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 come’s by way of Taster’s Club—an online subscription service, curating boxers 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.
Most impressive for the brand is that little has changed since it first hit the market. Thibault still relies on the same recipe of winter wheat, sourced from Picardy, France, and spring water from Gensac-La-Pallue. This exacting recipe is run through a five-column distillation process and results in a soft and round liquid, which carries subtle clues of orchard fruit and anise. It’s clean and indelibly capable of standing firmly at the center of a vodka martini.
And speaking of vodka martinis, Grey Goose recently launched a line of ready-to-drink offerings in the bottle. How can the brand deliver quality and consistency in this format? And just why, exactly, is this specific spirit so well-suited to this particular preparation? We sat down with Thibault to find out.
Vodka can be distilled from absolutely anything. How did you land on French wheat for Grey Goose?
Francois Thibault: “When Sidney [Frank] came to me and asked me to create a vodka, he asked me to do extensive research on the category. And what I learned is that the first ingredient used to make vodka in Eastern European counties was wheat. It wasn’t potatoes. The next thought I had was that there’s no way we’re going to fetch those ingredients from outside of France, because we have this incredible bread basket right here in our own country. I found farmers in Picardy that had been doing it for generations. But they weren’t growing it for vodka. They were growing it for bread and pastries.”
Is it possible that the same ingredient that makes world-class pastries like croissants and baguettes can also produce superior vodka?
FT: “Yes, it’s true.”
What drew you to the Ready-To-Drink (RTD) market?
FT: “While conducting market research in the United States, we observed that consumers prefer complex, artisanal drinks when they are out. However, at home, they lean towards high-quality but uncomplicated beverages. This inspired us to design a straightforward way to enjoy a martini. Our product provides the flexibility to the consumer to customize it to their liking, by shaking, stirring, or adding any garnish. Right out of the bottle, the alcohol content is 35%, so it does require some dilution. I advise stirring over ice. Alternatively, you can place the bottle in the freezer and serve it directly from there.”
What was the process behind determining the exact drink proportions?
FT: “To find out what consumers would prefer, we conducted rigorous market research. Everyone has their own unique martini preference. Some may like theirs dry, whereas in France, a dry martini isn’t as popular. Around 20% of the bottle tends to be vermouth.”
Considering vermouth can degrade over time if left on the shelf, how do you ensure it stays fresh?
FT: “While it’s true that vermouth can change over time, such as its color, it doesn’t necessarily affect its quality. This alteration can be considered as part of the vermouth’s lifecycle. However, when it’s mixed with vodka in the bottle, the Grey Goose helps in 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 a largest market in the United States.