Masons Yorkshire Gin is a spirit that wears its Northern heritage with pride. Established by husband and wife team Karl and Catherine Mason in 2013, the gin brand has been working hard to showcase some of the county’s finest attributes, from lavender to tea.
The duo may have long been both gin-lovers themselves, but becoming distillery owners was a far cry from their previous career paths: Karl used to work as the managing director of Ripon Publishing Group of Open Doors Media, whilst Catherine was a teaching assistant for special needs children. Their journey into ginsmithery began when they set up a Facebook page in 2012. Gin & Tonic Friday saw Karl reviewing what he thought were the best gins on the market, alongside features and news that captured his interest. When the page hit the 10,000 mark, he realised that Gin was only going one way – upwards – and would simply continue to grow as a category. He also realised that he’d accumulated quite the knowledge base around the spirit, and having tasted so many gins by this stage had a good understanding of what worked for him and what didn’t. The couple’s shared passion paired with their ever-expanding knowledge about the category put them in prime position to catch the Gin wave just as it was swelling.
Their mission for Masons Yorkshire Gin was simple: do away with boring generic gins and instead come up with something that was truly exciting, worthy of their hard work and something that would represent their home turf in God’s own county on a national level.
The desire to make this a through and through Yorkshire product presented an immediate hurdle, however. Neither Karl not Cathy knew how to distill at the time, and there weren’t any distilleries left in the region. After an extensive search for a location, they settled on a workshop in Bedale, a market town in North Yorkshire.
However, with costs, legalities and having to either learn how to distil or assemble the right team in order to distil, the duo decided to begin by working with Cambridgeshire based English Spirit Company. The gin was designed and distilled here for the first year or so of its life, so when it launched on World Gin Day 2013, it did so to a minor splash of controversy. It was successful, sure, with 90% of their initial 120 bottles selling out in the first week, but the fact that it was being made down south was a source of contention for some and admittedly, for those who read our review at the time, ourselves included.
Gin’s growing popularity and a general thirst for locally made spirits provided a handy little tailwind to Masons, and before long they’d gained a good foothold in the market. This meant, of course, that they quickly raised the funds to buy their own still, so in March 2014 they placed their order. Three months, many, many recipe adjustments and a whole load of trial and error later, Masons Yorkshire Gin was finally a product that lived up to its name.
While the botanical line-up for Masons Yorkshire Gin is undisclosed, based on images shared and the flavours we can smell and taste, it is likely to contain (amongst others) juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, cardamom, cinnamon, dried lemon peel, fresh lime peel, bay leaf and fennel.
All four gins in the Masons range are distilled using a single shot process in 300L pot stills. All botanicals bar the fresh citrus goes into the still to soak overnight. At around 5am the next morning the zests are added and the still is switched on, with the final cut taken at 4pm. Harrogate spring water is used to cut the spirit down to get it to the 42% ABV bottling strength, with the 275 bottle batches then labelled (each of the Masons Yorkshire Gin bottles are individually numbered) and packed in-house.
Masons Yorkshire Gin to taste…
On the nose, there is a strong waft of their base spirit intermingled with juniper, cardamom and a peppery freshness. To taste Masons Yorkshire Gin is surprisingly smooth given the raw grainy nose, with bursts of citrus, fennel and liquorice accompanying juniper core. The creamy (almost malty) juniper and a touch of fennel marks a quick, yet satisfying finish. We’d recommend using a thin slice of lemon in a G&T, but for those who enjoy more adventurous pairings and in search of something truly memorable and refreshing, try matching it with orange peel and cardamom pods along with Thomas Henry Tonic Water.
In 2015, the Masons added to their gin line up with two fantastic additions, Masons Lavender Edition and Masons Tea Edition. These are a real twist away from the original, though none dive off the deep end into ‘weird gin’ territory. Describing the process behind idea development, Karl said: “We don’t like to follow the crowd of the trend as we like to be original, but we always want to create something we are happy to drink.
“We are the ultimate taste testers for our gins, hence why even our Original Edition is unique. The Tea Edition, for example, was thought up by trying to make our Original Edition drier, but coming at it from a new angle. The same with the Lavender Edition: we just thought our gin didn’t lean towards the stereotype floral/perfume style of ‘traditional’ gins due to our botanical selection, so we wanted to create on in that style but totally different.”
Masons Lavender Edition to taste…
Lavender is a risky botanical to play with, though one that offers infinite merits when used correctly. It forms a gossamer-thin bridge between floral and herbal botanicals, but it must be used sparingly, for it can tip into abundance quite quickly.
We think they’ve struck it just right, here. It’s sweet and delicate, heady and perfumed. All of the botanicals sing together in a delicate harmony, and while there is an element of sweetness, the finish is crisp and dry.
Masons Tea Edition to taste…
We’ll be honest, we weren’t exactly pie eyed over Masons Yorkshire Gin when it first emerged. We thought the fact that the gin was being made third party and not even in the same county was fairly disingenuous, but they weren’t the first to do such a thing and they definitely won’t be the last. In fact, if anything they were one of the firsts to actually put their money where their mouths were and build their own distillery, rather than getting a little too comfortable with contracting it out.
The Masons have always had an open door policy, with people able to just pop in and out as they please, but the new premises will allow for a more focused tour. “We have just taken the keys to a new site and are in the process of moving,” Karl told us. “Our old premises are still used to distil our gin while licensing is arranged, but we are moving from 120sqm to 1000sqm and this is going to give us options for events/visitors/experiences.”
There is more transparency around the early days, what went right, what didn’t and there are teams of brand ambassadors spreading the word left right and centre and the updated packaging adds a touch of detail that was missing, providing a little more depth for those who care to look a little closer – the rose embossed at the base is a particularly nice touch.
There are collaborations in the works too (they’ve recently teamed up with Theakston’s Brewery of Masham to work on some barrel blending, adding gin to their beer casks), and while there are sure to be some interesting products coming from these, it’s a safe bet that there won’t be anything silly. Karl is something of a custodian of the category and has no time for folly. Discussing competition, he said: “there are too many people entering the market; it’s gone beyond regional – we now have gins for each town. They can’t all be unique tasting so gimmicks are being used in packaging and promotion.
“Another huge evolution is the rise of the fruit flavoured gin. Rhubarb has been on trend for a year now but these sweetened, fruit based gins are not really juniper led so there is a case for them being classified as something other than Gin.”
More and more Yorkshire gins are emerging to try and be the premiere offering in the region, and, if we’re completely honest, some are doing very, very well for themselves out of the the region’s unique ability to galvanise support. There are very few places in the world where people are so ferociously proud and patriotic towards – and Yorkshire is in that small percentile of places where it’s community are region first, country second and unquenchably, irrepressibly pro-local and defensive of it. Rebranding away from the bog standard Oslo glass and into custom bottles has helped premiumsise their look, alongside another recent addition to the line-up – Peppered Pear – shows that this is a team with a huge amount of confidence behind it, though: as far as Masons Gin team is concerned, Gin will flourish for years, and they’ll be leading the pack.
For more information about Masons Yorkshire Gin, visit their website: www.masonsyorkshiregin.com
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