Masons Yorkshire Gin rises from the ashes!
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting everyone on a personal, financial and professional level. This has affected the drinks industry heavily with many plans put on hold. Ryebeck fully supported calls for a suspension of duty on distillery ethanol used for hand sanitisers, which HMRC agreed to back in March. Despite the ongoing difficulties, distilleries continue to produce their spirits with online sales a valuable source of income. One distillery that’s had its fair share of ups and downs is Masons Yorkshire Gin, started by gin-loving duo Karl and Cathy Mason. Based in Bedale, North Yorkshire, the company has been globally recognised for its gins, winning multiple awards in the most prestigious competitions. Ryebeck has been involved with the business for several years and recently spoke to Karl Mason about his company’s history and future plans.
Birth of Masons Yorkshire Gin
“Cathy and I had nothing at all to do with the industry“, recounts Karl. “She worked in the local high school in the special education needs department and I had a publishing company. We were gin lovers and so, in 2010, I started a Friday night gin social media page called ‘Gin and Tonic Friday’. This was before there was a gin boom. I think at the time, it became the number one social media page on gin and tonic in the country!”
As a result, Karl decided to make his own gin that was different to the homogenous styles he’d been drinking. “We had no knowledge or money, but it seemed like a good business plan“, he recalls. “We started very small with 120 bottles and we didn’t have our own still then. So, someone did our first distillations for us.”
Masons Original Gin
Karl’s plan was always to strike a point of difference from the other gins on the market, based on flavour. “Gin is what we drank. That’s why we did it – not for business, but for love. The initial idea was that we wanted a gin that was different and justified its place in the world. So, it wasn’t just a different label, it was a different liquid in the bottle with a unique flavour profile. I think that’s what we achieved with our original edition.”
Keeping that point of difference
The same mentality continued with further releases, as Karl describes. “When we expanded [our range] with the tea and lavender editions, the thought process was very simple. Our Original Gin didn’t follow what at the time was a stereotype of what gin could be, which was a bit floral and extremely dry. So, I wanted to add a floral one and an extremely dry one to the range, but again doing something totally distinct. Hence for the floral edition, we took our original recipe and added lavender and for the dry one, we used black tea. So, we’re getting flavours from a totally different angle. We’re not followers of fashion or trends. We make the gins that we love and every one of our gins is a London Dry.”
“Later on, we did some special editions. For the Slow Distilled Sloe Gin, we distilled the sloe berries. The Steve’s Apple Edition was based on Steve, our assistant distiller, who had an apple tree. His apples were going spare, so we distilled them. It’s all very much a case of what we find exciting and interesting.”
Initial contact with Ryebeck
Karl and Cathy launched the gin brand in 2013. They started with a single flame-heated 300L copper alembic still, before buying a second one. Then in 2017, they purchased a used 150L still from Ryebeck. As the company grew and volumes rose, they realised they needed a much bigger still. So, the following year, they ordered a new 1000L pot still from Ryebeck. However, two weeks before it was due to be delivered in April 2019, a fire destroyed their premises. They lost everything, apart from a brand new still that hadn’t arrived yet and which they had no place to store!
From donations of stationery, laptops, office space and even other distilleries offering up their equipment, the business set up a contingency plan within 24 hours. The enduring spirit of their staff, the fire service, customers, community and industry colleagues demonstrated the true meaning of Yorkshire spirit. “When we had our fire, all the support we had from people in the town and from the industry and the resilience shown by our amazing Yorkshire staff were phenomenal“, says Karl. “The fire pulled our staff together. It was never a possibility we wouldn’t continue and survive. It didn’t enter our mindset.”
For ten months, they moved into temporary offices and rented a small food grade unit off the council, where they could do their own bottling by hand. They also rented a still in Manchester where they made gin during this period. Additionally, they outsourced some of the distilling.
Then, just after they moved into their new premises in Leeming Bar, the coronavirus pandemic struck. “Now we’re in the coronavirus situation“, says Karl, “our staff are well-trained at working in a business that’s under the cosh! We’ve been in temporary premises and homeless for the last nine months. We only had the launch party for our new distillery about ten days before we had to send everyone away to work from home.”
The new still from Ryebeck
The new Ryebeck still, named Tony after Cathy’s father, was installed in October 2019, six months after the fire. However, the new premises were, at that stage, an empty shell. So, it took another four months before they were fully kitted out in February, although the still had already been commissioned in January. “We chose a 1000L size“, notes Karl, “because it was as big as we could get and ran in a sensible timeframe during the day. Anything bigger would have made the working day longer.”
Continuing the relationship with Ryebeck
While they had this new still on order from Ryebeck, they were also discussing buying another one to replace the 150L still lost in the fire. “We needed something where we could do smaller batches … including possibly special editions“, he explains. “We intend to look at other products as well now, but our core range will continue on the 1000L still.”
The Ryebeck experience
“You need to be with a company that you feel you’re working with, rather than just placing an order with. Ryebeck do work with you. They advise you along the way and you feel confident in them.”
Karl had spoken to several equipment suppliers before deciding on Ryebeck. “They were always the easiest to communicate with, even before we’d ordered“, he recalls. “We just felt confident with them. Everyone I’ve dealt with there has always gone out of the way to answer my questions properly. That gives you a lot of confidence. Whenever I asked a question, I’d get a straightforward answer. If the answer wasn’t available, I could chase Tim [MD Tim Prime] and he would find it out for me. They were always accommodating and tweaks and changes could be made. You get the level of service from them you expect these days.”
Future plans for Masons Gin
Masons’ new 12,368 square foot site houses their production, bottling plant and offices, all under one roof. Future plans have been on hold due to the coronavirus situation, including their events and education area, comprising a bar and gin-tasting ‘gin lab’. “It’s a great space to experiment and to educate“, says Karl. “We are going to become a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) teaching centre, but everything’s been on hold while the country was in lockdown.”
In the meantime, in order to mark their comeback from the fire, they have launched a Phoenix Limited Edition batch of 2000 bottles of Masons Original Gin. Each bottle, beautifully presented in a gift box, has been custom-designed with artwork detailing a phoenix rising from the ashes to signify Masons’ extraordinary journey. From every bottle made, £2.50 will be donated to The Fire Fighter’s Charity (registered charity number 1093387).
If you’re also interested in purchasing new or second-hand distillation equipment, then Ryebeck can help. You can call the team on +44 (0) 800 689 3216 or contact them via their online form.
Author: Robin Goldsmith of The Write Taste.