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Matt Light brings KEEL vodka to Boston

Matt Light has teamed up with the founders of KEEL Vodka to spread the 58-calorie per shot liquor throughout New England.

Meghan Sepe/Goodwin

Matt Light has teamed up with the founders of KEEL Vodka to spread the 58-calorie per shot liquor throughout New England.

Will real men drink light vodka?

Matt Light thinks so and who’s going to argue with the 300-pound retired New England Patriots lineman? Light has teamed up with the founders of KEEL Vodka to spread the 58-calorie per shot liquor throughout New England.

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The market for low-calorie alcoholic drinks — especially vodka — has quickly become a crowded place. As a pitchman for light vodka, Light will have to compete against the likes of Bethenny Frankel, known for her appearances on “The Real Housewives of New York City.”

But most low-cal alcoholic products are marketed exclusively to women drinkers. The brand Frankel created, Skinnygirl, speaks for itself. Smirnoff has introduced several light, flavored vodkas, promoting them explicitly as a new drink for women.

Of all the products the three-time NFL Pro Bowler could attach himself to, a diet liquor seems, well, unusual.

But Light said he was looking to focus his attention on a single project when KEEL founders Bill Dessel and Tom McGowan approached him. He believes there is an opening for a new product on the diet-liquor shelf that appeals to active and health-conscious men as well as women.

“Now people want to have options,” he said. “They want to look at healthier ways of going out and enjoying themselves. They want to stay balanced. That’s what we represent.”

KEEL is made at a boutique distillery in Brigby, Idaho, and is said to use Rocky Mountain snowmelt water that creates a smooth, clean taste. The company achieved a 58-calorie 1.5-ounce shot by reducing the alcohol content. The vodka is 24 percent alcohol, or 48 proof.

In comparison, most beers contain between 4 and 6 percent alcohol (often higher for micro brews), wine measures between 12 and 14 percent, and liquors are often around 40 percent. Skinnygirl Naked Vodka contains 30 percent alcohol by volume and has 75 calories per 1.5-ounce serving.

Critics say consumers could achieve the same low-calorie effect by simply consuming less alcohol with a higher proof. But the KEEL team describes its vodka as a drink you can have in your hand all day at a wedding and not worry about being “that guy.”

Light drinks are growing in popularity if restaurant menus are any guide. The use of the word “skinny” on drink menus increased 44 percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2012, according to restaurant industry research firm Technomic of Chicago.

Donna Hood Crecca, senior director of Technomic’s adult beverage resource group, said millennial women have been the primary targets of marketing campaigns around low-calorie alcoholic drinks, but that doesn’t mean KEEL won’t have success attracting men.

“You definitively can do it,” she said. “It just happens that women are the core demographic that people are going after. But if you look at Michelob Ultra, it’s appealing to both active men and active women.”

KEEL is stocked in more than 100 restaurants and liquor stores in its home state of Rhode Island and now the company has set its sights on the Bay State.

The vodka is available in roughly 40 Massachusetts establishments, which include Davio’s and CBS Scene at Patriot Place and the Patriots Club at Gillette Stadium.

Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com.
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