Writer Matt Bell journeys to Holland to meet with Carl Nolet Jr. the executive vice president of Ketel One Vodka.
There’s hardly a vodka brand today that is not clambering to find its way into your cocktail, but back in the days before Ellen, Will & Grace, and the Interior Illusions Lounge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, it was considered a bold move for any brand to openly court the gay community.
This huge Harley Davidson pulls up next to me with this guy dressed all in leather,” says Carl Nolet Jr. executive vice president of Ketel One Vodka. It was 1992 and Nolet, who had recently moved to New York City from Holland, was standing in front of his apartment waiting for a guy he’d never actually met in person to show him the gay bars in the West Village. This was so he could introduce them to his family’s then-unknown specialty vodka, Ketel One. Typical of the Dutch, Nolet looked at gays as influencers and tastemakers, so it only made sense to introduce them to his family’s product.
“I must have looked a little surprised because he immediately said that he would understand if I didn’t want to ride with him,” continues Nolet Jr, who is not himself gay. “But I wasn’t afraid to ride around with a gay guy dressed in leather on a motor bike at all. I said let’s go!”