The spirit of Soho comes to life with Alex Robson’s ultra-premium spirits — we meet The King of Soho
The King of Soho’s founder tells us about capturing the essence of London’s most exciting neighbourhood with her ultra-premium gin and vodka
Soho has a unique legacy among central London’s distinctive neighbourhoods. From its origins as an aristocrats’ playground to its Victorian reputation as the home of music halls and less reputable entertainment, to its contemporary status as the capital’s entertainment district, Soho is the home of theatre, freedom and character. It’s that very intrigue and flamboyance that Alex Robson and her business partner, Howard Raymond, wanted to capture with their premium spirits brand, The King of Soho.
Launched 10 years ago, The King of Soho comprises two super-premium gins—London Dry and a pink Variorum Gin, and the new ultra-premium Copacetic Vodka. Key to Alex’s approach is her wish to capture the playful nature of Soho itself—seen in everything from the smooth flavour profiles of the spirits to the colourful (and completely sustainable) glass bottles, and the Spirit of Soho character—complete with top hat and fox’s tail—that adorns them.
“Everything we do is inspired by Soho,” Alex says, when we meet at The Kiosk Bar at Sophie’s Soho. “We’re a small batch production, we’re playful but connected to the community, and I think there’s beauty in that.”The name itself is inspired by Howard’s father, nightclub and property tycoon Paul Raymond. “Both our fathers were gin drinkers, and we wanted to celebrate them,” she explains. “Howard and I first talked about making our own gin 11 or 12 years ago. It really was that classic thing of scribbling a business plan on a serviette in a bar – the next thing we knew we were off and running.”
The first The King of Soho gin, a London Dry, soon followed, making waves thanks to its bold use of flavours, including grapefruit, sweet orange peel, juniper and cassia. “This was before the gin revolution—or resurgence, as I like to say—so the market was very juniper led. Grapefruit is the forbidden fruit, which made it even better,” she says.
A pink edition followed in Variorum Gin, incorporating notes of strawberry, floral chamomile and citrus. “I call it my party gin. It’s slightly softer, so it can appeal to a different palette, taste or mood,” says Alex.
The newest addition to the family is the exceedingly fine Copacetic Vodka—made entirely of English wheat near London and lovingly distilled “more times than we could count”. Buttery smooth with an undercurrent of toasted crumpet and pepper, it is as much a sipping spirit as a fine base for cocktails. “I like having the option of flavours that cover every possible mood,” says Alex. “If I want a straight martini, I’ll use the London Dry—with an olive, not a twist. The Copacetic Vodka lends itself to a dirty martini, which I can drink at any time of day. If I’m feeling something a bit softer, then it’s a Variorum cocktail.”
Variorum is a particularly refreshing base for imaginative cocktails—such as the Pretty in Pink cocktail at Everyman Cinema and their latest creation, ‘The SohoLIFF’ (right), a recipe The King of Soho has created for this year’s Soho London Independent Film Festival. “It’s great fun—a cherry twist on the classic Bramble,” says Alex. “I love cherries. When I first started putting them in my gin, people were horrified! People can have quite rigid ideas about cocktails, but the beauty of our brand is that we’re experimental. We believe that it’s about what you enjoy—anything goes.”
The King of Soho is proud to sponsor this year’s festival, adding the annual film event to its impressive list of community ventures, from International Women’s Day events to honouring Soho’s LGTBQ+ history and supporting local artists and music. “This history is embedded in the community and it’s what inspires its creativity, so it’s important to give back.”As a business leader (and established judge for the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards) Alex says this authenticity—as well as sheer tenacity—is the key to success in today’s environment. “It’s important to be authentic and agile in business; if you’re not, you don’t survive,” she says.
“Business in general is very hard at the moment, but I feel women in particular have seen a backslide since Covid-19. We’re a female-led brand, which is something that’s getting harder to find because there’s a lack of venture capital investment, despite female-led enterprises being particularly efficient,” says Alex. “You have to think strategically and be tenacious.”
As for what Alex credits for her success, it all comes back to that Soho spirit.
“You’ve got to be playful in life. Even when life is serious, you have to find the joy,” Alex says. “I think I have a playful side to my personality; I have a lot of fun doing what I do, and I want our customers to have fun, too. I want to bring joy to people’s lives the only way I know how, and I hope that energy passes on.”