Thu | Jun 21, 2018

Bob Nolet - Preserving the Ketel One Heritage

Published:Friday | June 7, 2013 | 12:00 AM
The theatre in the Nolet Windmill.
Glasses of vodka samples on the left with drinking glasses on the right, ready for tasting. - Contributed Photos
An important first step of the four Fs ... sampling is Fragrance ... getting the odour, scent or perfume, in other words, what does it smell like? From the expression on her face, The Gleaner's Barbara Ellington likes what she's inhaling.
The first mould for Ketel One Vodka.
Bob Nolet puts coal into Pot Still Number 1.
The Nolet Windmill.

Barbara Ellington, Pubic Affairs Editor

Some of Bob Nolet's earliest memories are of Pot Still Number 1, also known as Distilleerketel 1.

At weekends, he used to accompany his father to work and marvelled at the fire, heat and light that radiated from the original coal-fired copper pot still after which Ketel One vodka takes its name.

Today, Bob is described by his father, Carolus Nolet Sr, as the "soul" of the brand, responsible for the Nolet Distillery and ensuring that quality precedes all else.

But the passion for producing what is arguably the world's number-one vodka was embedded in his DNA from 1691 in the fishing village of Schiedam, Holland.

Bob Nolet was still excited about the future prospects as he gave 15 journalists from Latin America and Jamaica a tour of his family business, May 20-26.

The famous Nolet Windmill stands above the town and produces some of the energy used to run the plant. However, the original still continues to run on a coal fire, stoked by human hands with a shovel. Each of us took a turn at this chore, as does every visitor to the plant.

It is obvious that Nolet is proud of the legacy. A tour of the windmill is the first stop of our day-long tour, the highlight of which is sampling Ketel One vodka.

The brick exterior of the windmill shields the modern interior, complete with elevators that take visitors to the top. We don't move a muscle before mid-morning refreshment. However, we have to wait until a more respectable hour for the real deal ... Ketel One.

We each get a set of four different brands of vodka, glasses and bottles of water.

All vodkas being tasted must be treated with respect: be at room temperature and served in sherry or port-style glasses (smaller white wine glasses may also be used).

Equal amounts of vodka is poured into each glass from freshly opened bottles of the spirit.

Start by tasting Ketel One and end with the same brand to help make a better comparison.

Chilled spring water is used to cleanse the palate after each sample.

The overall experience was interesting. Dennis Tamase, distillery ambassador for Nolet Distillery, guided the process superbly.

Diageo partnership

An immaculately suited Bob Nolet guides the entire tour. He learnt the family business from the ground up. The partnership with Diageo now positions Ketel One as a global brand with a reputation that will be preserved for future generations of Nolet.

Pot Still Number One still stands, while nine of the 10 pot stills operating at the distillery have been commissioned by current owner and 10th-generation Nolet, Carolus Nolet Sr.

Cleanliness is a hallmark of the entire operation and Bob Nolet revealed that his mother personally ensures the place is always spotless.

The landmark Windmill De Nolet is believed to be the highest of its type (designed to catch the wind in a city) in the world, opened in 2005.

It generates green "electric" power, producing a portion of the supply required for the distillery. Spread over nine floors are reception and exhibition areas, with bar and the family's private screening room providing entertainment space for visitors, and where Nolet told journalists the still takes in movies on weekends.

The tour takes us through a very modern warehouse where, robots, not people, are in charge. It was very instructive to see the computer-controlled machines move briskly to take huge stacks of boxes of Ketel One to shelves in record time. The inventory of 20 million litres of vodka bottled annually is managed by the robots. These red giants also control the movement of empty bottles and cartons.

"They know what is needed, when and where, and it takes them only seven minutes to get empties to the bottling area," Nolet said.

Four robots do the work of 20 forklifts. The bottling process is also totally automated. Bottles are washed with some of the same liquid that will fill them.

"Each bottle is filled, sealed, numbered and photographed," Nolet told The Gleaner.

A Distilling Dynasty

Carolus Nolet Sr, the 10th generation of Nolet distillers, holds the keys, but his older son, Carl Nolet Jr, manages the brand's US operations. Younger son Bob "the soul", is based in Amsterdam with responsibility for building the brand in Europe and maintaining quality standards.

The creation

Ketel One is now a vodka on the lips of expert bartenders in almost 50 countries around the world, whether served on the rocks or in their ultimate martini cocktail.

The vodka is the creation of a lively, ultra-wheat spirit, from 100 per cent non-genetically modified European winter wheat. This not only brings the vodka its crispness, but is also the basis for the Nolets' second distillation in the family's 10 copper pot stills, including the oldest coal-fired Pot Still Number 1.

The pot stills are heated gently for this eight-hour process, controlled expertly by the master distiller. The rich, full-bodied heart of the distillate from each pot still is charcoal filtered then blended.

Each final production is approved by a member of the Nolet family before bottling.

Barbara Ellington's trip to Amsterdam was sponsored by Diageo. 

Cleanliness is a hallmark of the entire operation and Bob Nolet revealed that his mother personally ensures the place is always spotless.

The tasting process

We are taught the four Fs of the process: fragrance, flavour, feel and finish. First, we must look for the smell of it; next, we must get the taste of it; followed by the impression it leaves in the mouth; and, finally, we must note the sensation it leaves in the mouth after swallowing.