Wine Club: The secret ingredients

Masons' website
Masons' website
  • It’s making a comeback and new gins with roots in the region are are leading the way. Christine Austin reports.
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I love a good gin and tonic. It is the drink I head for at the end of the day when I need a cool, tastebud reviver. It is great as a sundowner, even if there is no sun, and it is essential when flying because, unless you can manage a business class ticket, the wine selection will probably be awful, so it is best to drink gin.

If you have been steadily sipping your G&T for decades you may be astonished to discover that you are now at the cutting edge of fashion. Gin is the new comeback kid. Barely a week goes by without some new gin appearing on the market and there are two relatively new gins that have distinct Yorkshire connections.

“I never really intended to have my own gin,”said Karl Mason, who with his wife Cathy, is behind Masons Yorkshire Gin. “We enjoy a gin and tonic on a Friday evening and started to try different brands. After a while we started a Facebook page with our reviews of all the different gins we had tried and that was when we decided that we would like to try and make our own, distinctive brand of gin. There wasn’t a gin distillery in Yorkshire, so we have set up our micro still in The Craft Yard in Bedale.”

Just in case you imagine that The Craft Yard is home to the whole distilling process from the grain, it isn’t. Like most gin producers, Masons buy in the neutral grain alcohol from one of the big distillers. The real skill in making gin is in the final distillation with botanicals – the flavourings that make each gin distinctive. That is what is happening in Bedale.

“We have our own 300 litre copper alembic still and we soak the botanicals in the spirit overnight. Then the gin is distilled again.” The botanicals are always a secret – after all, that is the key mix of ingredients that makes each gin different, but Masons gin is described as “savoury citrus” and it numbers dried orange and lemon peel, fennel, cardamom and bay leaf amongst its ingredients. “We use less juniper than some gins, so the other flavours have a chance to be noticed in the blend,” said Karl.

The final distillate comes from the still at high strength, so it is reduced down to its selling strength of 42 per cent ABV with Harrogate Spring Water, making this a truly Yorkshire gin.

In the glass, this is a full-flavoured gin, positive on the palate with clean herbal notes as well as citrus. It makes a terrific gin and tonic, with plenty of ice and a wedge of lemon.

Now having launched Yorkshire’s first gin, Karl and Cathy are planning to add a few more Yorkshire elements to the range. “We are planning to double capacity soon, and add to the range with a Yorkshire Tea Gin, and a Yorkshire Lavender Gin.”

Masons Gin is available around the county, from Field and Fawcett in York at £36.95 and from Latitude in Leeds, Lewis and Cooper in Northallerton or you can try a small 20cl bottle for just £14.95 from Harvey Nichols.

All Yorkshire people know that it is not enough to live here and enjoy it. We must get out and about and prove to the world that there is more to God’s own county than flat hats and pudding.

Jake Burger, the man behind Leeds’s best drinking haunts, namely Jake’s Bar, Neon Cactus and Oporto has taken on that challenge and is currently to be found at The Portobello Star in London’s trendy Notting Hill.

In an upstairs room, next to a small, almost chemistry-lab sized experimental still, he instructs groups of consumers in the fine art of gin, encouraging them to mix their own botanicals and create their own gin at the “Ginstitute”. Meanwhile his latest venture is Portobello Road No 171 Gin which is gradually making its way around the world; its latest launch was in New York’s Lower West Side.

Portobello Road is a London Dry Gin, which in legal terms doesn’t have to be made in London, although this one is. The original distillate is made from English grain wheat, and then the botanicals are added and distilled again.

“We source our botanicals for their flavour rather than their specific origin, so we have bitter orange peel from Morocco, juniper from Tuscany and lemon peel from Spain. There is also coriander seed, angelica root and cassia bark which adds to the finish of the final gin. This is an elegant gin, good enough to work in a Martini, which is the ultimate test of a good gin.”

Certainly the large G&T Jake prepared for me was deliciously refreshing with a classic juniper note on the nose although that did not dominate the palate, settling in amongst citrus, coriander and nutmeg notes. Unusually it was garnished with a large sliver of pink grapefruit peel which added a softer note than the usual lemon or lime.

But Jake hasn’t abandoned his Yorkshire roots. “I am currently looking for a good source of Yorkshire liquorice root for a new Directors’ Cut gin.” Limited in production and distribution this will definitely make its way into the best bars in Leeds.

Portobello Road No 171 Gin is widely available across the county including Waitrose (normally £25, down to £21 until June 2), and at £22.95 at Field and Fawcett in York.

And the best way to make a gin and tonic? Use a big, oversized burgundy glass, add a load of ice, a decent slug of gin and top up with a good quality tonic.

Use twice as much tonic as gin, to allow the flavours to balance out. I love the clean flavours of Fever-Tree tonic (widely available at Tesco, Waitrose, Booths etc. at around £3.05 for four 200cl bottles). Then experiment with lemon, lime or grapefruit as a garnish.

Having enjoyed lime for quite some time, I have gone back to a good wedge of lemon in my G&T, although the idea of a sliver of pink grapefruit peel is gaining hold.