Matt Light has long been a smart businessman. While playing for the New England Patriots, he took full advantage of the NFLPA’s executive education program for young athletes --- which offered classes at Harvard’s Business School, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. There, he learned how to manage finances, invest wisely, and plan for life after football.

He took the advice seriously, and now owns and manages a good deal of property and investments, and has several side businesses, as well. Earlier this year, he hooked up with two old friends who had been hard at work trying to put out a “premium light spirit” – and in April, KEEL Vodka ( www.keelvodka.com) was born.

KEEL, the nation’s first premium light spirit, debuted in Massachusetts in August at the recent Mark Wahlberg movie premiere, 2 Guns. After a phenomenal spring start, initially in the test market of Rhode Island for three months, the nautically inspired premium vodka is now available in bars, restaurants, hotels and liquor stores throughout the Ocean State and Bay State. KEEL’s smooth taste, 0 carbs and 58 calories has been generating a lot of buzz – and Light, as a part-owner and celebrity pitch-man -- is enjoying every minute of starting up a company and launching a brand. “I really like the entrepreneurial part – getting out there and talking to people, convincing them to try a new product when they’re perfectly happy with what’s currently in their liquor cabinet. It can be challenging, and a lot of hard work, but it’s been a lot of fun.”

Light met the two founders, sailing enthusiasts and established bar-men Bill Dessel and Tom McGowan, a few years back, and knew his friends had spent more than two years developing the nautically inspired, smooth-tasting vodka. Since he joined on as a partner earlier this year, the trio has been canvassing the area building brand loyalty – one tasting or event at a time – and they’re off to an auspicious start. The results so far have exceeded their expectations. They’ve swiftly locked into bar service at some of the region’s most well-known restaurants, watering holes, stocked the shelves at popular liquor stores, and are pouring in the suites at Gillette Stadium and at Twin River Casino in Rhode Island. KEEL’s partners employ a “liquid to lips” strategy and intend to maintain their same grassroots men-on-the-street approach as the brand continues to grow. As Matt says, "We won't rest until there's a bottle of KEEL behind every bar in Boston, Newport, the Cape, the Islands and beyond!" Their long-term game plan is to launch the KEEL brand in several other New England states, and then grow it nationally.