It all began with a Facebook page for gin lovers before Karl Mason decided to make his own drink. Here he tells Ros Snowdon his story.
Karl Mason takes his Yorkshire roots very seriously.
The co-founder of the award winning Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin grabs every opportunity he can to get into bed with fellow Yorkshire firms to cook up new collaborations.
His latest joint venture is with Bradford-based grocer Morrisons, which chose Masons as part of its push to promote local producers. Morrisons said Masons is one of its top performing local brands and is hugely popular with Yorkshire consumers.
The Morrisons deal follows two other collaborations with local heroes, Theakston’s Brewery and Yorkshire Tea. Masons linked up with Theakston’s last year to experiment with its range to create Barrel Blended Gin. Theakston’s is one of the UK’s oldest established family brewing companies and has been brewing in Yorkshire since 1827.
Mason takes an unusual approach to his Yorkshire collaborations.
“I’ve drunk Theakston’s since I was 18. They’re based six miles away from where I live,” he explains.
“I just rocked up there one day. It was great, fascinating. It was amazing to see Jonathan’s workshop – the smells. It was fabulous.”
Jonathan is Jonathan Manby, the master cooper from Theakston’s, which is the only brewery that still trains apprentice coopers in the art of barrel making.
Mason explains that the venture with Theakston’s is hopefully a long-term project.
The tie-up with Theakston’s follows the group’s use of Yorkshire Tea to produce Masons Yorkshire Tea Edition Gin. The idea for it came after Mason’s sister bought him a bottle of chef Heston Blumenthal’s limited edition tea gin, a precursor of the more famous ‘Heston from Waitrose Earl Grey & Lemon Gin’.
“I didn’t love it, but I thought it was an interesting idea,” Mason admits with his typical Yorkshire honesty.
Distilled using the traditional London Dry Gin method in a copper alembic still, Masons is a small batch craft gin. The firm, which is based at Bedale in North Yorkshire, has won a raft of awards over the past year, including Gold awards at The San Francisco World Spirits Competition and The People’s Drinks Awards, as well as being recently shortlisted for The White Rose Awards.
Mason, who has a background in finance and publishing, launched the brand with his wife Cathy on World Gin Day in 2013. The business came about as a result of a Facebook page.
“We started a Facebook page and it was just for me and some friends to share pictures of us having a gin and tonic on a Friday around six years ago,” says Mason.
“But I ended up getting 10,000 followers and gin companies started taking notice. At the time we had possibly the most popular gin and tonic Facebook page in the country.
“We started getting free gin in the post – brands wanting their bottles to be seen in our photos, but gins were being launched that weren’t different enough. I thought: ‘I love gin and I’d like to make my own’. We are doing so well because we’re more than just a different label.”
Mason and his wife Cathy are the ultimate tasters and if a gin doesn’t come up to their exacting standards, it won’t be launched.
The ultimate ambition is to establish the brand internationally, while maintaining its Yorkshire roots.
“I want us to be an international premium drinks brand from Bedale,” he explains.
While Masons Gin is becoming a name in its own right, Mason says that having the Yorkshire name on the product helped unlock doors when it launched.
“It got us a lot of publicity. Yorkshire, you can’t deny, is possibly the most marketable county in England,” he says.
“Most Yorkshire people are proud of where they come from. This fabulous spirit doesn’t come from London – it’s a small producer in Yorkshire. Being from Yorkshire really opened doors for us, especially in the early days.”
In terms of international development, Masons Gin can already be found in New York, The Seychelles, Switzerland, Italy and Denmark.
“I’d love us to be in America and Europe, Australia and New Zealand,” he says.
The Bedale-based distillery has been on the recruitment path and staff headcount stands at 31 and Mason sees that number increasing over the next year.
“We are rapidly expanding and we are buying more equipment. This year we’ll recruit more brand ambassadors,” he says.
Masons Gin has also broken through the £2m turnover mark and is looking at 50 per cent growth this year. Despite the rapid expansion, Mason is determined not to sell out for commercial reasons or increase production by moving away from Bedale. His long term goal is to turn the North Yorkshire town into a destination.
“We want to create a destination within Bedale and make Bedale known for something,” he says.
“I’d like a brown sign on the side of the A1 that says ‘Bedale Distillery’.”
His love for the North Yorkshire town owes a lot to his wife Cathy.
“My wife has lived in Bedale her entire life and her parents and grandparents lived here,” he says.
“So many people say: ‘Oh, I know Bedale’, but in reality they just drive through it. Our long term goal is to build a custom built distillery and a visitor centre. It’s a project for the next three years.”
With Mason’s grit, determination and passion, I don’t think we will have long to wait before you see that brown sign on the A1 for Bedale Distillery.