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April 01, 2015 |  548 Views
Bob Nolet's Ketel One is World's Most Recommended Vodka
He is classic Dutch. Tall, good looking, easy to get along with!
By Paul E. Kandarian

Ketel One Executive Vice President Robert Nolet walks out of the distillery's bar, through glass wall of glasses, designed by his mother.


Bob Nolet is classic Dutch. Tall, good looking, easy to get along with. So is the vodka his spirit-making family produces, Ketel One, one of the world’s best, produced in a long-necked bottle designed for bartenders to handle it more easily..


“Ketel One,” said the laid-back Nolet, 43, without a hint of braggadocio, just by way of stating fact, “is the most recommended vodka in the world.”


It’s easy to taste why. The product is smooth, crisp, clean, exquisitely made. It is the way of the Nolet clan. Founded in the fishing village of Schiedam, Holland, in 1691 by Joannes Nolet, the Nolet Distillery has produced high-quality spirits for more than three centuries.


The distillery gives regular tours, hiding nothing from participants, showing off every facet of the fascinating trade. We were lucky enough one day to get Bob Nolet for the honor, the company’s executive vice president.


We started our tour in a replica windmill built in 2005 at the factory site about an hour away from Amsterdam. Nolet said it was the idea of his father, Carolus Nolet Sr., now 73 and still coming in to work on weekends.



“He wanted to leave something for the city, a landmark,” Bob Nolet said about a community where hundreds of windmills once dotted the skyline, used to grind grain. “We don’t use this for grinding, but it does produce about 20 percent of power it takes to run the distillery.”


It is a beautiful building, top to bottom, with a slanted elevator owing to the need to get around the structure’s graceful curve. At the windmill’s bottom is a state-of-the-art theater where tour takers can watch “Generations,” a film festival-winning documentary about the Nolet family business.


I’ve been on many distillery tours around the world, and most left me bored after a couple of hours. Hanging with Bob Nolet for the better part of an entire day was anything but boring, as the proud businessman extolled the virtues of his family’s products without ever being cloying.


Ketel One vodka begins by selecting the finest wheat from Holland and France, he said, used to create an ultra wheat spirit via a four-column distillation process over a 15-hour period, the way many vodkas are made. What sets Ketel One apart, he said, is that part of the ultra wheat spirit is then re-distilled in small batches using traditional copper pot stills – including the original coal-fired 19th century Distilleerketl No. 1, which gives the vodka is name.


The pot still distillates are charcoal filtered, rested and blended into a master pot still batch, which is then married to more ultra wheat spirit before being reduced to bottling strength with water purified on site.


The final product is tasted personally by a Nolet, father or son, who must give approval. If something isn’t perfect, the batch will not be distributed. But given the high-tech nature of the ages-old process, bad batches are virtually non-existent, Bob Nolet said.


For many generations, Nolet specialized in jenever, a popular Dutch spirit that was the inspiration for gin, its secret ingredients handed down across generations, secrets still locked away in a massive vault in the company offices which are also part of the tour.


When Carolus Nolet took over, he decided to draw on the family’s expertise to create a new product – vodka.


“He found vodka in the United States harsh,” Bob Nolet said. “He set out to make a better one.”


It took seven years, ending up with Nolet Spirit, which he said was crisply fresh, but missing a good finish. So the elder Nolet incorporated the copper pot still which changed the flavor and gave it a more bright finish, a better mouth feel.


 “Dad went west in 1983,” said Bob Nolet, whose brother, Carolus Nolet Jr. is executive vice president of American distribution. “He said all Europe was going east, so let’s try the other side. He found San Francisco very open to new things, and found most cocktail culture then in hotels. There were very limited imports to the U.S. Now it’s huge.”


Huge to the tune of 2.5 million cases Nolet ships to the U.S. every year, its biggest market.


If you’re trying to think of catchy Ketel One ads you’ve seen on TV, don’t strain yourself, there are precious few. And that is very much by design.


“We don’t advertise much,” Bob Nolet said with a small smile, as we sat at a tasting table, testing the product. “This is how we advertise – we taste.”


The company works extensively with what they call the best ambassadors for the product: Bartenders. They’ll have various members of bartender societies from around the world here for a taste, in the hopes of spreading the word, glass by glass.


“My father was thrilled with the blitz of other vodka advertising years ago because it introduced vodka to the world,” he said. “Then he stepped in and stepped it up.”


Other fascinating parts of the tour include the office of Bob Nolet’s grandfather, archaic and stately (and where that secret-holding vault sits), and where a framed bill from 1902 lists the price per case at $7.75. We also saw the old custom room, where Carolus Nolet Sr. still does his batch tasting, and a huge room of family memorabilia of cut crystal bottles and glasses, and a leather traveling kit a Nolet from generations past took with him on world-wide tasting trips.


Though Ketel One has a 50-50 partnership with distributor Diageo, which took effect in 2008, the family still retains all rights of production and what is used in the product. It is still, and likely will be for several more generations, a powerful family spirit-making empire: Bob Nolet and his family live about three blocks away from the factory, and his mother does all interior design, including in the distillery’s upscale bar, where one glass wall has displayed within it all manner of bottles and martini glasses.


It is in that bar we tasted a variety of throat-warming cocktails, including the “Tomatini,” made with Ketel Orange vodka, basil vinegar, simple syrup with cherry tomato garnish and topped with cracked pepper, and the “Dutch Mule,” made with Ketel One vodka, lime juice and ginger beer.


It is also where we were lucky enough to taste Nolet Reserve, a very limited-edition gin, made with saffron and verbena, with bottles allocated annually, individually numbered by hand and presented in a gift box. It is powerful stuff at 104.6 proof (52.3 percent alcohol by volume).


“It has tea tones, it’s very warm,” said Bob Nolet as we delicately sipped the precious product. “You’ll notice the warmth a long time after you drink it.”


We did, marveling at the silky heat and knowing why at $700 a bottle, it is the world’s most expensive gin.


Nolet’s father taught him much about the family business, Bob Nolet said, including a powerful work ethic that showed him that “your personal and business life is the same.”


He also learned the value of patience, of putting your all into a product slowly to make it the best it can be.


“He taught me the value of going step by step by step,” Bob Nolet said, adding with a gentle smile, “we’ve been around a long, long time, so I guess it works.”


For more information, visit www.ketelone.com




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