The story behind the Kingdom Recommends gin brand

Kingdom Thenga pouring cocktails in his Chester bar, The Subrubs

Kingdom has developed a cocktail collection using his own gins - Credit: Nick Mizen

Kingdom Thenga’s arrival in the UK wasn’t exactly auspicious, but luck, love and hard work means that 20 years later, life is great, with his very own gin on the shelves of his very own Chester bar 

Kingdom Thenga arrived in London, from South Africa, in May 2000. He was here to further his education, pursue a career in government and support his family at home. Filled with hope and expectation, he sought the family friends who had offered him accommodation. They were not to be found; Kingdom was homeless and with very limited resource.  Three weeks later, he called his mother, finally accepting that he would have to return home – London was not the city he had expected, he was lonely and alone, in tears on an uncaring London street. Hanging up the phone, he saw a man approach him. This is where alarm bells would usually ring. In this case the approach was driven solely by kindness, one soul witnessing another in need. They talked, and the stranger offered him a life line - a job, and a reminder to believe in himself.

Now, 20 years on, everything has changed for Kingdom – from that first job a career was built and it was Kingdom who made that happen, but that moment of kindness, of neighbourliness, has remained with him and resonates deep within. In his homeland there is a word in the Zulu language, ‘ubuntu’, that translates directly as ‘humanity’, but is more often used as a philosophy: ‘I am because we are.’ It is this philosophy that has driven Kingdom not only to achieve his own goals, but to create a way of life that gives back to his community, providing a neighbourliness that welcomes all. 

The Suburbs, Hoole - people having food and drink, laughing

The Suburbs, in Hoole, where Kingdom has created a sense of community and 'ubuntu' - Credit: Nick Mizen

‘I worked in hospitality,’ Kingdom says, ‘and ended up working in Manchester. It was my dream to open my own business, which I did, but it didn’t go so well and I found myself seeking work again. I was introduced to Neil McDonnell and Jason Bligh, who founded Barlounge, and went to work in their new Chester venue. What had started as a short-term contract became 15 years of learning and development, of being mentored by Neil, and eventually to me opening my own bar, The Suburbs, in Hoole.’ 

It was at this point that Kingdom was able to fully apply his philosophy of ubuntu.  

‘I live in Hoole and knew that all it was missing was a great cocktail bar and eatery that had a timeless feel, that was fun and relaxed and very much embedded in the neighbourhood, where a real sense of community prevails.’ 

To quote a well-known phrase, Kingdom says his aim has been to make The Suburbs the kind of bar ‘where everybody knows your name.’ As well as joining in with local fundraising activities, The Suburbs also raises funds for Mind, the mental health charity. 

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‘Now more than ever we will need each other,’ he says. ‘The spirit of ubuntu permeates everything we do.’ 

Kingdom Thenga behind the bar

Enjoying life and sharing the fun - Credit: Nick Mizen

When he first planned his bar, Kingdom had a dream – to establish a distillery onsite, where he could create his own gins and vodka, tapping into his passion for extraordinary and unique cocktails, which flourished during his time with Barlounge.  

‘I really wanted our own micro distillery, but it was too much of a stretch,’ he admits. ‘With everything else we had to make happen and learn, we shelved the idea. Then two years ago we started to talk about launching our own gins, and how we would do it.’ 

This is where the third serendipitous meeting in Kingdom’s life came into play. A regular at The Suburbs introduced Kingdom to her father, Chris Toller, the co-owner of a gin distillery, and a like-minded character. While Kingdom has strong ideas about what he wants, Chris has strong ideas about what can be achieved. It’s a fiery match made in gin heaven. 

‘What I wanted was a sipping gin,’ Kingdom explains. ‘I am a big whisky drinker; I wanted to create a gin that could be sipped over ice without need for mixers – a slow and easy drinker. We went through many iterations before we were both satisfied, and I am very happy with the end result.’ 

Kingdom’s London Dry is precisely what he wanted, a light and smooth gin, easy to just serve over ice and sip, slow and easy. Incorporating orange and lemon peel, orris root, coriander, cardamom, and root angelica among its botanicals, it has a warm and woody base, which is enhanced by the tiniest amount of hops, delivering a fragrant, warm overtone.  

Kingdom Recommends London Dry Gin

Kingdom Recommends London Dry Gin - Credit: Nick Mizen

Kingdom’s Orange and Nutmeg gin is the second gin in his collection and was inspired by a request for a warming, festive flavour, perfect for serving at Christmas. It too has been created to be served neat, over ice, but with its hit of orange, followed by a delicate hint of nutmeg, it also works beautifully with apple and cranberry juices. Kingdom’s argument for a neat serve is that mixers contain so much sugar, or chemical alternatives, that it is these that give you the next day headache, so if you must add a mixer, make it fruit juice. 

This gin is double distilled, first with plenty of orange, then again with nutmeg. Chris is quite passionate about the artisanal nature of distilling small batch gins, a process that seems a mix of science and magic, and not a little intuition. 

To accompany this festive recipe, Kingdom threw his all into his ultimate dream gin flavour profile –ginger. Ginger is of course a big flavour, so he and Chris decided to use a big gin to support it, resulting in Kingdom’s Navy Strength Ginger Spiced Gin. With the Navy Strength providing a huge 57.3% ABV (the usual is 37.5%), it certainly packs a punch. Sipped neat, it’s momentarily eye-watering, before settling into the soft heat of ginger, rich and fruity and building on the palate. If you can’t deal with it pure, over ice, though you should definitely try it that way, Kingdom recommends apple, orange or mango. Oddly, perhaps, it also works rather well with ginger ale. 

Kingdom Recommends Ginger Spiced Navy Strength gin

Kingdom Recommends Ginger Spiced Navy Strength gin - Credit: Nick Mizen

‘Our aim is to produce a collection of gins you wouldn’t mix with tonic,’ he says. ‘Just serve over ice, or with a fruit juice. What I wanted was to produce a gin that is quintessentially British, but that acknowledges my roots; it’s intensely personal. For this summer I have returned to my homeland with lychee, a fruit that grew in my childhood garden.’ 

In keeping with his philosophy, the sale of his gins also raises funds for good causes. In this case, two animal charities – Chester Zoo, and a second in South Africa, which focusses on the protection and breeding of endangered species. 

 ‘I want my children to have the opportunity to experience what I had, growing up just minutes from Kruger Park,’ he says. ‘I have a plan to create a whole range of spirits, each represented by one of the ‘big five’ wild animals of South Africa. We have the lion for the gin, an elephant on the (soon to be released) vodka and a rhino for the rum, which is in development. The leopard and the Cape buffalo...watch this space.’ 

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Try this: Safari Spritz

Ginger gin cocktail from Kingdom Recommends

Add some spice to your summer with this ginger gin spritz - Credit: Nick Mizen

You will need:

40ml KR Ginger Spiced Gin

Prosecco

Soda

Pour the gin into a long glass and top with Prosecco and soda to taste. A super-easy summer spritz.