Tasting Notes: Bright Spirits Making Spirits Bright
Not long ago, the “flavor” of a vodka seemed a bit beside the point. An ideal expression of the spirit was as neutral as possible, a blank canvas for mixers and infusions, or going down painlessly as an ice-cold shot. But thanks in part to an artisanal spirits revival that has educated palates the world over and left the public expecting more from their liquor than just a buzz, vodka has slowly muscled itself out from backstage and into the spotlight.
In many ways, one man is responsible for Vodka’s reemergence: French cellar master François Thibault, who almost single-handedly created the market for upscale craft vodka with the storied (and hugely successful) label Grey Goose. The brand reimagined what vodka could be, incorporating local Picardie wheat and water from Cognac, lending the expertise of a French cellar master and invoking the French culinary tradition to re-energize what was previously something of a bread-and-butter spirit.
That tradition continues with the most recent addition to the Grey Goose portfolio: a collaboration between Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse and François Thibault, fittingly entitled “Grey Goose Interpreted by Ducasse”. Inspired by Ducasse’s interest in roasting cocoa and coffee beans, the duo decided to experiment with the Picardie wheat used in Grey Goose Original, toasting it in three intensities: light, medium, and dark. They liked what they found—toasting the wheat added a rich complexity to the usually unassuming spirit, bringing out notes of toffee, almonds, vanilla, and coffee, creating a vodka that stands alone as an experience, plays well with others, and pairs well with food.
Invited to join a celebration of the American release of Grey Goose Interpreted by Ducasse, hosted at the comfortably classy (and wildly acclaimed) Here’s Looking at You restaurant in LA’s Koreatown, I had the opportunity to sit squarely in the center of a constellation of gustatory virtuosity. Take a spirit produced by two titans of French food and drink, put it in the hands of one of LA’s best mixologists (Christine Wiseman of Broken Shaker), and bounce the results off a customized menu by one of the city’s most innovative and promising chefs, and you’re in for a treat.
Take our main course as an example: “Heritage Pork Ribs” made with nam jim, key lime, pineapple, and fresh herbs, paired with Grey Goose Interpreted by Ducasse stirred with charred pineapple, Lustau Amontillado, Ambrato & Noilly Prat vermouths, and “key lime rested tiki bitters.” It’s a good demonstration of the versatility of the new Goose. I took a bite, took a sip; bite, sip—savoring the interplay of flavors. I wasn’t alone. And because the vodka stands so well on it's own (and, yes, perhaps because I'm a bit of a lush) I made sure to keep a martini in rotation.
Aglow from a night full of fabulous food and drink, my conception of what a vodka can be pleasantly shaken (or stirred?), my partner and I walked into the hustle and bustle of Koreatown. We meandered to the subway and stepped off at city hall to look over the Christmas decorations, a pleasantly wintry bite in the air. Maybe next time I sit by the fire, I’ll trade the whiskey for a vodka.
Written by Sid Feddema
Photography by Stephanie Liu of honeynsilk