Karl & Cathy Mason – Masons Gin
Husband and wife team Karl and Cathy Mason talk us through their very busy year, giving a little bit of insight into the perks (and pitfalls) of starting up a business as a married couple.
You’ve had a big 2017, reaching new milestone after new milestone, constantly growing and getting better. What were your goals for the past year?
Karl Mason: My goal really was to increase our on-trade presence. I started making my own gin from a simple love of a perfectly served Gin & Tonic. When we approach bars and restaurants we always off er staff training and like to ensure our gin is served at its best. Gin is a very easy drink to serve fabulously but it’s easy to serve it badly, too. I think we are achieving this aim but its ongoing and our Brand Ambassadors are doing a fantastic job at increasing our presence.
Cathy Mason: We were desperate for space. Moving to larger premises would mean we could have the distillery and offices under one roof. So far, we have the offices in the new premises and we are busy getting ready for the production and despatch. Exciting times.
On a more personal perspective, what has been the highlight of 2017?
KM: I think the amount of family and friends who now think Cathy and I have a real job in the spirits business rather than a hobby, plus the amount of serious investment requests we receive from people who are impressed by our success and want to invest in us to help us fulfil our ambitions for the brand.
CM: We have seen amazing growth this year which has seen the company employ fourteen more lovely members of staff.
These are fast times, particularly for Gin. In what ways have you observed the category evolving over the last 18 months?
CM: The age of the Gin drinker has significantly reduced. It has now become the drink to drink. Also, many bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs are serving a G&T as it should be served. We should no longer be expected to drink a terrible gin served with flat pump tonic with no ice and a flaccid, watery bit of lemon. Yuck.
KM: Too many people are 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.
You work together as a couple – do you think that puts you at an advantage?
KM: I think so although it was hard to get used to in the first place. Cathy certainly helped get us off the ground with her desire to get involved in food and drink events – meeting the general public and giving out samples, where as I come at it from a different angle. Together we seem to cover most bases in our thoughts and ideas.
CM: Mostly an advantage. We have very different personalities which helps when dealing with the different pressures we face daily.
But does it ever mean you can’t quite leave work at work?
KM: Well it does mean that rather than both talking about our day at work that the other isn’t involved in, it’s something we have done together. We do often ask ourselves, though, what did we talk about before we launched Masons Gin?
CM: We know we spend too much time talking about work, yet still so many conversations are never finished…
Your variants are incredibly creative, each leaning towards different flavour areas. Was that intentional, or did the lavender and tea editions evolve a little more organically?
KM: Well we don’t like to follow the crowd or 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 fl oral/perfume style of “traditional” gins due to our botanical selection, so we wanted to create one in that style but totally differently, hence adding lavender to the recipe.
CM: We wanted to be able to use a Yorkshire ingredient, so we used lavender is grown in Yorkshire. I wish I could say the same about the tea, but it is the iconic Yorkshire Tea, at least.
Is there anything you have learned that you wish you knew when you were fresh faced in the Gin world?
CM: That we would be giving up our personal lives for a couple of years but in return, we would have the most amazing fast and fun years.
KM: How to allocate your time wisely, as it’s such a time-consuming business. I think for the first two to three years the business steered me and it’s only now in year four/five that I feel like I’m starting to do some steering.
And any advice you’d offer to other couples looking to enter into the Gin world together?
CM: Be passionate about producing something great.
KM: I suppose really they would need to look at how far they want to go as the market is so popular now it’s getting harder to reach out of your home territory, so be realistic in your ambitions.
Outside of the UK, is there a market with a particular thirst for Masons? And why do you think that is?
CM: We certainly hope so. We are producing a great product that will be enjoyed in all four corners of the earth. I shall myself visit the Seychelles, Barbados, Maldives and St Lucia…
KM: We seem to be going down a storm in the Seychelles, perhaps it the heat which makes it popular there as a Masons Gin & Tonic is a fabulous thirst quencher.
Not a shabby list of places to “have” to do trade visits to either…! What’s the best serve of your gin that you’ve seen in the past year?
KM: Sean Cavanagh one of our Brand Ambassadors created me an Aviation cocktail in the distillery using our Lavender Edition and it was simply fabulous.
CM: I really enjoyed our Tea Gin with ginger ale, lots of lemon peel and ice.
What’s the next milestone you’re working towards as a brand – are there any new releases in the works?
KM: We have just taken the keys to a new site and are in the process of moving. Our old premises are still used to distil our gin while licensing is arranged but we are moving from 120 sqm to 1000 sqm and this is going to give us options for events/visitors/ experiences and at the same time we are working on our next move to hopefully a purpose-built facility. We have been working on new releases all year and Cathy and I have had fabulous ideas, but when distilled don’t live up to our hopes so we have rejected them – until very recently…
CM: Building a purpose-built distillery and visitors centre would be top of my list!
What else is coming up in 2018 that fans can look forward to?
KM: We have just announced a collaboration with Theakston’s Brewery of Masham near us so will be working on some barrel blending, adding our gin to their beer casks and the first experiments are exciting. Also, we hope to have some new additions to our Stills as “Steve” and “leftie” are very overworked at the moment but this is all for the new premises.
Where do you think Gin as a category is heading?
KM: I think it will continue to grow but the number of brands will reduce, they can’t all make a living and producing on a small scale is expensive. The current ability of some bars to charge high prices for a premium Gin and Tonic will come under pressure as more and more bars serve Gin well. Good news for the consumer as paying up to £15 for a double G&T isn’t realistic, or good value.
CM: We hope it continues to grow, and we think that people are now so well educated in what a fantastic and diverse drink Gin can be, that they will seek one out that suits their pallet.
Brand aside, from a personal perspective, what are you most excited about?
KM: Personally its getting the new premises to be fully operational and welcoming visitors, be they trade, consumer or even just gin fans driving by who fancy calling in. We have always had an open door and visitors are often amazed how they can just talk to our distillers and watch them work without needing an appointment. If the distiller is really busy they get 10 minutes, if it at a quiet point in the process they won’t stop talking and visitors have been known to talk to them for over an hour.
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