Words by: Jane Ryan (in association with Ketel One vodka)
Heir to 300 years of distilling history, including ten generations of his own family, Carolus Nolet Sr. was given the task of a lifetime when he was handed the keys to the Nolet Distillery in 1979. Having joined his family business 17 years before that monumental day, back in 1962, Carolus was given sage advice from his father, Paulus Nolet, who said "go and make the best of it."
Carolus did just that, and rather than be bound in the shackles of a distillery that has been in operation since 1691, he took the opportunity and ran with it, creating a new spirit for the company which would arguably be their most successful yet. Wanting this new future for the company, Carolus took up a journey that his grandfather had started in the early 20th century; breaking into the American market. After working at the distillery for four years he set off for America in 1983 with the intention to immerse himself in the different cultures of various American cities and see what he could learn.
While travelling the States, Carolus identified a clear opportunity for his brand. In conversations with bar managers, staff and even the bar-going public he realised there was a gap in the market, and an appetite for something new. It was the beginning of the cocktail renaissance and Carolus was in the right place at exactly the right time.
Of course the birth of the modern day cocktail really focused around vodka, however the emphasis was yet to be placed on premium spirits. It was here that Carolus saw his chance, to introduce the cocktail-thirsty population to a smoother vodka, one that would lift the mixed drinks to a new level. The only problem was this spirit did not yet exist.
Carolus decided to try and use pot still distillation, known in the Netherlands as 'distilleerketels', a method normally reserved for making Jenever and whisky. Upon trying the vodka from the original coal-fired pot still Distilleerketel #1, the first of which was ketel, Carolus was suitably enamoured by the product. He of course called it Ketel One vodka.
After successfully creating his vodka Carolus went back to America to showcase his product to the very bartenders he had met during his first tour of the US, in the hope they too would think it fit the gap of a well-made spirit perfect for cocktails. To this day he recalls the moment in 1989 when the owner of the famous Bix Restaurant in San Francisco tried the spirit and gave his approval, saying "I definitely want to buy this product, it's a unique vodka...and one that my clients at the restaurant will appreciate." it was to Doug Biederbeck at Bix Restaurant that Carolus sold his first case of Ketel One vodka.
Carolus is no longer the youngest generation working for the Nolet distillery. With both his sons on board, the company looks set to prosper, although he maintains they were free to chose any career. Luckily for Ketel One vodka fans they decided to pursue the next phase in the family business. "I never encouraged them to do anything other than try to be nice boys and to listen to their mother!" says Carolus.
As to how this famous man takes his vodka? Neat or in a cocktail of course. "Before dinner, any Ketel One vodka on the rocks - for a nice cooling refreshment," he said. "But after dinner, I like to mix myself a Vesper martini which I create with a mix of 50% Ketel One vodka and 50% of Nolet's silver gin, stirred over ice." However for his birthday a special Ketel One vodka cocktail was created by Hasse Johansen called The Heritage which combines Ketel One with Grand Marnier, apple and lemon juice and anise syrup.