By Lisa Marie Hart
Each summer, thousands of refreshing cocktails are handcrafted at bars and restaurants along Orange County’s coast. Each strives to become the perfect complement to a relaxing lunch by the bay, warm afternoon by the pool, sunset dinner overlooking the surf or an evening of live music that kicks off just as the stars begin to shine. And those who order a drink made with Ketel One Vodka or Nolet’s Finest Gins have Carl Nolet Jr. to thank for the experience.
Nolet serves as executive vice president of Nolet Spirits USA, based in Aliso Viejo, in Orange County. He is the eldest son of Carolus Nolet Sr., owner and chairman of Nolet Distillery, which is the oldest in Holland and established in 1691 by Jan Lucasse (Joannes) Nolet. Over the past three centuries, the Nolets have helped to make memories on a global scale, all the while making headlines for the company’s award-winning creations, including Ketel One Vodka, which debuted to the American market in 1983.
The elder Nolet, Carolus, remains in the Netherlands to oversee the distillery while his other son, Bob, manages international marketing for the Nolet Group, also in the Netherlands. In 1991, after extensive training at the Holland distillery, the Nolet family firmly planted a new set of roots in the United States with the founding of Nolet Spirits USA. As the newest faces behind this iconic brand, Carl Nolet and Bob Nolet represent the 11th generation of Nolets to join their family business. While living in New York, Carl Nolet built a remarkably strong U.S. presence for Ketel One Vodka, which Nolet Spirits USA imported from its founding until 2008. In 1994, a few years after the inception of Nolet Spirits USA, however, he relocated to Orange County to spearhead the company’s product development and market introductions.
Nolet selected a beautiful place to settle down just a shell’s throw from The St. Regis Monarch Beach, quickly making himself at home. Before long, Nolet became fast friends with the like-minded resort staff, with whom he shared visions of “unprecedented excellence,” time-tested quality and unforgettable experiences.
Today, his family’s spirits are the essential ingredients in many signature cocktails at The St. Regis Monarch Beach, where guests from around the world request the brand’s vodkas and gins by name. Here, Nolet details his favorite ways to spend his summers at the shore with family and friends, and why they appreciate the fortunate proximity of the St. Regis and the Monarch Bay Club to their California residence.
“We have some of the best weather in the world here in Orange County, so I try to spend my summers locally as much as my work schedule allows,” Nolet shares. “When I am home, I spend my time between the Monarch Bay Club and The St. Regis Monarch Beach pool and cabanas, trying to balance work and pleasure.”
Sometimes those two pursuits come together as they did when his company launched Nolet’s Finest Gins—which includes NOLET’S Silver Dry Gin and NOLET’S Reserve Dry Gin—four years ago. Though Nolet Spirits USA originally established its identity in Holland, when it came time to announce the introduction, Nolet didn’t pack his luggage or board a jet. Rather, he let the world know about his family’s fresh new traditions from the idyllic locale of The St. Regis Monarch Beach, a destination the family all deemed worthy of the honor.
Saurav Biswas, director of food and beverage at The St. Regis Monarch Beach, reflects on this grand occasion. “Nolet is a very high-end gin, and they hosted their three-day launch event here at our property,” recalls Biswas, who helped coordinate the celebration. “They are a local company located right in Aliso Viejo [since 1991], and we have a strong partnership with them that we have built over the years. … They have been a tremendous support to us and it goes both ways.”
Ketel One Vodka and Nolet’s Finest Gins are available in a variety of handcrafted cocktails at The St. Regis Monarch Beach, and the resort offers a number of mixology events with both brands. In fact, Nolet often enjoys a drink made with his family’s spirits at the St. Regis. “Selfishly thinking, I would say that it wouldn’t be a true summer day without a refreshing Ketel One Vodka or NOLET’S Silver Dry Gin cocktail,” he says.
“The balcony of Stonehill Tavern by Michael Mina or the balcony of the Lobby Lounge at the St. Regis will offer you some of the best views and sunsets in Orange County, with quality cocktails to match,” he adds. “The exquisite cuisine at Stonehill Tavern will offer you one of the finest meals you will ever have. Personally, I recommend the Whole-Fried Jidori Chicken for Two.”
With its unparalleled amenities, the St. Regis is prepared for Nolet to drop by any time. “He loves Stonehill Tavern, so we always have a table ready for him with his favorite wine and Ketel One Vodka,” Biswas says. “These are some of the special touches we enjoy doing for our guests.”
Nolet finds myriad ways to spend plenty of his waking hours at the resort, which undeniably has become a second home to him. Although he lives nearby, he and his family often stay at the resort in its Presidential Suite. “For guests staying at The St. Regis Monarch Beach, I would simply let the hotel do the talking,” he suggests. “Enjoy the beautiful Spa Gaucin, go for a run on the beach or have the concierge plan your day with you.” After all, a custom itinerary ensures no two days are ever the same.
Nolet, a member of the exclusive Monarch Bay Club, takes full advantage of the amenities at Orange County’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond resort.
“His family loves our beach, which is like their own backyard,” Biswas says. Nolet confirms that a summer weekend for his family would not be complete without a visit to this seaside escape. “On a typical Sunday at the Nolet house, we’ll wake up to go to the beach first, and I’ll watch as the kids build sand castles and swim,” he says. “Once we’ve created an appetite for brunch, sometime around 11 a.m., we’ll head over to the St. Regis for our kids’ favorite brunch.”
The Sunday Champagne brunch at Motif restaurant is second to none in Southern California, as popular with discriminating locals as it is with guests. From seafood and made-to-order pancakes and omelets to a signature bloody mary bar and views out to the Pacific Ocean and Monarch Beach Golf Links, these singular amenities further an already glorious start to a Sunday morning. Little ones, however, seem most contented by a special buffet designed just for emerging young palates.
“After brunch, it’s back to the water at the beautiful beach club, where we’ll continue to enjoy the great weather into the late afternoon,” Nolet says.
In addition to languid afternoons on the warm sand, Nolet’s children, like many their age, treasure a day trip to Disneyland, Legoland or Sea World. “For recreation, we are blessed with so many activities right in our backyard. We can play golf at the Monarch Beach Links, set up a whale-watching tour or simply swim and paddleboard in the ocean,” he says. “I recommend guests of the St. Regis ask the concierge if you think you’ve run out of options. That’s what we do, and a whole new world always opens up for us.”
If—on rare occasion—the clouds should roll in, Nolet might seize the chance to take the family shopping at world-famous South Coast Plaza. “It is the best shopping in Orange County,” he emphasizes. “And if we choose to eat there, we have many great choices. Antonello Ristorante serves some of finest Italian food one will ever enjoy and, at AnQi Gourmet Bistro [& Noodle Bar], there isn’t a single item on the menu I wouldn’t recommend. At Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s, you can walk up to Stan, one of the excellent managers, and let him show you what great dining is all about.”
A man who comes from a long line of passionate distillers instinctively knows how to pair an artfully poured cocktail with a fabulous meal. For Nolet, the type of meal that might be depends on the day, the company and the occasion.
Following his ideal lazy Sunday at the beach with family, laid-back fare is on the menu. “Around 5 p.m., we’ll fire up the fire pit on the beach and have a barbecue with all our friends. This can be 60-plus folks and lots of kids,” he says. “The adults among us will enjoy a few Ketel One Vodka or NOLET’S Silver Dry Gin cocktails made by the great St. Regis bar staff. Then around 9:30 p.m., we’ll rally the kids and all walk home. That’s a fantastic day.”
As a tranquil contrast, Nolet savors quiet evenings at home and the opportunity to step up as bartender. “We are fortunate to have our own world-class, in-house mixologist, Jaren Singh, working for our company—it’s one of the great perks of being the 11th generation of the family that owns Ketel One and NOLET’S Silver Dry Gin. With his great recipes in my back pocket, we enjoy different cocktails several nights a week at home.”
Nolet also relishes spending time at local establishments, meeting with bartenders and experiencing their passion for the trade firsthand as he mixes business with pleasure. In this way, Orange County’s finest restaurants offer him a professional purpose, while also serving as a culinary playground.
“You can go and be ‘wowed’ by chef Azmin [Ghahreman] at Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach. We rarely look at the fantastic menu as he will prepare a surprise dinner for us using that day’s freshest ingredients and his own inspiration,” Nolet reveals. “A new spot that has quickly become a favorite local hangout is Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern. The innovative cocktail menu complements the delicious comfort foods at this Dana Point restaurant. Good luck staying away from the Parmesan, garlic and thyme french fries.”
For Nolet, an ideal summer’s night should be capped in song. “We love music and will go see local bands like the Flock of ’80s,” he says. This retro cover band strikes a nostalgic chord redefining hits by Prince, U2 and David Bowie.
While enjoying the music, of course, a cocktail is in order. With so many options available to a premium alcohol company executive, Nolet’s favorite martini is a Vesper—the famous drink that James Bond orders in the “Casino Royale” book and movie. Nolet’s version, quite naturally, employs Ketel One Vodka and NOLET’S Silver Dry Gin, stirred and served up in a martini glass—a modern American take on a British classic from one of Europe’s legendary spirits families.
Whether it’s lounging at the St. Regis, playing with his kids or indulging at his favorite restaurant, it’s clear that Nolet understands how to keep spirits high and create memorable experiences in his hometown.