April 2010

HARLEM - The Shot Heard 'Round the World

By: Richard Carleton Hacker

The sleek glass exterior of the modern Nolet Spirits USA headquarters in Aliso Viejo, California gives no indication that it represents 319 years of a Dutch family’s distilling history. Nor that, in rococo contrast to the crisp architecture, the interior is accented with antique embellishments of centuries past.

Carl Nolet Jr. and Sr. at Nolet headquarters. PHOTO: STACEY TAXIN
Indeed, ancient spirits are literally seen along the halls of the Nolet offices, for on the walls are framed antique labels from the family’s ten generations of distilling, all of which culminated in 1983 with Ketel One, named after the Holland distillery’s original copper pot still, Distilleerketel #1, and which has subsequently become one of the most called-for vodkas in America.
And now, conceived by the Nolet family’s tenth and eleventh generations—Carl Sr. and his two sons, Carl, Jr. and his younger brother Bob—a new spirit is about to reinvigorate a sleeping giant of a category with a product so innovative it doesn’t accurately fit any existing definition. This rich, complex, 80-proof elixir is HARLEM Kruiden Liqueur
The name was not inspired by the celebrated New York neighborhood, however, but instead chosen to honor the historic Dutch city of Haarlem, birthplace of Nolet Sr.’s mother. (Like Harlem, New York, also named after the Dutch city, the liqueur’s name has been Americanized by omitting an a.)

And while “kruiden” in Dutch means “herbs,” HARLEM is unlike any other herbal liqueur, with none of the cloying medicinal overtones normally associated with this category. Served ice cold, it pours with a rich, reddish-black texture of molten silk.

Its ingredients are a Nolet family secret, but when I first sampled this intoxicating potion (brought to me encased in dry ice!), I detected orange, licorice, black cherry, citrus, chocolate-mocha and a hint of cedar. Later, Carl Nolet Jr., Executive Vice President of Nolet Spirits USA, told me his father said I was “very close to being right on,” although I strongly suspect there is no cedar in the recipe.
Nice shot! HARLEM Kruiden Liqueur. PHOTO: STACEY TAXIN

Nonetheless, HARLEM is one of the most complex drinks I have ever tasted, and I consider it to be the world’s best tasting shot. Consequently, I was not surprised when THE TASTING PANEL awarded it a well-deserved 100 points (out of a maximum of 100). It challenges the mixologist’s creativity, but I can attest to the compatibility of HARLEM poured over French vanilla ice cream in a rocks glass, or a chilled shot of HARLEM and
Luxardo Maraschino liqueur.

HARLEM Kruiden Liqueur boosts the shot category to new levels of flavor and sophistication.
But this innovative liqueur is really meant to be served neat in two-ounce glasses and enjoyed as a shot, for HARLEM is clearly going after its only real competitor, Jägermeister. That decision was made seven years ago, when Nolet Jr. was out with friends and someone suggested “doing shots."

“So here come shots of the market leader,” he recalls. “But I found it to be bad-tasting. ‘If I am ever going to have another shot, why wouldn’t I want to do it with a great-tasting shot?’ I thought. A few weeks later in Holland, I told my father of my experience. He brought out a dark colored liqueur. ‘About three decades ago,’ he told me, ‘I noticed Jägermeister was entering the Dutch market. As a distiller, I knew I could make a product that could beat it in taste and quality.’ So, starting in 2002, my father, brother and I experimented with dad’s original recipe until we perfected it for today’s tastes."

HARLEM is injecting new energy into the high-profit shot category. In addition, the sleek HARLEM bottle has a bartender-friendly long neck for easy pouring, and a compact, two-bottle bartop dispenser is available to serve the herbal liqueur at a frosty zero to twelve degrees Fahrenheit. Ninety percent of the brand’s marketing will be focused on-premise, but will also involve both digital media and promotional teams, including side-by-side comparison tastings, and—with a nod to its competitor—The HARLEM Girls.

“We’re trying to reach the 21- to 30-year-old consumer,” says William L. Eldien, President and CEO of Nolet Spirits USA. “Working in test markets, we’ve learned that only 25% to 30% of this audience is drinking shots, mainly because they don’t like the taste of the alternatives out there. With a great product like HARLEM, we’re going to increase awareness and creativity with bartenders. I believe shots will become stylized, and adding unique ingredients to the complexity of HARLEM will definitely be the trend of the decade."

“Simply by saying it is made by the Nolet family, the makers of Ketel One, should not in itself justify a position on the back bar,” says Nolet Jr. “That’s why when we, as a family, set our sights on a category, it has to have two things: best in quality and best-tasting. So it is one of the most beautiful feelings in life when you have bartenders and the trade tasting our new product, HARLEM, and they all say, ‘Wow! Yes!’  And then we can go out and announce it to the world.”

Publisher’s note: THE TASTING PANEL has awarded HARLEM an unprecedented score of 100 points in the herbal liqueur category.


 HARLEM Comes to Vegas

One of the hottest venues on or off The Strip is the Palms Resort & Casino, personified by the über-hip N9NE Group, creators of the world’s only Playboy Club as well as electrifying dance club Rain, Moon nightclub with spectacular views and retractable roof and the haunting Ghost Bar, with its 55-story-high panoramic vistas. 
Playboy Club at the Palms Hotel is ahead of the game in support of HARLEM. PHOTO: RONDA CHURCHILL
In addition, there’s the glass bar and 12-foot waterfall of The Palms Pool and bungalows, plus N9NE Steakhouse and Nove Italiano restaurants. And everywhere, HARLEM is poured. Small wonder it is embraced by Palms owner George Maloof, N9NE Group co-founder Michael Morton and Andy Belmonti, President of The N9NE Group in Las Vegas.

“What we look for when we get behind a brand, which isn’t often,” says Belmonti, “is a product that speaks quality and is great tasting. It has to be something that we would want to serve to every customer who walks in. But it also has to be something that our customers would want, and that fits their particular demographic. And HARLEM certainly does."

“Sometimes you get guys and gals who are conscious of how much alcohol they’re going to ingest or how many calories they’re going to put into their bodies, so they’ll do shots—and HARLEM is a quality product in the shot category and tastes great. We’ve compared it to everything on the market, whether it’s Jägermeister or a tequila shot, or a shot of whiskey or rum. It mixes very well with other ingredients and it’s been received extremely well by our customers."

Carrying their enthusiasm even further, the N9NE Group offers a round of HARLEM shots to nightclub tables ordering bottle service. In addition, the waitstaff and VIP hosts and hostesses are scripted on HARLEM so they can better promote it.

“The great thing about HARLEM,” says Belmonti, “is that it’s not something that’s taking away from the sale; it’s an incremental purchase. It might take away from another product in the shot category, but I think it’s something that definitely adds to the mix. And that’s the key when it comes to liquor and running a business.”  —Richard Carleton Hacker

HARLEM Nights at American Trash, NYC
Bartender Eric Noone at NYC’s American Trash opts to give HARLEM a shot. “Anything that sells on its own this well is good for business,” says bar owner Mark Ostrowsky. PHOTO: DOUG YOUNG
  At American Trash, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, owner Mark Ostrowsky and his bartenders have created what they call the HARLEM Blue Bomb—a shot glass of HARLEM submerged in a glass of Blue Moon beer, a new spin on the classic Boilermaker that has quickly found a huge group of fans among the funky bar’s regulars.

“People often compare it to another similar shot favorite, but I like HARLEM better,” says Ostrowsky, who characterizes his bar as a “professional drinking establishment."

“The hints of cinnamon and orange flavors in HARLEM are very different, and I like the way it mixes as opposed to licorice-flavored liqueurs. 

We’re selling a lot of HARLEM, and I’m sure that HARLEM will become a staple on every bar when the bartenders taste it like I did.  It can be a tough road to the top when you’re a new brand, and it’s a tricky market.  Given the economy, anything that sells on its own this well is good for business."

Apart from the HARLEM Blue Bomb, American Trash, which is going on its 22nd year at the same location, also serves the imported Dutch libation mixed with club soda and orange juice, a refreshing cocktail meant to be sipped rather than downed. But it’s the former HARLEM libation the bar created that has proven to be, well . . . the bomb.  —Ralph DiGennaro

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