Husband and wife team Karl and Cathy Mason launched their eponymous gin brand three years ago in a bid to turn their love of gin and tonic into a full-time business.
Despite a shared passion and love for gin, the aficionados were disappointed to find that so many gins tasted the same and lacked any distinction.
Their business journey started unknowingly when the couple launched a Facebook group where friends could share pictures of their gin and tonics.
After being inundated with countless pictures of drinks, the group’s fan base began to snowball and rapidly grew to over 10,000 followers in no time at all.
As the group continued to grow, so did Cathy and Karl’s knowledge and palate, allowing them to become connoisseurs of gin, as well as spokespeople for various events commenting on gin trends and tastes. This is where Cathy and Karl spotted a gap in the market.
“We launched the business through our love of gin,” said Karl, “we had launched our own Facebook page promoting gin and tonic and it really took off. We learnt a lot from it and one day we just had this desire to create a gin that was different. We’d tried so many types of gin and the majority of them just tasted exactly the same.”
After tasting so many gins, and finding that many tasted similar and were short of a depth of flavour, the pair decided to take a big leap and craft their own gin, created in their home town of Bedale.
The pair underwent hours and hours of tasting, experimenting, and distilling to create the perfect flavour and finish which would become Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin, and more importantly a gin that Cathy and Karl would choose to drink and put their name too. They officially launched their product on World Gin Day in 2013.
“I had a publishing company which published careers magazines for school leavers and Cathy worked at a local high school as a special education needs teaching assistant,” added Karl. “We didn’t plan it, it just sort of happened. Neither of us had ever worked in the spirits business, nor had we worked in retail or even the bar trade, we just loved gin and tonic and thought we could make one that was different.
“I don’t think we knew what would happen. We knew we had one potential customer which was a girl I went to school with. She was the manageress of the wine department of a very small family-owned store in Northallerton. She said to me ‘if you make a Yorkshire gin that’s good, we might sell it.’ We had no knowledge, no little black book, no contacts, just a love of gin and tonic and one potential customer and thought ‘Lets go for it!’”
Starting up the duo received no financial backing or business support and bootstrapped the business entirely off their own backs. They started off small, from a converted unit at Bedale’s old railway station and the business soon began to pay for itself…
“We’re based at the Old Railway Station in Bedale at the old outbuildings. They’ve been converted into little craft units. We started off in a really small one at No. 4 but within six months we’d moved out to No. 9 which is one of the largest units.
“It’s not a visitor centre but Monday to Friday the door is always open and people love the fact they can just stop by and watch us working. It’s not a scripted walkthrough or anything like that, it’s just us at work in our natural settings and people love the authenticity of it.”
While Cathy and Karl initially thought they would manage production and work the still (gin distillery) themselves, high demand for the product meant they couldn’t cope with handling both production and the day to day running of the business.
So they hired gin expert, Gerard MacKluskey. Having worked for Tanqueray Gordon, Gerard was the perfect fit to take on the production of Masons’ unique spirit and help Cathy and Karl meet the orders of their growing customer base.
Three years on, the distillery now employs 16 members of staff (14 of which are full-time) and is expecting turnover to exceed £1m for the first time this year after landing deals to supply the likes of John Lewis, Fenwick, Harvey Nichols and even Fortnum & Mason. This, coupled with the fact that they have just landed their first orders from overseas, is getting people in Bedale very excited.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve had interest from potential customers in America, Canada and Belgium but we just weren’t ready to export at the time,” said Karl. “We never grasped the opportunities as we were just too busy.
“We are now working with a distributor called The British Bottle Company. For the past few years we’ve spent all of our time, as well as making gin and running the business, managing our growth, which is really hard to do.
“Whenever you put something in place to take care of where you are, before you know it your business is ‘X times bigger’ and you’ve outgrown it. We’ve had no time to devote to finding export markets which is why we started working with The British Bottle Company.
“They represent our portfolio overseas and have already picked up deals in Switzerland and Italy with a dozen more potentially in the pipeline. It’s very exciting.”
As a small Yorkshire family business that manufactures all of its produce in Yorkshire using locally sourced ingredients, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union hasn’t had too much of an impact on the couple. However looking forward, Karl believes it could potentially have a positive impact.
He said: “The result of the EU referendum hasn’t had a noticeable impact so far as we’ve only just started exporting. If it is to have any impact, it would be due to currency fluctuations, the weakening pound could possibly help us. It makes our products a more appealing proposition for buyers overseas.”
Looking forward, the couple have ambitious plans for the company both at home and overseas. As well as notching their export drive up a gear, they’re also hoping their expansion will have a huge impact on Bedale, their hometown which has served them well since they started up.
“In another three years, I’d like to think that exports are a large part of this business. I’d like to see the off-trade side also playing a huge role. I want Masons to be well known as a leading premium drinks brand.
“We’re also keeping Bedale at the heart of everything we do. We employ local people, including a couple of family members. Bedale is on the road up to the dales and isn’t really known for anything. A lot of people only know it as they pass through it. It would be nice if one day we could have a visitor centre here that would give people a reason to stop here.
“We live in Bedale. My wife has lived here all of her life and I’m originally from Northallerton which is eight miles away. We love it here and we’re adamant we’ll stay in Bedale. We want Bedale to be known as the original home of gin production and distillery in Yorkshire!”