CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 10: Grey Goose Cellar Master Francois Thibault 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’s not just one of the first examples to exist; it remains one of the best.
The most recent validation of this come’s 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.
Remarkably, not much has altered for the brand since its initial introduction to the market. Thibault continues to use the same formula of winter wheat, procured from Picardy, France, and Gensac-La-Pallue’s spring water. This meticulous recipe goes through a five-column distillation process, yielding a mild and rounded liquid with subtle hints of orchard fruit and anise. It’s crisp and unequivocally able to hold its own as the main ingredient in a vodka martini.
Speaking of vodka martinis, Grey Goose recently introduced a range of ready-to-drink options in the bottle. But how can the brand maintain its quality and consistency in this new format? And why is this particular spirit ideal for this specific preparation? We conducted an interview with Thibault to get the answers.
Vodka can be distilled from virtually anything, so why did you choose French wheat for Grey Goose?
Francois Thibault: “When Sidney Frank approached me to conceive a vodka, he requested that I thoroughly research the category. I found out that the primary ingredient used to make vodka in Eastern European countries was wheat, not potatoes. My subsequent thought was that we couldn’t possibly source these ingredients from elsewhere when we had this magnificent bread supply directly in our own country. I met farmers in Picardy who had been in the business for generations. However, they weren’t growing it for vodka production; they were cultivating it for bread and pastries.”
So, the same component that’s key for world-class pastries—like croissants and baguettes—can enhance vodka as well?
So, why step into the RTD field?
FT: “When we observed the U.S. market, we noticed that customers crave a sophisticated drink while out, but prefer something simple, yet high-quality at home. So, we aimed to design a simple martini consumption method, while still allowing users flexibility to add their own spin—whether that’s shaking it, stirring, or adding their favorite garnishes. Once it’s out of the bottle, it has a 35% ABV and will need some dilution. Personally, I’d recommend stirring it with ice. But an alternate method could be storing it in the freezer, then pouring it directly into the glass.”
What was the method behind achieving the perfect measurements for the cocktail?
F.T: “We conducted thorough market research to gather consumers’ feedback, as everyone has a different definition of the perfect martini. For some, a drier martini works, however, from a French perspective, it’s not usually very dry. We have found that approximately 20% of the bottle being vermouth works best.”
Considering vermouth can deteriorate over time, how do you maintain its longevity on the shelf?
F.T: “Vermouth by its nature does alter over time. The colour in particular may change, but this does not necessarily impact its quality. It’s part and parcel of Vermouth’s lifespan. However, when mixed with vodka, in this case, Grey Goose, it is well-preserved.”
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 a largest market in the United States. AFP PHOTO/Sebastian D’SOUZA (Photo credit should read SEBASTIAN D’SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images)