Part of our Soho Female Founders series, Alex Robson shares insight into being co-founder of King of Soho.
Tell us a little about yourself and what led up to you co-founding the King of Soho gin with Howard Raymond?
It all started with a late-night conversation over a gin martini, in a dimly lit bar. It was one of those ‘can do’ moments, fuelled by spirit and a joint sense of adventure. We discovered a vessel for our combined entrepreneurial talents and out of this The King of Soho Drinks was born.
It was not long after the death of Howard’s father, the original ‘King of Soho’, Paul Raymond and we thought what better way to celebrate his life and Soho legacy than to create a drinks brand in his name.
I come from a long line of female entrepreneurs; women in my family have never been afraid to challenge. Originally from the North East of England, my upbringing instilled commerce and business knowledge from an early age. I like to travel and embrace diversity. My career path has been varied and includes banking, shipping in Russia, supply chain management in Holland and working on space projects for David Scott, Commander of Apollo 15 – the first guy to drive on the moon. I’ve touched moon dust – not a lot of people can say that!
Your gin is very much grounded in Soho lore, being named after Paul Raymond… was it a favourite drink of his and is it one of yours? Did you think it was high time Soho had its own special brand of the spirit?
Both our fathers were gin drinkers; it was the libation of their generation, so there was an emotional pull for us towards gin.
Our gin is crafted to a unique recipe designed by us, so no surprise, that it is my favourite go to.
I think it is safe to say that Soho has always had its own special brand of spirit we just decided to bottle it. Gin is about fun, Soho is about fun – it’s about having a good time.
What ideas did you have (and were they easy to put into practice) when it came to creating your gin? How do you infuse a spirit with the essence of a place as unique as Soho? Who did you first turn to in terms of the practicalities of gin making?
Soho provided us a wealth of inspiration with which to create an exquisite spirit for the senses in a bottle for the imagination. The journey, from that initial idea to the first bottle of gin coming off the production line, was intrinsic.
When creating the bottle, we looked to both the past and present of Soho Life. The bottle design is bold and colourful with a Spirit of Soho character, reflecting the fun, creativity and anything goes attitude that defines this vibrant and effervescent district of London. The icon in his rich velvet suit and red top hat is holding a book and a trumpet, to reflect Soho’s long association with fashion, literature, music and art. The fox’s tail is a nod to both Soho’s past as a royal hunting ground and to the nature of urban Soho today – the fox being a naughty, enigmatic creature of the night. The design is screen printed using organic inks and this gives a painted on tactile feel.
When it came to the liquid, we did our research. We knew how our gin should taste and found an 11th generation master distiller, Charles Maxwell, with a distillery in London. It was important to us that our gin be distilled here, not all London dry gins are. Charles’s family started distilling around the same time as the word ‘Soho’ was coined by the Duke of Monmouth for that area of London – out of this serendipity The King of Soho London Dry Gin was crafted.
Smooth and bold, our London Dry Gin is 5 times distilled in small batches using no less than 12 botanicals. A delicate combination of classic juniper and citrusy grapefruit peel; perfectly balanced, it makes a great martini or G&T with a slice of pink grapefruit.
In 2018 I was very much the driving force behind the creation of The King of Soho Variorum berry gin. The original London Dry lies at its heart, with an off sweet palette, a lower ABV and hint of pink, I call Variorum my party gin. The creativity and literary works of Soho are the inspiration behind the name – in literature, a variorum edition is an original work with notes.
What has been the reaction to the King of Gin brand from both customers and bartenders?
We’ve been around for almost 7 years now and have quite the following both in the UK and overseas. During this time the brand has achieved double and triple digit growth. When we first launched, in October 2013, we were in 14 bars & Gerry’s Wine & Spirits in Soho. Today you can find The King of Soho gin in online retailers (including Amazon and Ocado) and top bars and shops nationwide and in other countries too, notably Europe, Russia and Japan.
As a female founder/co-founder… do you find your industry welcoming to women or have there been particular challenges along the way?
We are an independent, Soho-based challenger spirits brand run by a woman. I enjoy the drinks industry and have personally found people, by and large, to be welcoming and supportive. But it is like any sector, from time to time you will come across bias or inequality of all kinds, call it out, but do not to let other people’s issues sidetrack. I am someone who likes to focus on and encourage the positives.
When we founded West End Drinks in 2012, it was a different time, at the beginning I was very much working hard in the background. Nobody was particularly interested in my story, but since then we have seen a positive societal shift in attitudes, almost seismic. It is good to see more women now ‘shouting out’ about who they are and what they do; female distillers, mixologists and CEO’s owning the credit for their industry and enterprise. I think as women we need to stay focused on our goals; share our stories and lead by example – it’s amazing what you can achieve through perseverance and strength of character.
If you could give the younger you one piece of advice what would it be, and why?
My background was not in drinks, but I didn’t let that stop me, what I didn’t know I learnt on the job. Business is a journey and it is important to stay dynamic; there is no substitute for hard work, ‘self-education’ and focus.
Where do you go from here? Will you be branching out beyond the boundaries of Soho or does your heart belong here?
‘Soho’ is internationally synonymous with art, creativity and non-conformity – you can find districts and bars called Soho in different parts of the world. There are no boundaries, to us, Soho is not just a place, it’s a flamboyant hedonistic spirit. So, with a spirit of fun, delectable gin and sumptuous cocktails you will find me there and as for my heart – well, that forever belongs to Soho.
Get the latest updates and cocktail recipes – follow the King of Soho on Instagram @thekingofsoho
Look out for more interviews from our Soho Female Founders series!
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