Paulo Figueiredo was in town in his capacity as the Ketel One global brand ambassador for the Nairobi Cocktail Week 2018. Ketel One is a luxury vodka brand under Diageo Reserve. In Kenya it is distributed by East African Breweries Limited (EABL).

We had a sit down with Paulo Figueiredo and this is what he had to say.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Paulo Figueiredo, originally from Portugal and I am the brand ambassador for Ketel One Vodka for last the two years. I was born and raised in Portugal, but I have lived in many countries such as the UK, Hong Kong, Dubai, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Miami and I am now in Amsterdam. I am a traveler, a nomad and I love to explore cultures, food, ingredients and a bit of adventure. I happen to dislike comfort zones and I am also a minimalistic sort of practical person.

As I said, I love travelling and my goal this year was to reach 100 countries, but I think I am going short. I last counted in November and found that I had travelled to 96 countries so clearly, sadly I will not meet my target this year.

You have been in the alcohol industry for the last 18 years. Tell us briefly how the journey has been?

Yes, I did start out at a young age. While in Portugal I studied hospitality, this meant that I studied a bit of everything in the industry. That is the kitchen, restaurants, bar, reception, food and beverage. I finally decided to stick with the bar because I happen to love people and I enjoyed meeting and talking to new people. However, at that time the cocktail culture in Portugal was not well developed. So, around 2003, I decide to move to UK, London and started working in the best bar at the time “The Lab Bar”. Thereafter, things started working out, I worked there for two years and then started getting offers from other bars. After this I worked for the Salvatore at FIFTY which was a very good bar owned by Calabrese who is a very famous person in the industry. In this period, also worked at the legendary jazz bar Ronnie Scott’s which is a member’s club.

After that I flew to Hong Kong where I started consulting for 22 different venues across Hong Kong, Beijing, and London for a while. Then I moved to Dubai where I did a bit of consulting for the Cipriani Group who were opening their first club. Next, I worked with the Hilton group where I had the responsibility of sorting out the bars and drinks across Africa. This involved working in South Africa, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Nigeria. Then I joined Diageo in 2011 where I worked as a Regional Reserve Brand Ambassador for Central America and the Caribbean with a number of brands like Don Julio, Zacapa. During this time, we set up a world class program which is the most famous competition in the industry as we speak now. So, for the next five years, I worked on setting up the markets in this region with different projects and different brands.

Around 2016, I applied to be the global ambassador for Ketel One. I got the job and I have been based in Amsterdam for two years now. So nowadays, 70 percent of the time I work on Ketel One and 30 percent on world class challenge that is all the studios, content and seminars for the bar tenders. That is basically a short version of my 18 years journey.

From around 2014 – 2016, you apparently lived out of a suitcase. That’s basically, in hotels and AirBnB, what was the idea behind that?

The idea behind this was to better understand the culture of the places I was visiting. I have been fortunate to travel a lot and what I came to realize is that as you move from one country to the other, you are not really able to get a grasp of the people and places. At that point in time, I was based in Puerto Rico and I had to do four flights per week because there’s no straight flights to the markets in which i was serving. So, I calculated the time that I was spending on air and saw that I was spending about 24 – 48 hours in a place and then I was back on the road again. Being that I am practical person and a minimalist, I figured that I could live out of two suitcases rather than go back home and lose time in airports and not learn anything. This gave me time to stay over the weekends and go out to the markets, buy something and just socialize with people outside the industry. AirBnB gave me an opportunity to get out of the hotels and be in a place that felt like home where I could cook something and even invite people over. It enabled me to get a better grasp of the countries that I was visiting in terms of culture, food, drinks and people. I actually prefer this to staying in resorts and beach hotels, it has helped me to stay grounded.

The Ketel One ‘Paloma’ cocktail offered at the Ketel One bar

Tell us about the Ketel One vodka brand

I’ll give you 327 years of history in 30 seconds. Ketel One is produced by the Nolet family, they started distilling spirits in 1691. That is about 327, almost 328 years ago, at the time the family was producing a highly aromatic gin named Jenever. They used to use pot stills to produce the gin but with Vodka they had to change and start using column stills in the process of distillation. But the secret is or what basically makes all the difference is the pot stills about 300 liters of them. The name Ketel One refers to the distillery original copper pot still.

Each bottle of the vodka is signed by a member of the 10th generation of the Nolet family. This signifies that the family will never change the way they produce the Vodka. This is unique because you can’t find a spirit which has an unbroken production by one family for over 10 generations. The new bottle which will arrive as soon as the we run out of stock of the current one will have the signature of Bob Nolet and Carl Junior who are part of the 11th generation of the Nolet family.

So that is the story of Ketel One Vodka, what makes it different is the copper pot still. It is what you call a long finish vodka, so it is the perfect vodka for cocktails which is our focus.

What unique qualities does Ketel One vodka have over other vodkas in the market?

It is absolutely the pot still, that is the biggest thing. The two main things that you need in Vodka is the raw materials and the type of distillation. Not how many times but how you distill, the pot still is what gives Ketel One that beautiful and unique taste. The pot still makes a perfect long finish vodka that is perfect for cocktail making. Also, the long family tradition that is hard to find in other distillers who make spirits where knowledge has been passed over from father to son for over 300 years.

Ketel Vodka is essentially for making cocktails. Which is your favorite cocktail and how can one make it?

I am the type of guy who does not have a favorite foods or favorite cocktail. I usually go with occasions, I love coffee for example, that means I love a good espresso martini. But I don’t drink it all the time, say if I am in a club and have high energy, I take Ketel One and a soda because its easy.

Again, I like to explore and what appeals to me is a cocktail with local influences. Patrick Mutua who won in the Kenyan version of the World Class challenge did a phenomenal job by bringing in the culture of Kenya through infusing coffee into his cocktail. A good cocktail is one which is in front of me and has been done with passion and care, transmitting values of what people stand for. What I would like to see is bartenders expressing themselves in their cocktails. Basics are very important, but one should be able to express who they are in the cocktail. When I can see that in a cocktail, it becomes my favorite.

What are the common misconceptions about vodka?

That all vodkas are the same and that they have no taste. However, this is not the truth, If, one poured out different vodkas in glasses and tasted them they would realize that they taste different. It is part of my job to educate the public that vodka has different flavours and that the raw materials and distillation affects the final cocktail. I think that this is the biggest misconception worldwide that Vodka is Vodka.

Which food pairing would you recommend with Ketel One Vodka cocktails?

Ketel on the rocks with Martini and not mixing with other ingredients, one cannot go wrong with Seafood. It is one of those classic pairing that got lost in time, that is vodka and seafood, but it is fantastic. But with Ketel one can play around with many cocktails depending on the dish for example you can pair a Bloody Mary with a lot of savory food.

What responsible drinking tips can you share?

  • Whatever you do, drink a lot of water, that is before and in between drinks. Hangovers are caused by dehydration so if you take a lot of water as you drink it means that you will be okay the morning after.
  • Also, your body can assimilate about one drink per hour so space your drinks. Don’t rush but drink to enjoy yourself not to get drunk. Around the world, people are drinking less but drinking better.
  • Always eat well before going out to drink. There is a misconception that one needs to drink first then eat but one needs to eat well prior.
  • Most importantly, don’t drink and drive.

What advice do you have for bartenders who are starting out and are thinking of using Kettel One in their cocktails?

Ketel One is the best vodkas for making cocktails and this is backed by the fact that 50 best bartenders use our vodka in their cocktails. I would say start with the simple cocktails, don’t over complicate things. Actually, most of the old cocktails are not complicated, cocktails have been around for over 200 years. So, start with the basics like the Ketel One Ginger Beer Lemon, it is a great cocktail. They should endeavor to first get right the simple cocktails and thereafter start being creative and develop their own style. Like the way Patrick did with his espresso martini.