Our man on the barstool samples Ketel One vodka
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel a little bit. And one of the places that I inevitably end up visiting is Amsterdam. The reason for this is that it’s a lot like Atlanta when traveling in the States. Schiphol Airport is the Hartsfield-Jackson of Europe. Many times I’ve flown exactly over the city of my destination—only to have to go to Amsterdam and then back.
On occasion, I’ve been able to venture away from the airport and spend time checking out the city and convening with the locals to get a taste of what makes them tick. It’s soon obvious that they’re a pretty laid-back bunch that enjoy savoring the simple joys in life. They’ve even got a word for it: gezelligheid. There really isn’t an English translation for it. But it means a sense of coziness, fun, quaintness and relaxing with loved ones. And it’s the lifeblood of Dutch culture. It’s used to describe almost everything they see or do. So whenever something makes you feel good on any level, call it gezellig. You can say, “Ah, this sofa is gezellig” or “My, what a gezellig duck!”
One of the other things the Dutch seem to enjoy is the rich nightlife of this city. The vast abundance of bars, cafes, bars, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and bars display the obvious desire of the populous to kick back after a long day of “creating” and relish a nice liquid refreshment. Of course they have a different word for those, too, and it’s proflokaal, which means “tasting room”.
The people of the Netherlands don’t rely on imports to slake the national thirst. There are all sorts of breweries and distilleries throughout the regions. The national drink of choice is gin. And gin is really vodka with some berries infused in it.
It seems that back in 1691 a fella named Joannes Nolet was sitting around Schiedam near the North Sea (where there are a lot of grain auctions) and decided to start a distillery. Schiendam was already known as the the place where brandy and jenever (Dutch gin) were invented. So, he built his Ketel One vodka empire there with copper pot stills and used only wheat to make a premium product. The original pot Distilleerketel #1 is still there and is used to distill...still.
The folks there at Ketel One do a peculiar thing when they make their vodka. They get rid of the heads and the tails and keep the heart. This means that they discard the vodka at the top (too harsh) and the bottom (too weak) in order to bottle the center (just right) of the barrel. Their master distiller uses what they call “The Four Fs” to classify the product. These consist of Flavor, Fragrance, Feel and Finish. He then decides the appropriate mix of spirits to water and hands it over to Mr. Nolet for approval. (This is a much newer Mr. Nolet—not the one from 1691.)
Ketel One is a slightly citrusy 80-proof vodka with a definite charcoal aftertaste when taken straight up. As I’ve previously said about it, “It doesn’t grab you by the jaw and demand you taste it. It’s more like a wink from the really cool girl in the Van Gogh Museum with the knee boots and beret that leaves a little tingle on the back of your throat.”
Of course it will mix well with almost anything you can imagine if straight up isn’t your bag. But, the beauty in truly enjoying a premium liquor is being able to actually taste what makes it sit on the shelf above the other ones. Personally, about as far as I would want to go with this one would be a simple vodka martini.
This and some friends is the recipe for a perfect gezelligheid.