Gin distilleries proving the perfect tonic to North Yorkshire’s economy

It has its roots dating back to the 17th century when juniper berries were first distilled with spirits to produce an inexpensive medicine.

And now gin has found its place in bottles lining the shelves of bars and restaurants across the world, with its popularity soaring in recent years with an ever-expanding range of exotic flavours and varieties.

North Yorkshire has witnessed a boom in its own gin producers, which have provided yet another strand to the county’s eclectic mix of small and medium-sized businesses which are the foundations of the local economy.

The need to ensure a diverse range of enterprises in the county has seen support offered to small businesses, with distilleries among those which have been given funding via ourselves.

Cooper King Distillery, which operates in Sutton-on-the-Forest, produces gin and whisky with a sustainable focus. The site boasts a shop and bar open on Saturdays, and staff run tours every weekend.

To grow the business, managers looked to increase the number of distillery visitors by improving their indoor and outdoor space.

Chris Jaume and Dr Abbie Neilson

Chris Jaume and Dr Abbie Neilson

They successfully applied for a small business grant through the national Shared Prosperity Fund of just under £10,000. This allowed them to create an attractive outdoor seating area for customers - complete with bee-friendly planting - and new furniture for use both indoors and outside.

The distillery’s director and co-founder, Chris Jaume, said: “We love welcoming visitors to our distillery, and this grant has enabled us to make those visits even more memorable. The new seating area makes the most of the beautiful countryside around us and allows us to host special events throughout the year.

“I would encourage all those reading to make the short trip, to come and see why we’re creating sustainable spirits with craftsmanship, honesty and adventure.”

A new funding stream for small business grants under the Shared Prosperity Fund is expected to launch around mid-April.

As a snapshot of how valuable smaller businesses are to the county’s economy, there are 32,715 micro, small and medium sized enterprises and 90 large enterprises in operation.

And as a country, our taste for gin has grown in recent years, with the number of UK-made distilleries at record highs.

Distilleries in North Yorkshire – both old and new – are capitalising on the modern drinking trend, with flavoured gins and liqueurs sure to suit everyone’s taste.

Gin is a firm favourite for people on nights out as well as those drinking at home, with the expansion of products offering a bespoke alternative to the big brands.

Coppers founder Abbie distilling

Coppers founder Abbie Neilson distilling.

The first gin distillery in the region was Masons of Yorkshire in 2013, the brainchild of Karl and Cathy Mason. They were quick to capitalise on the unexpected boom in popularity of the drink and emerged as a leading brand.

They produce clear, pure London Dry gins with no artificial flavours. Each botanical is distilled to perfection, ensuring a full and authentic flavour.

After a few years in the business, they were forced to move premises when a devastating fire ravaged the distillery in Aiskew in April 2019.

Full production at a new, purpose-built distillery nearby on the Leeming Bar industrial estate began only two weeks before the Covid-19 restrictions came into force.

Like all businesses, they had to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic. However, they filled a gap in the market by turning to the production of hand sanitiser to help keep the infection at bay.

Masons provided free supplies to the NHS, including midwives, our reablement teams, RAF Leeming and the Post Office.

Karl said: “Despite facing challenges, we have maintained our strength in the changed landscape. This resilience underscores the notion that a quality product, like Masons, continues to shine. 

“While maintaining our focus on gin, we are also exploring innovative areas such as ready-to-drink products, rum, whisky, and low and no-alcohol options to diversify our offerings and meet evolving consumer preferences.”

Masons staff

Cathy and Karl Mason

The origin of gin is attributed to Franciscus Sylvius, a 17th century professor of medicine, who distilled the juniper berry with spirits to produce an inexpensive medicine.

After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Dutch-born William of Orange took the English throne, the country saw a surge in gin consumption.

Fast-forward to the current day, and consumers show a preference for craft products, hence the abundance of small gin distilleries.

This trend has seen an increase in employment within the industry, leading to new ventures as well as boosting local economies.

Many distilleries have their own drinking space, shops and offer tours, therefore cementing themselves as a popular tourist destination.

Founded in 2017, a family-run distillery sits on the picturesque Whitby coast, crafting award-winning spirits like gin and rum.

Owned and run by Luke Pentith and Jess Slater, its products come in bespoke bottles manufactured by renowned glassmaker Stoelzle in Knottingley and echo the spirit of Whitby’s rich maritime history.

Last summer, they launched the latest product, a dark spiced rum, and 10 per cent of each bottle sold is donated to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Co-owner Jess said: “I've seen first-hand the soaring demand for gin and rum, propelling our craft to new heights when we launched back in 2017. But amidst a recent decline in demand, competition is fierce.

“Our brand story, authenticity, quality, and coastal roots resonate deeply with our customers, fuelling our growth even in challenging times.

“Supporting local distilleries like ours isn't just about great spirits; it's about investing in our community. Partnering with the RNLI and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, we're safeguarding our oceans and supporting local employment. When you choose our spirits, you're backing both people and place.

“At Whitby, we craft spirits that transcend the ordinary. From our Gothic Edition to seasonal rhubarb, each bottle reflects our dedication to quality and authenticity, offering a personalised experience.”

Jess Slater

Jess Slater

The company has an exciting future, with plans to open a new distillery in the shadow of Whitby Abbey. The firm’s managers are renovating two derelict barns on Abbey Lands Farm, which will allow for an enjoyable visitor experience, providing a high-quality leisure and function space.

They have created the Spirits Walkway, offering people and businesses the chance to have their names etched in history. It will be laid at the end of the build, which is expected to be completed at the end of this year.

Our chief executive, Richard Flinton, said: “It has been a very exciting time for gin makers to see their bespoke and innovative products become popular at home as well as overseas.

“The county’s distilleries have created employment opportunities, thus boosting the local economy.

“We want North Yorkshire to be a place where businesses can thrive and grow, where they are supported and operational barriers to business growth are addressed by securing investment.

“It’s crucial to support our local distillers for economic growth within communities.”