The Untold Grey Goose Story Revealed

Ah, Grey Goose vodka. We all know and love it. But as we order that dry martini (extra olives) at a hotel lobby bar, or pour bottles of Goose during an ambitious night on the town, few of us likely question just what exactly makes it the “World’s Best Tasting Vodka.” We went to New York City last week to find out. On October 7th, Grey Goose launched their global Fly Beyond campaign to explain the creation of the beloved Grey Goose brand, a staple among the in-the-know young professional (YP) set. The large-scale, integrated marketing campaign is no small undertaking, and features imagery, storytelling, video, outdoor and digital executions, and a hands-on experience to bring to life the never before told, field-to-bottle story behind the premium vodka. Kicking of in the US, the campaign will roll out to other countries over the next year. 

Fly Beyond marks Grey Goose’s most powerful integrated marketing effort to date, with a purpose to invite Grey Goose drinkers to discover the brand they thought they knew, and to understand just why Grey Goose “flies beyond” the competition. It is supported by 30, 60 and 90-second TV ads directed by award-winning filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Only God Forgives, Drive), and through experiential and online programs that allow customers a deeper engagement. Making its YouTube debut on October 17th was the Fly Beyond Immersive Film, a first-of-its-kind interactive experience made in partnership with YouTube. It takes viewers on the origin of Grey Goose in Cognac to the cutting edge of modern, handcrafted mixology. The film also includes personalized mixology sessions that enrich the story and allow viewers to explore a range of Grey Goose cocktails for themselves.

Through 3-D technology, dynamic digital billboards will be synchronized to create the illusion of flying geese through the epicenters of New York City and Las Vegas. On October 14th, one of the Times Square digital billboards turned into an interactive display where eligible US consumers were invited to submit their sky photos via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter for a chance to have their picture featured as the background visual on the Grey Goose Fly Beyond billboard. The billboard with the consumer image is then photographed in Times Square and returned to the consumer who submitted it, so he or she can further disseminate it. Also part of the campaign are store takeovers in NYC’s SoHo neighbourhood and financial and meatpacking districts.

Fly Beyond documents the often-challenging journey of Grey Goose creator François Thibault, trained as a Cognac Maitre de Chai (cellar master) in France, in the creation of Grey Goose vodka. Thibault, the son of a wine grower, immersed himself at an early age in the craft of fine wine and spirit-making. He later joined a leading Cognac house, where he received his formal instruction and began an apprenticeship of seven years under the tutelage of a Maitre de Chai until he earned the same title in 1992.

It was US entrepreneur Sidney Frank who identified a growing demand for premium quality spirits and the opportunity to create a super-premium vodka in the first place, however, and he asked Thibault to create a new vodka that would establish a benchmark in quality and taste. Thibault devised a recipe that would set the standard of luxury in the super premium category; something unlike anything else on the market. His fleet was met with backlash and amusement from the start from many who were critical of his attempt to create vodka from an unlikely source – soft winter wheat from the Picardie Region, or the “Bread Basket,” of France. The naysayers saw vodka as a negative alcohol made from the simple potato.

“In the beginning, I was considered a maverick, even an eccentric for trying to make vodka in the historic Cognac region of France, from wheat no less. There were many naysayers and skeptics, all who were waiting for me to fail, but I knew that I could prove them wrong and create a product that was unlike anything available,” said Thibault.I’ve worked hard to create a spirit of outstanding quality and character. It’s the world’s best because it is made like no other and feels exceptionally smooth in a dry martini or in other cocktails.”

Thibault selected only the finest soft winter wheat from the region, using the whole grain to create his spirit (unlike many other vodka brands out there), and distilled it only once using a continuous column distillation process designed to transfer the quality and character of the wheat into Grey Goose. He then blended it with pure spring water, naturally filtered through the limestone, from the village of Gensac-La-Pallue in the Charente Valley near Francois’ place of birth. It’s this quality of the wheat and the water that makes Grey Goose so refined and easy to sip. 

We all know that happened next; Thibault defied expectations not only in France but also throughout the spirits world and the people fell in love with Grey Goose. To this day, he oversees the crafting of Grey Goose vodka. Thibault’s exacting standards and artisanal touch, combined with more than 550 daily quality checks, are an uncompromising process from field to bottle to ensure Grey Goose lives up to reputation (and its price tag). 

In the wake of the launch, the Grey Goose Fly Beyond came to life last week as a four-day pop-up experience known as The Boulangerie in the West Village in New York City. Held from October 15-18, it offered an interactive experience where guests could meet François Thibault and get a behind-the-scenes look into the making of Grey Goose. The Boulangerie began with a fresh, comforting aroma of baked goods in a Cafe-like space on street level, made using Grey Goose wheat that was flown in specifically by the pound for the duration. It then offered a multi-sensory field-to-bottle experience and how the ingredients are sourced, milled, blended, produced and distilled – and a chance to taste the vodka. Downstairs, a vintage speakeasy served cocktails to unique tastes with a classic martini bar accompanied by live vintage-inspired musical performances. 

Here are a few things we took away from the experience:

– The “Best Tasting Vodka” designation originates from 1998 when it was given the title from the Beverage Testing Institute.

– The name Grey Goose was chosen by US entrepreneur Sidney Frank, who first identified the opportunity to create a super-premium vodka. He was fond of the name and had used it before for a successful wine brand he had imported to the US.

– Every single drop of Grey Goose is made and bottled in France.

– To this day, Thibault personally tastes each and every batch.

– It’s all in the wheat: the exceptional quality of soft winter wheat used to make Grey Goose is defined by a specific set of quality criteria (things like seed selection, sustainability, etc.) and the wheat is repeatedly measured both at the farms and mill to ensure that it meets quality criteria in terms of protein, starch, etc.

– Soft winter wheat, rather than potatoes, rye, barley, or grapes, produces the softest, sweetest-tasting spirit, which creates a rounded and smooth character that could not be achieved by any other ingredient.

– The water used to make Grey Goose is demineralized and used within 30 minutes of filtration to maintain its freshness and prevent oxidization. The spring water from Gensac is a natural resource (one that he is familiar with through his years of experience in Cognac) and it has been slowly filtered through limestone; it’s naturally pure, pollution-free and mineral-rich.

– The perfect temperature to drink Grey Goose neat is 0-6 Celsius.

– The biggest markets for Grey Goose after the US are France, Canada, the UK and travel retail.

– Bacardi did not make any changes in the way Grey Goose was made following its acquisition.

Stay tuned Monday for our interview with Francois Thibault.