly as they could. Its inventive and varied flavour combinations can’t have hurt its success either, with bold flavours that make Mason’s gins great for cocktails or just with a little tonic. We were particularly tickled by the Yorkshire tea gin, which features in our cocktail of the month on page 96.
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