We all know that vodka is a neutral spirit that takes on the wildly different character of whatever it mixes with. Bloody Marys provide comfort to the hungover, while vodka tonics provide social courage to recent graduates of Hampshire College (see Chloe Sevigny in The Last Days of Disco). Yes, we know vodka and sometimes we know it too well. But what if what we know is wrong?
To begin with, vodka produced in the EU isn’t neutral at all—it has a smell and a faint taste, (as opposed to American vodka, which is odorless and tasteless). A lot of vodka isn’t made from potatoes (beets, molasses, rye and grain will also get you where you want to be: 40% alcohol content). If there are endless ways to approach vodka, everybody can agree that Trump Vodka was a bomb (the Donald predicted a Trump and tonic would become an icon).
All of which brings us to Grey Goose, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, and is now a staple of top shelves of the world’s best bars. It’s now so familiar that it’s easy to forget that Grey Goose began as a counterintuitive idea: making incredibly good vodka in France. France produced spirits named for the legendary places they were made, like Cognac and Armagnac—but vodka? That was for the poor souls in Siberia, not the salons of the sixth arrondissement.
So Grey Goose employed Francois Thibault, who had achieved the rarefied status of a cellar master in Cognac (the man responsible for establishing and maintaining a house’s signature style). He chose the renowned Picardy wheat from northern France, the same that goes into the country’s best bread. After fermentation, it’s distilled into a high alcohol spirit and is combined with spring water from a 500-foot well that’s filtered through limestone. The distilling only happens once, so it maintains its distinctive taste and smell of wheat.
Now Grey Goose is telling its story at Le Logis, 17th century manor house that they’ve spent two years restoring. Set on a hill in Julliac le Coq, a small town in Cognac, an hour from Bordeaux. This represents the spiritual home of the vodka—it’s about 15 minutes away from their bottling facility—and it can host about a dozen guests. Supercompressor visited while it was being worked on this past summer, and now it’s fully realized.
It’s quite a setting, you can enjoy breakfast by the fire in the kitchen, a cocktail in the extremely civilized lounge, and dinner in the formal dining room.
Naturally they’ve converted an out building into a remarkable bar, complete with historical bottles of liqueur, which aren’t just museum pieces—they get opened and mixed into remarkable cocktails. They’ve also started the long process of making their own cognac, using grapes from nearby vineyards that are being barreled under Mr. Thibault’s watchful eye and stored in the caves on the property. Look for the cognac in about a decade.
With all the counterintuitive iconoclasm of Grey Goose, how does the maestro, Mr. Thibault, suggest it be served? It couldn’t be more classic: a medium dry martini, with a twist, the way God intended.
David Coggins is a writer and current Editorial Director of Freemans Sporting Club. His work has appeared in Esquire, the Wall Street Journal, and Condé Nast Traveler, among others. Follow him on Twitter.