Bob Nolet from Ketel One Botanicals

Whether you’re day-drinking or at dinner with friends, Bob Nolet from Ketel One tells us why you should ditch the wine for the brand’s botanicals range.

By: Tiff Christie|November 20,2019

Vodka may not be the most talked-about spirit but its definitely one that hasn’t gone away. And as any bartender will tell you Vodka pays the bills. And one of the Vodkas that are constantly in every speed rack and on every bar cart in homes is Ketel One.

Produced by the Dutch-based Notel family, Ketel One is a brand that doesn’t rest on its laurels, as evidenced from the recent release of their Botanicals range – a vodka distilled with real botanicals and infused with natural fruit essences.

We speak with Bob Nolet, 11th Generation and Master Distiller for Ketel One Vodka about doing things differently, their botanical range and the cocktails you can make with them.


Read Full Transcript

Vodka may not be the most talked about spirit, but it's definitely one that hasn't gone away. And as any bartender will tell you, vodka pays the bills. And one of the vodkas that is consistent in every speed rack and in almost every home bar is Ketel One. Produced by a Dutch based Nolet family, Ketel One is a brand that doesn't rest on its laurels, as evidenced from the recent release of their botanicals range, which is a vodka-based, low ABV spirit with real botanicals and infused with natural fruit essences. We talk to Bob Nolet, 11th generation and master distiller for Ketel One Vodka, about doing things differently, the Spritz event and their Botanical range.
Thank you for joining us, Bob.

Yeah. Hi, this is Bob Nolet, from the Netherlands.

Now your family has been distilling since 1691, but Ketel One is a somewhat recent addition to your family's portfolio of spirits. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Yeah. Ketel One is a brand, Ketel One Vodka is a brand that we distill in our distillery in Schiedam. We started in 1691 and my brother and myself are now the 11th generation and we focus on quality. Quality in everything we do and especially for Ketel One on the quality of the liquid. It was designed by my father to make the martini better and now today we are launching a Ketel One Botanical and there's a focus on the flavour and the taste of the liquid.

Now your father redefined the possibilities of vodka with Ketel One. Do you think the botanicals range just takes that a step further?

Yeah, Ketel One vodka and our flavour Ketel One Citroen, it's for cocktails. The Ketel One Botanical is more for the spritz moment, just adding some soda and enjoying an all natural flavour, no sugar. That is actually for a whole new consumer out there that is looking for that, the kind of products that are more natural and the lower ABV also.

How important do you think is the spritz phenomenon in spirits right at the moment?

We see it in the United States where we launched Ketel One Botanical for the first time, a one and a half year ago, and the people were enjoying more lighter drinks, lower ABV. They're also looking for more natural flavours and the taste of it, but especially the cleaner taste of it is what is doing it and of course when you serve it in a white wine glass with the bubbles and the ice and a piece of fruit, it looks all so amazing.

Right. Now your family and its brands have always had a reputation for doing things differently. Was that the impetus behind the botanicals range? To find a different way of presenting vodka?

Yes. Well, when we introduce something and you're exactly right, we always try to find something unique, an innovation in our industry that holds on for a long, long time. Ketel One was that in the early 80s when we focused on the quality in the martini and Ketel One Botanical is that for this time. Where people are looking for more natural, more light. So exactly spot on what the consumer of today is looking for.

The botanical range has been nicknamed ‘diet vodka’ but it isn't really quite vodka at all is it?

We start with Ketel One vodka and then we distill that with our botanicals and infuse that with the natural essences. So it all starts with Ketel One and that's why you also got the length in the botanicals.

Can you talk to us a little bit more about your two tiered production methods please?

Yeah, well we started to work on a Ketel One botanical, we used a lot of the techniques that we actually also use for our jenever production, our gin production. And we brought that into to the vodka section. If you compare Ketel One vodka, the flavoured side is then you have Ketel One vodka and you infuse it with a flavour and with botanicals we do an extra step. We actually distill herbs and spices into Ketel One vodka. So we have a base that actually gives you that beautiful tingle of a spirit, but at a lower percentage and then infuse it with all the beautiful natural flavours that we have in our botanicals. So that is actually a unique production way that creates this whole new category.

Now talk to us a little bit more about the fact that it is a new category.

Yeah. It is a new category because it's a lower spirits so it's not defined by any sort of descriptions in our industry yet. So vodka has a certain percentage that it needs to be not lower of, this is 30% so 60 proof. We call it a soft spirit. And that is actually what people are looking for. If you ask bartenders they get more and more consumers that are looking for a cocktail that has no sugar, more natural flavours, it's light on the palate and the Ketel One botanical fits that description.

Now is it just the ABV or is there another element that does make the botanicals different from a flavoured vodka?

Yeah, the taste profile is I think different than any flavoured vodka. We're also combining different flavours and there are actually more flavours in there than are on the label to actually give you that great clean taste, but also other natural flavours. And if you look at the label, you get what you actually order. So if you have a cucumber and mint, you ordered that you taste cucumber and mint. So that is also what you're getting.

Okay. Well saying that, there are three expressions to the botanical range. Do you want to tell us a little bit about each?

Yeah. We have a Ketel One on a cucumber mint, grapefruit and rose, peach and orange blossom, and those three varietals actually cater to most of the pallets that are out there. We've done a lot of research in flavour profiling and with these three we actually have basically a choice for everyone. We have a cucumber mint that is very fresh and green. You have the grapefruit and rose that is more on the citrusy side if you want to have a little kick and if you like a little bit more on the sweet side, you go for a peach and orange blossom and that without sugar. So yeah, there's one for everybody.

Okay, excellent. Now how did you decide on these specific flavours to run with?

Yeah, for us, we did a lot of research. We are a very old company. We distill for many, many years and we know what we can make, but we did three short studies to find out what kind of flavours that people are looking for nowadays and they are looking for natural. They're looking for no sugar. They're looking for really the essence of the botanicals itself. That's what we created.

Can you talk a little bit more about the health benefits of the botanicals range?

The Ketel One botanical is made for the consumer that is looking for a low ABV, is looking for a more health conscious consumer way of living. We see that especially the younger generation is looking more to balance their lifestyle during the week. My brother has seven children, lots of them and the oldest is 25 almost and he stayed with us for four months in Holland last month. And he does things different than we do. He is really looking for what he is putting into his body during the week and he's balancing when he goes out. So that is where our Ketel One botanicals for. For that person that is really looking to balance their lifestyle.

Let's talk a little bit more about each of the flavours.
The peach and orange blossom, I assume has quite a sort of a soft citrus taste to it? Is that how you would describe it?

Yeah, the peach gives some sweetness. So if you're looking for the more on the sweet side, you will go for the peach and orange blossom.

Okay. And what about the cucumber and mint?

Yeah, cucumber mint is actually one of my favorites. It's more on the green side. It's really fresh and the mint gives ...

Is it almost vegetal perhaps?

Yeah. Yeah, you could say that.

Okay. And the grapefruit and rose, I assume that would be quite citrus.

Yes it is and especially on the nose, it's just an amazing nose on the grapefruit side and then the taste of the rose also comes in. So grapefruit on the nose and rose really softens the palette.

Now the range was initially released in the U.S. last year. What has the consumer reaction been?

Phenomenal. We were not expecting that people when they just saw the packaging in the store or on the back bar, they just gravitated to, Oh, I would like to try that, without even knowing what it was. And the amazing thing is that we see a lot of white wine drinkers actually switching over to Ketel One botanical and that is just a new phenomenon that we have never seen in our business because we are always in the spirits industry and always looking at the spirits side of business and comparing ourselves with spirits. But actually Ketel One botanical, we have to look at the white wine section and not the spirits section to compare us with.

Okay, that's interesting. I wonder why white wine drinkers have gravitated so much towards it?

In the States we have seen that, especially in the liquor stores that people are looking for more tasteful drinks and also they want to have something if they buy it, very clear for them, easy to understand. Ketel One botanical range is very easy to understand. You see on the label what you're getting and if you taste it, it's really there and it's all really natural taste. So I think that is one and it also is the calorie count that that people are looking for nowadays. If you compare glass of white wine with the Ketel One botanical, soda, a beautiful piece of garnish, then we're talking about the only 50 calories in a serve here in Australia, 30mL. So that is really low compared to a white wine.

How would you recommend that people drink it?

Our perfect serve is a Ketel One botanical. You pick your own botanicals, so whatever you your taste profile wants that day and then you add soda, ice and a garnish. So only just adding soda and the flavour of Ketel One botanicals already so beautiful that they should not add any other ingredients.

Now when the range was released in the U.S., was it difficult to convey to consumers that it wasn't just another flavoured vodka, that it was different?

For the consumer is definitely not very difficult. They look at the packaging and they just want to taste it and they understand it. If you look on the bartender side that is something that we need to explain more because if they care and see a Ketel One, they think it's vodka and it's one of the ingredients for a cocktail and that is exactly what is not supposed to do. It is more on the wine side, on the spritz side, just adding soda. So the consumer understands it per se. They just look at the packaging and just want to taste it and the bartender we need to explain that they should not use it as flavoured vodka.

And generally what has the reaction to the range been from bartenders?

They are phenomenal.

Once that is explained.

When they understand it's not an ingredient in a cocktail like a vodka is, this is a whole new category that people are looking for. They get all these questions. Do you have a cocktail with less alcohol in it? Do you have cocktails without sugar? I only want natural ingredients. I only want all these things. I witnessed somebody ordering a cocktail in California and that person wanted to have a lower ABV cocktail and the bartender said, yeah, I can adjust this recipe with Ketel One vodka, I put a little bit less of the vodka in and you end up with a cocktail that has less alcohol in it. And that person just did not understand it. He just like, yeah but you still used vodka. So how is that possible? You could not convince that person, but then you picked up a bottle of Ketel One botanical or I can share with you Ketel One botanical, this is a lower ABV spirits and then all of a sudden they were fine. He said, yep give it to me. And he added soda and that was it and he was happy. There's psychology behind it.

So bartenders have really been using it as a low-or-no cocktail within a lot of their bars?

You see on the menus they're starting to create more your cocktails, your spritz, what is already a lower an ABV mix. Because if you mix it with soda, you end up with less than 10% alcohol in the glass. That is what people are looking for and clean taste.

Now you said that your preferred method of service for the range was just with soda water. Is there anything else that people can do with it? Could they perhaps use champagne as a...?

Yeah but then you're up starting to add sugars and I think that the consumer is looking for a no-sugar drink. If they want to have a sort of a cheat day or a cheat night, then they can add the champagne or add the other ingredients, but for us, the focus is on just add soda for 50 calories. I think that is what people are looking for today.

Okay, and what's the division between the botanicals to soda? Is it a 50/50 mix?

Personally, I always do one third, two thirds, but there can be differences there. Here you have 30mL, that is different than we do in Europe, but it's more like 50 amount so I'm not sure what the measurements are here. One third, two-third is I think ideal.

Do you think that the low ABV and spritz style trend that exists at the moment will only be a temporary one or do you think it's going to be a long-lasting trend for the industry?

It's definitely a long-lasting serve. We see it now coming more and more to different countries on the manual. It starts to get a separate piece in the manual. People looking for proctors, looking for a spritz and it will be a very long term play.

How important is it for a spirit like a vodka to be innovating at the moment?

Innovation and bringing out new products over time, that is actually how we survived as a distillery. We are a family business. We are around now for 328 years, started in 1691 and if you look at the range of products that we have today, they're all new innovations for the consumer of today and tomorrow. So for us, that is the most important thing is always looking for that opportunity and looking for what the future brings for our company.

Even though you've said that the botanicals are not quite vodka because it's got a lower ABV, do you think it's innovations like these that are actually going to bring vodka back to the fore a little bit amongst spirits?

Definitely, if you see what's happening in the States with adding the Ketel One botanical line to our portfolio, we have reached out to a lot more consumers. So more than 60% of our consumer of today are people that never had any spirits before. They only were wine drinkers.
We have all the scanned data from the liquor stores that you can see that what people actually are buying and we have a whole new range of people that are now buying Ketel One botanical regularly instead of just only wine. So those people are now the first time venturing into the spirits category and Ketel One vodka we already see the growth of Ketel One vodka in the States. It's also picking up-tempo and that is great to see. Just getting a lot more people into our world.

I know in the States there's been very much trend with hard seltzer. Would you think of bringing Ketel One out as a ready to drink?

For us, the number one is always the quality of the liquid and what it tastes like. And yes, of course, we are looking into that kind of products that are within the spritz moment within the Ketel One botanical and soda to have a ready to drink this but if we do it that’s another story.

Now with each of the flavours, if we are looking at the range as a spritz moment, what food would you put with each of these different flavours?

Yeah. We are actually today this afternoon opening up the terrace at the Icebergs, the Ketel One botanical terrace there and the foods that they serve they really combine really well with our botanicals. Yesterday I went there and we tasted some of the menus and it's just amazing food and the Ketel One Botanical fits well. I said it before it's the white wine moment. So all the food that is actually combined with drinking white wine fits. So it fits, everything fits basically. If it's light and not heavy.
If you are ordering a steak then I would recommend the Ketel One martini, but if you have the lunch fresh and the salad then recommend the Ketel One botanicals. You pick your own flavour.

So Ketel One botanical does work in also with a little bit of day drinking as well doesn't it?

100%. Yes, because that's also the trend that we see around the world is that people go out less late at night. They do a lot more... yoga, fitness, they balance the lifestyle and daytime drinking is part of that.

Lastly, which is your favourite of the flavours?

Depending on the moment, but the cucumber and mint is definitely a very favourite flavour that I enjoy most. If you look at the sales, we're actually selling exactly the same amounts, all three. Yeah, it's just incredible.


In the States. We sell 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. That's it and we're doing that now for almost two years. Every week it's the same thing. The whole year-round. It's not for the summer periods...

Oh, that's remarkable. You'd think that...

Yeah, there will always be one winner but it's not. It's just unbelievable.

Okay. All right. Well look, thank you very much for your time Bob. And if people want more information, they should go to your website, which is

But if they're in Sydney, please come and join us at the Icebergs Terrace by Ketel One Botanicals in Bondi. Because there you can experience the ultimate Ketel One botanical with an amazing view. So for the next six months or longer, because they would like to keep it longer, you can go there and experience what Ketel One botanicals are all about.

That's great. All right. Look, thank you so much.

For more information. on Ketel One Botanicals go to

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