“What you ought to be sipping”: RK Vodka
"It's not designed to be mixed – this is a sipping vodka, to be enjoyed neat."
The artisan spirit boom shows little sign of slowing down any time soon, and entrepreneurs from across the world are dreaming up more and more creative concoctions by the day.
Kiron Phillips, however, stands out from the crowd – not yet having completed his undergraduate degree, Kiron is the founder of RK Vodka, and uses British sugar beet to create what he says is a distinctive and flavoursome drink designed for the discerning spirit connoisseur looking for something a little different.
OX’s Jack Rayner caught up with Kiron to find out more.
Hi Kiron, thanks for talking to us. First of all, could you give us some background about your career?
I'm at university at Harper Adams, studying business management and marketing. Part of my course was to go on a placement year, during which I worked for BTC Group, who specialise in branded merchandise and are based just outside of London. About a month or two into that placement, part of me realised that I didn't want to end up working for someone else. My parents run a plastic injection moulding business, and we have had a conversation numerous times about me taking over the family business, but again I wasn't keen to go down that route because they've worked for the best part of 20 years to build up that business and it seems a bit of a shame for them to just hand it over to me without reaping the rewards in a greater way.
So how did you come up with the idea for RK Vodka?
Well, obviously at that point in my life I was a student and I used to go out a lot, and I've also always enjoyed luxury food and drink; it was always a nice treat to go down to London for the weekend and enjoy that side of life. Vodka has always been my drink of choice – one of my family pets is called Smirnoff – and I realised how much I'd love to work within that luxury scene. When I first had the idea for RK Vodka I thought of it as a student-oriented brand with a gloss finish bottle, but I wasn't at all happy with how it turned out. When I changed the design to a matte finish I realised the sort of market I should be aiming for. I developed the vodka with my distillery, and after a long period of development I saw the potential of this product for growth after I finished my studies.
What was your final concept in terms of the vodka itself?
The process that we use is essentially the original and most traditional way of distilling vodka. We use copper pot stills, it's only distilled a single time, and it's made from English sugar beet which gives it a sweeter and more characterful flavour.
Was it important to you to keep the product British?
Yes, that was a major part. I wanted to do something both traditional and original at the same time, and it's lovely to be able to say that we source our produce from an organic British farm.
The bottle has a very striking design. What was the thought process behind the black and white finish?
The inspiration behind the split colour design is that there's two parts to the brand: one part is that it's using a traditional method of distilling, and the other part is taking it to an exclusive market and giving it a modern look – I deliberately avoided the frosted glass bottles that you see everywhere. There's actually a hell of a lot of work that goes into bottles like Grey Goose and Belvedere, but they all essentially look the same. What we're doing is actually a very simple process but it gives a far more striking design, in my opinion. There's no need to overcomplicate.
Where is RK Vodka available at the moment?
From our website RKVodka.com as well as a handful of venues. I think we are potentially the most exclusive vodka brand in the UK right now – every other vodka is available through supermarkets or distributors, whereas ours is only available directly from us or through one of the venues that stock our product.
How would you recommend drinking your vodka?
It's not designed to be mixed – this is a sipping vodka, to be enjoyed neat. Some cocktails complement RK Vodka's flavour – citrus juices are the best match we've found so far. Most mainstream vodkas have a neutral smell and taste, whereas ours has quite a distinct smell because of the single distillation process. That holds onto the character of the ingredients.
How about the toffee vodka?
That's limited to 300 bottles, and there aren't that many left – it's been a really popular choice, particularly over the Christmas period. It's a 26.5% liqueur which can be drunk neat but works fantastically with coffee flavours, perhaps in an espresso martini. Also, Christine Wallace bought a bottle and said she was going to use it in cooking, and we've had a couple of restaurants using it as a dessert topping. Quite a versatile drink!
What are your plans for the future?
I'm still in my final year of university, and I'm finishing my degree in June. I've recently been asked to run a lecture for first year students about using social media as a marketing tool, and I'm also doing some work with my old school, talking to students about what I'm doing and how you don't necessarily have to always do A-levels, get a degree and join a postgrad scheme with a big firm to be successful in the workplace. There are other options, and the fact that I've developed this brand without any help from big investors shows that it's possible to get a business off the ground single-handedly. Perhaps it takes a bit longer and you have to be extra careful with your money, but the option is there. After I've finished all that I'll probably spend the next year targeting London venues as well as members’ clubs like Soho House. We are also off to Monaco in April to do a promo tour, and we're also off to Scotland in the summer on the North Coast 500 Gentleman's Jolly that we currently sponsor. After that, depending on how fast we can grow, we're looking to export – I'm hoping to go to LA later in the summer and secure distributors abroad.