When American businessman Sidney Frank and French cellar master François Thibault started Grey Goose in 1997, they created a vodka that was 100 percent French, using wheat from Picardy and water from Cognac—something that helped distinguish it from its Russian and Eastern European rivals.
About five years ago, Thibault noticed that the French had started drinking cocktails with meals, as Americans and Brits had been doing for years. He decided (without Frank, who died in 2006) to make a vodka for dining and enlisted French-Monacan innovator Alain Ducasse—the creator of 23 restaurants with 18 total Michelin stars. At the time, Ducasse was experimenting with roasting coffee and cocoa beans. “That’s how we got the idea to start toasting things,” Ducasse says when I meet him in Paris.
Coming in October is Grey Goose Interpreted by Ducasse, which uses a blend of three toasted wheats (light, medium, and intense). The flavors are extracted in Grasse—the French city known for its perfume industry—and blended at the Grey Goose facility, in Cognac.
The result, what Ducasse and Thibault call vodka gastronomique, has the roundness of wine, with notes of fresh bread, coffee, and chocolate. Mixed with red algae in a martini, it complements salty golden caviar at Ducasse’s restaurant at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris. With coffee, vanilla syrup, and Angostura bitters, it pairs with a soufflé at his eatery Champeaux.
The collaboration is successful because both men live by le souci du détail, a French way of saying that they obsess over the details of the details. To drink and dine with them is to watch how they obsess.
At Ducasse’s Le Meurice they ask the bartender of 39 years, William Oliveri, to make so many iterations of a martini—adjusting the proportions of vodka and saffron-infused dry vermouth—that I lose count. “We work with passion,” Ducasse says, “and share it.” greygoose.com