How to Drink Vodka: Comparing Martinis and Mike Tyson

Thursday 02nd, November 2017 / 18:00
By Paris Spence-Lang

Dennis Tamse, distillery ambassador for Ketel One, knows a thing or two about vodka.

VANCOUVER – I lost my taste for vodka in high school, where it was the tool of choice to work up a real buzz. Dennis Tamse, distillery ambassador for Ketel One, is telling me why.

“They were Mike Tyson vodkas,” he says. “They punch you in the chest.”

Ketel One, I learn, is not made for the misery felt after a mickey of Smirnoff. It’s made for the martini.

“When Carolus Nolet took over the distillery, which has operated since 1691, he wanted to make one amazing product. All vodkas were Mike Tyson vodkas.” He picks up a snifter and swirls it. “But taste this.”

I do. Actually, I mostly feel it. The soft burn on the tip of the tongue, the tingle at the sides, an even warmth as the alcohol hits my throat. More ballet than boxer.

But it’s not all dancing. The Nolet family has distilled Ketel One since 1979, and, more boxer than ballet, is quietly exploding from their corner. From 7,000 cases in ’92-’93 to 2 million in ‘08, the spirit has won the cocktail crowd over by tailoring itself to those who use it most: the bartenders.

Bob Nolet, the current master distiller sipping a cocktail at the table over, is talking to three World Class championship bartenders. He’s worked closely with them and countless others to spread the Vodka gospel, better his product and teach the world what a good martini tastes like.

He’s also steered the family distillery towards sustainability—the Netherlands-based facility even has its own windmill.

Russia, seemingly, is no longer king of the kasteel when it comes to vodka—they don’t even place in our tasting flight. “Watch out for those Russian women,” a tablemate tells me. “They will try to collect you.” I don’t know much about Dutch women.

Ketel One is not something for collecting. It’s mostly for drinking, and Bob encourages this with a farewell bottle. The meniscus seemed a hairline emptier than most. Peering at it through the light, I asked Bob why. “Sorry,” he says. “We keep some for the family.”