With the meteoric rise of healthy cocktails and fitness-focused beer—a small part of the wider trend toward health-conscious living—it might feel odd to look back 327 years for inspiration in how to tap into this very real trend. But that’s how Ketel One found inspiration for Ketel One Botanical, a new line of spirits distilled with real botanicals and infused with the essence of natural fruits. Brothers Carl Jr. and Bob Nolet tapped into 11 generations of distilling history, looking at the practices first used in the small town of Schiedam, Holland. They took their base Ketel One Vodka (which is made with 100% non—GMO grain) and blended it with centuries-old family botanical recipes, re-distilling the vodka in small-batch copper pot stills, then infusing the spirit with the extracted essence of fruits and additional botanicals. The end result boasts a considerably mellow 30% ABV, a full 10% lower than their main vodka, and comes with no carbs, no artificial flavors, no added sugars, no artificial sweeteners, and a modest 73 calories per serving, roughly 40% fewer calories than in a glass of white wine.
The first three bottles dropped this spring—an ideal time to enjoy lighter, crisp refreshing spirits with flavor profiles suitable for hot weather. The grapefruit and rose edition adds a nice bit of pucker and brightness, the peach and orange blossom flavor screams summer, and the cucumber and mint bottle levels some of the taste combos typically associated with less neutral, more botanical-driven spirits like gin. Make no mistake—the flavoring here is subtle, and the lower ABV also means the flavors disappear in higher-octane cocktails with competing alcohol flavors or drinks with dominate base ingredients like a screwdriver or Bloody Mary. They do sip well on ice, and explode with aromatics when you pour them into the glass. But the spirits might be best served in a vodka tonic or soda, or with sparkling water, along with a bit of ice and your choice of garnish (think fresh herbs, a slice of fresh fruit or cucumber, or a twist of lemon, lime, or grapefruit).
Some purists may cry “fake news” in referring to these new spirits as vodka—because, technically, the lower ABV means it doesn’t qualify as vodka in the United States and the EU, which require vodka to have 40% ABV (or 37.5% if it’s a flavored vodka). That’s probably why the labels don’t scream “vodka” save for the association a consumer might already have between Ketel One and vodka, that is. But that also means it’s not “flavored vodka,” a trend that has its place but is too often a bit too much. Regardless, let’s not call it “diet” vodka. Because, really, that seems wrong.
Instead, we’ll just say that the Ketel One Botanical line offers some of the more refreshing hot-weather “not-really-vodka” sodas that you can make at home right now.