Beer, Wine & Spirits

Ketel One: Making vodka for the long haul

Nolet celebrates 325 years of vodka making
Nolet celebrates 325 years of vodka making

For one family, vodka is as thick as blood.

Nolet, the distillery behind Ketel One Vodka, is preparing to celebrate 325 years next year. The family-run businesses, now in its 11th generation, is run by Bob and Carl Nolet Jr., with their father, Carl Nolet Sr. Joannes Nolet opened the distillery in 1691 in Schiedam, Holland, where it still produces spirits. The Diageo- and Nolet-owned Ketel is ranked as one of the top 10 vodka brands globally.

The heritage "comes with a big responsibility," Carl Jr. told CNBC. Referring to himself and his brother, he said: "Both of our jobs are to make sure our distillery and our jobs are in a good place when we hand them over."

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To celebrate the anniversary, Ketel One vodka is releasing a limited-edition copper matte plated bottle and a new brand campaign.

"What is most important in a family business is that business doesn't just happen in a board room or at the office," Carl Jr. said. "It continues at home at the kitchen table."

Not following trends

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Alcohol drinking remains in vogue domestically, led largely by soaring wine sales in the U.S. alcohol market, which grew to more than $23 billion, according to figures from the Distilled Spirits Council. Vodka volume has decreased by 0.3 percent in the U.S last year and nearly 2 percent globally.

Despite changing trends in the spirits category however, the Nolets are hardly concerned as they focus on creating classic products, rather than following trends. "We never bring a product for just a few years. We only bring products for hundreds of years to come," Carl Jr. said.

But Bob Nolet said: "Innovation is what gives us the future."

The birth of the Ketel One vodka brand in 1983 was the distillery's biggest addition since opening in 1691. The Nolets said in the early '80s vodka was hardly a category on its own, but their father had anticipated change with the creation of Ketel One.

"With our father's vision for the cocktails, he wanted to deliver a vodka that would fit that drink and make that martini better," Bob Nolet said. Over the last 30 years, there has been little innovation to Ketel One, with the company only adding Ketel One Citroen-flavored vodka in 2000 and Ketel One Oranje in 2010.

Even then, it took a lot of time for the Nolet brothers to finally persuade their father to agree to go along with the fruity flavored products.

"Nothing ever in our family happens fast. If we ever hear something goes fast, we'll hear him say, 'no,' " Carl Jr. said. "Usually with our dad, 'no' doesn't mean 'no'. It just means means you haven't shared your passion properly yet."

A family affair

Between the two families in the 11th generation, Bob and Carl Jr. collectively have nine children living in Holland and California.

For fostering collaboration for the next generation, the two families spend their vacations together.

"We are 6,000 miles away, but it's important that we still create a cohesive unit ... just like Ketel One, that incredible blend," Carl Jr. said.