Millions of British consumers are increasingly health conscious and inclined to opt for low-calorie drinks that do not pack a high alcoholic punch. Their purse strings are tight amid the economic uncertainty sparked by Brexit and many prefer to save money by entertaining at home. They want to impress their guests and, more importantly, their social media followers with drinks that look vibrant, luxurious and refreshing. Yet they do not want to fiddle around with a multitude of ingredients to whip up something Heston Blumenthal would be proud of. 

How do you cater to this new and demanding consumer? Bob Nolet, the 11th generation master distiller at Ketel One producer Nolet Distillery, believes he has cracked it. Step forward Ketel One Botanical, a three-strong range of 30% abv distillates comprising Grapefruit & Rose, Cucumber & Mint and Peach & Orange Blossom. He recommends creating a Ketel One Botanical Spritz, featuring 5cl of the spirit, 15cl of soda water, ice and a simple garnish, served in a white wine glass.

In one fell swoop, it is simple to make, perfect for home entertaining, Instagram-worthy, low in alcohol and, crucially, low in calories. 

“The consumer is moving away from sugary drinks,” says Nolet. “They are becoming more mindful of their lifestyle choices. Ketel One Botanical has a lower abv, with no artificial flavours or sugars and fewer calories. That’s what consumers are looking for, but they also want great taste, great quality and a beautiful drink. We listened to bartenders and started to develop this beautiful spirit.

“Consumers are looking to recreate the experience they have in restaurants and bars. All around the world, people are entertaining more at home. They are looking to impress their guests, but they are not bartenders, so cocktails with lots of ingredients are difficult. They still want to impress with a high-quality spirit and mixer and Ketel One Botanical has an amazing taste – fresh, crispy, extremely natural in smell and flavour. Put it in a white wine glass with soda water and a garnish and off you go.”

Intensive process

The Nolet Distillery began life in Schiedam in the Netherlands in 1691. Its fortunes really picked up when Nolet’s father Carolus took over in 1979. He visited San Francisco, where he was served a vodka-based Martini, and he decided he could produce a better vodka than the harsh offerings on the market at the time. Five years later, following an intensive process to refine the perfect spirit, he returned to the market and launched Ketel One. It gained a cult following among bartenders due to its mouthfeel and length, which persist in cocktails after the other ingredients overwhelm the neutral flavour of vodka. 

Ketel One has since gone from strength to strength and it is gaining traction in the UK off-trade. “Ketel One vodka has more than tripled volume in the UK in the past three years, from 24,000 cases to 80,000 cases,” says Nolet. “We’re growing rapidly at the moment, and that’s because in the off-trade the consumer is looking to upgrade from standard vodka to something more premium. For us that’s an amazing result. We’re the second-fastest growing brand in the on-trade in Great Britain. Our share is growing rapidly in vodka in the off-trade. The consumer is looking to premiumise, and retailers are looking to trade up. 

“Consumers are drinking more in the day, trading nightlife for going out with friends for lunch or brunch. Bloody Marys are doing extremely well. Ketel One Botanical fits well in that daytime drinking, white wine moment in the on-trade. In the off-trade, the consumer wants to recreate that at home. Ketel One Botanical fits that really well. It’s easy to mix, white wine glass, beautiful garnish. We believe for home consumption it can do really well. We have beautiful packaging. Leave it in the shipper and put it on the floor.”

When creating Ketel One Botanical, the team realised that 30% abv was the sweet spot, as if they went any lower it would not handle the ingredients they distil with. They started with Ketel One vodka as a base then redistilled it with botanicals, infusing it with natural fruit essences. It launched in the US in May 2018 and has performed well, so Nolet is confident it can take the UK by storm if retailers back it. 

“We recommend putting it in the white wine aisle,” he said. “We believe that, for the first time, there’s an alternative in spirits for that white moment, with great taste, a beautiful-looking bubbly glass. 

“It’s extremely important to take all three variants. To really create a new category you need all three. They are all extremely successful if they are all there. Consumers are not just drinking Cucumber & Mint, or Peach & Orange Blossom or Grapefruit & Rose. They have their own favourites, but they tend to buy all three. If you look at our sales, they all do a third each. There is not one that is more popular than the other. We researched the flavours, and if you have all three variants you have more than 90% of consumers’ palates. It doesn’t work if you put one there.” 

Nolet’s personal favourite is Cucumber & Mint, but his brother is in Team Grapefruit & Rose, and his father loves Peach & Orange Blossom. Ketel One Botanical is moving into a space that already features alcohol-free offerings such as Seedlip, while it must also compete with the soaring gin category. Nolet has no problem with alcohol-free herbal distillates, claiming they make sense for teetotallers, drivers and so on, but Ketel One Botanical is clearly a different proposition.

“The trend for gin is still there, but a lot of consumers find it difficult,” he adds. “I love gin. The gin we make is amazing, but you have to be an experienced drinker. Vodka is more approachable. People are looking for lighter drinks that you can make at home and impress people with. Ketel One vodka is in every good bar around the world. We now have a product with Ketel One Botanical that is based on the quality of Ketel One vodka, but it’s easier to mix and make and understand.”