Grey Goose – a Toast to Taste

Posted By Stephen

Up until a couple of months ago, on the occasion that the subject of premium (i.e. expensive) vodka arose while we were chatting in the pub, my answer was always that it was a complete waste of money since vodka was for people who wanted to get drunk without tasting anything and if you mixed it with tonic or in a cocktail then you couldn’t taste it anyway even if you tried.

Then a coincidence came my way. I love coincidences; they make the world seem more interesting. For my wine (and spirits) diploma that I am studying, I was sent the subject for a coursework assignment: “The Premiumisation of White Spirits”. So I had to start studying the stuff. As part of it, I had to choose a particular brand on which to do a case study. I chose Grey Goose, a super-premium (i.e. even more expensive than premium) vodka produced in France* which is a huge seller in the US and is starting to conquer the rest of the world too. A few weeks later, completely out of the blue, arrived an invitation to a Grey Goose “Toast to Taste” event which sounded somewhat mysterious. So I had to say yes. For research purposes you understand, not because I would condone any of that sort of silliness. After all, they offered to send a car to pick me up so it seemed rude to turn it down.

So having arrived at work at an unreasonably small hour that morning to allow me to disappear early and get to the event on time, I was a little bleary eyed when I arrived and wasn’t really in the mood. That soon changed though. The car dropped me off in a lovely Georgian square and I started hunting for the correct door number. When faced with a rather anonymous-looking door, I wasn’t sure that I was in the right place until I spotted a brass plaque embossed with the Grey Goose logo. Nice touch.

I knocked and it was answered by a man wearing grey. I stepped inside and into a large but gloomy hallway that seemed reminiscent of the entrance of a hotel in a murder mystery novel. Along the right hand wall was an enormous floor to ceiling key rack hung with what must have been hundreds of keys. Some small, some big, some rusty, but all looking like they had a story to tell. I was handed a key with a red ribbon, told to stand near other people with red ribbons and led through to a tea room.

The tea room was light, airy, tastefully decorated and full of beautiful, impeccably dressed people sipping drinks and chatting amongst themselves. I felt like I’d stumbled onto the set of a stylishly Anglo-French film. Several people wearing grey flitted amongst the everyone else offering drinks, snacks and generally making sure that everyone had a good time. When offered a drink, I chose coffee and it arrived soon after in a perfect cup on a perfect saucer. So far so surreal.

After a few minutes of looking around and drinking my coffee, a lady appeared and summoned me to follow her. Then I realised why I was supposed to have been standing with other red-ribbon people (which I hadn’t): we were being led off to discover the “secrets of the house” together as a group with other similarly-ribboned guests. Down stairs into the basement, where we met the Keymaster. Behind him were three doors and he chose certain of us to go into each door after studying the keys that we had been given. I ended up in a French cafe with a woman sitting at a table reading a magazine. Interactive of course… I ended up in the role of someone she had met years ago and how she remembered the bread we had eaten and the water we had drunk on that day as if it was only yesterday. Having done my homework, I realised this was all about evoking the essence of Grey Goose’s ingredients: French wheat and limestone-filtered water. Very clever. Very memorable too.

Then back upstairs to the tea room, where cocktails had appeared. The cocktail du jour was Grey Goose Le Fizz which had been created by one of the Grey Goose “Brand Ambassadors”. Made with Grey Goose vodka (of course), elderflower cordial, lime juice and soda then served elegantly (naturally) in a Champagne flute, it was refreshing and very drinkable. Bit more chit-chat, bit more looking at the French pictures on the wall and the bottles of Grey Goose arranged here and there like object d’art. I tried an extremely delicious macaron and a couple of carefully prepared and expertly cut small sandwiches.

Soon the lady appeared and gathered us red-ribboned people together again and this time we were led upstairs where she handed one of the group a letter and motioned to us to enter a door. Enter we did, and we were in a large room where a woman was reclining on a chaise longue, reading a book. Soft music started to play, along with recital of a poem / narrative of how she loved to wander into the wheat fields and dance.

So she did. When we turned around, the other half of the room was full of wheat. Half of my brain was thinking “ah, very clever, more wheat worked into the story” and the other half was thinking “Wow, a wheat field inside a house! Inside a house!!!”. She danced around in the wheat field for a while and then the girl who had the letter handed it to her and she read it out. Poem about wheat. Then we filed back down to the tea room which I had started to think of as the “nexus” in a strange time-travelling world.

Another Le Fizz and some chit-chat later (during which I observed that the Grey Goose logo was frosted onto the windows as well as being on the brass plaque outside) we were ushered in an elevator and up to the top floor. Here a “laboratory” had been set up and we were asked to smell things in jars, and write down thoughts and feelings while attached to a “monitor”. More about taste and smell and how it makes us feel. Which in retrospect is very interesting – part of what I wrote about in my assignment was the fostering of emotional attachments to brands.

Back down to the nexus and probably another Le Fizz I think and then listened to a talk by the Grey Goose maître de chai Francois Thibault. He’s the man who is in charge of Grey Goose production. Other vodkas, gins, etc, would have a master distiller but Grey Goose, being very French, has a maître de chai. All about taste and extracting the essence of the finest French wheat when making Grey Goose. And about Cognac. Grey Goose is bottled in Cognac and blended with limestone-filtered spring water from the area, so the Cognac association is heavily played. French. Luxury. Long history of premium spirits production. etc.

A somewhat surreal and all-round brilliant afternoon. I came away thinking that should I find myself buying vodka in the near future that it would definitely be Grey Goose. Then chastised myself for having been led astray from my previous standpoint.

A few days later not just a bottle of Grey Goose arrived by post but also little tasting bottles of their flavoured versions – Lemon, Orange and Pear. I mixed Kerri a Le Fizz which she really enjoyed (and ordered another of) and then played around with the others, making a delicious cocktail with the pear vodka. I gave myself the credit for inventing it but it turned out similar to one in the accompanying little recipe book and the ingredients weren’t dissimilar to the Le Fizz although the resulting taste was quite different: Grey Goose Le Poire vodka, elderflower cordial, small squeeze of lime, shake with plenty of ice then add a splash of soda. We didn’t have vermouth, so didn’t venture into martinis, but will certainly do so soon.

Grey Goose is available in Waitrose for £32 a bottle and in bars for probably considerably more. You may notice its blue-and-grey adverts around London as this event is part of its first big UK marketing campaign. I saw a lot of them on Westfield’s electronic advertising boards recently when walking through.

* Though some people think that vodka comes from Russia or Poland and is made from potatoes, it doesn’t actually have to come from anywhere in particular, nor be made from anything in particular. And although a lot of it does come from Eastern Europe, Absolut is of course Swedish and Finlandia… well… Finnish. Various others are made all over the world. It is often made from grain (wheat, barley or rye) and cheaper stuff from sugar beet.

Nov 10th, 2010

3 Comments to 'Grey Goose – a Toast to Taste'

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  1. Hmmm I always shared your view on vodka as well – are you a convert?

  2. What a curious night! How did you get started on the diploma? Can anyone do one of those? Which one are you doing? It sounds great! xxx

  3. Baby Bro (in law to be) said,

    That sounds like a fabulous way to spend an afternoon, I would be intrested to try a ‘Le Fizz’ I also assumd that the car took you home aswell??

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