When spirits entrepreneur Sidney Frank approached Francois Thibault about making the “World’s Best Tasting Vodka” the renowned cellar master decided against using grapes in its production. Partly to not steal business from his friends in the cognac business, but also for the challenge of straying away from the ingredient he knows so well. The result: a wheat-based vodka, and the number one selling ultra-premium vodka brand in the United States. Not bad, Mr. Thibault.
On the morning of day two, we toured the Grey Goose mill and distillery. (Sadly, no photos were allowed.) There we learned of the five-step distilling process, and we were able to taste the product at various stages of fermentation. Large robotic machines shimmy and shake the wheat to help it achieve the desired texture: a fine grain flour that’s slightly thicker than baking flour. At first, the liquid is barely a liquid at all; it’s dense, grainy, light brown in color and tasted a little like bread. Further down the line, the liquid thins out and tastes bitter and slightly sour. The whole process takes about 40 hours to complete before the fermented “wine” is transported to Cognac for mixing and bottling.
The remainder of day two consisted of a six hour train ride to Cognac, the nest of Grey Goose. While on the train, lunch was served, wine was consumed and a tray of macaroons was passed around freely. Also, naps were had. Lots of naps.
In Cognac, our home for the next two nights would be Le Logis, a 16th century manor house located in the Grand Champagne region. With only 11 rooms, we had full run of the place. Our scenery had changed too; the miles of wheat fields were replaced by miles of vineyards and sunflowers.
Our first drink in Cognac was a vodka tonic made with Grey Goose Citron. Simple but refreshing. And before dinner, we had one more cocktail, which happened to be my favorite of the day. It was a riff on the classic gin cocktail, the Negroni, that featured Picon, an apertif popular in the north of France made from fresh oranges, sugar, syrup and caramel. Picon is unfortunately not available in the U.S., rendering the following recipe almost useless unless you pick up a bottle during your next trip to France. Which is something I’d recommend.
1 part Goose Goose L’Orange Vodka
1 part Sweet Vermouth
1 part Picon
Stir ingredients with ice until cold. Serve over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with an orange slice.
After a four-course meal prepared by head chef Nicolas Berthomet, my fellow travelers and I retreated to the courtyard for a nightcap(s) under the stars, consisting mostly of Grey Goose and Cognac. I like France.
Also see: Grey Goose Le Voyage – Day One