CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 10: Grey Goose Cellar Master Francois Thibault (L) and Jessica Chastain at the ‘355’ cocktail party, with DIRECTV and The Hollywood Reporter on the Grey Goose Terrace on May 10, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter)
According to DISCUS, sales of super premium vodka account for over $1.1 billion in annual revenue. But 25 years ago, nobody was paying $30 for a bottle of clear, odorless spirit. The liquid was coveted for its value, not its quality. So, when Grey Goose launched in 1997, it was nothing short of revolutionary. Cellar master Francois Thibault was plucked from the world of cognac, by booze impresario Sidney Frank, and tasked with creating a vodka that was well-textured and expressive of its ingredients. The rest is history.
Today, bottles of super premium vodka crowd backbars and bottle shops. And Grey Goose continues to exert its dominance in the space. It not just one of the first examples to exist; it remains one of the best.
The most recent validation of this comes by way of Taster’s Club—an online subscription service, curating boxes for spirits enthusiasts. Earlier this year, the company ranked its vodkas out of hundreds of selections available on the site. Grey Goose came out on top.
Not much has altered since the brand was first introduced. Thibault still depends on the same blend of winter wheat sourced from Picardy, France, and spring water from Gensac-La-Pallue. This particular recipe undergoes a five-column distillation process, resulting in a refined and smooth liquor with subtle hints of orchard fruits and anise. The outcome is a clean drink that confidently holds its own as the heart of a vodka martini.
In relation to vodka martinis, Grey Goose has recently released a range of ready-to-drink options in the bottle. How does the company ensure quality and uniformity in this format? Why is this unique spirit exceptionally suited to this specific preparation? We had a conversation with Thibault to understand more.
Certainly, vodka can be distilled from virtually anything. How did you end up choosing French wheat for Grey Goose?
Francois Thibault: “When Sidney [Frank] approached me to develop a vodka, he requested that I research extensively on the category. My findings revealed that the initial ingredient utilized to make vodka in Eastern European countries was wheat, not potatoes. The subsequent idea I had was that we wouldn’t source these components from outside France, given that we have an extraordinary granary right within our nation. I discovered farmers in Picardy who have been cultivating this for generations. However, they weren’t producing it for vodka but for baking bread and pastries.”
Is it possible that the ingredient responsible for world class pastries—like croissants and baguettes—could improve vodka?
What made you decide to delve into the RTD sector?
FT: “Our observation of the market in the United States revealed that people like to indulge in complex, intricately made drinks while out, but prefer something of high quality yet simple when at home. The goal, then, was to create a martini that was easy to consume, yet still offered freedom to consumers to personalize it by shaking, stirring, or adding their preferred garnish. The bottle contains 35% ABV, so dilution is needed. I suggest stirring it with ice. You can also place it in the freezer and then pour it directly into the glass.”
How did you land on the exact proportions for the drink?
FT: “We conducted extensive consumer market studies because there are as many variations of martinis as there are individuals. Perhaps for you, it’s dry. For us French, it’s not particularly dry. Approximately 20% of the bottle is vermouth.”
With regards to vermouth, it’s a product that can deteriorate over time on the shelf. How do you make sure of shelf stability?
FT: “Vermouth on its own, does change over time. It changes color, for example. This doesn’t necessarily alter its quality. It’s just part of the Vermouth’s lifecycle. However, when combined with vodka in the bottle, the Grey Goose vodka ensures its preservation.”
And what makes Grey Goose in particular, so well suited to the martini format?
FT: “It’s like when you’re cooking in the kitchen. You need a symbiosis between the ingredients. And that’s one of the great abilities of Grey Goose is to make the vermouth and the garnish shine. There’s an alchemy of flavors. When you have good ingredients together, 1+1 can equal three.”
Mumbai, INDIA: Grey Goose Maitre De Chai (Cellar Master) Francois Thibault raises his glass at the launch of Grey Goose Vodka in Mumbai, 19 January 2006. Thibault demonstrated the art of tasting Grey Goose vodka and mixing cocktails. The vodka is made from 100 percent fine French wheat from the Beauce of France, with a five-step distillation process, and has the largest market in the United States.