Joe McCanta, Grey Goose Global Ambassador hosted a Taste by Appointment experience at QT Sydney this month. Over a couple of well-crafted Martinis, we chat to Joe about his exciting background, innovations in vodka, cocktail trends and get his tips about the best bars in the world.
Joe McCanta at QT Sydney – Photo © by Kevin Burke
Corinne: Tell us a little about your background and how you became Global Ambassador for Grey Goose Vodka.
Joe McCanta: I actually started out as a jazz musician in my formative years. I was raised in southern California, but I moved to Boston to study music at the New England Conservatory with Fred Hersch (a five-time Grammy nominee). During this time, I worked in restaurants to support my music career, but as fate would have it, I started working with an award winning wine expert, Joshua Wesson. He taught me the art of taste and ignited my passion for identifying and combining complex flavours.
After years of working as a sommelier and mixologist in New York, I set up my own consultancy, which took me to Europe and exposed me to different spirits including Grey Goose.
I first started working with the brand after creating a Greenhouse bar concept – a working bar with living plants that could deliver fresh, organic, sustainable cocktail ingredients. Soon after, I was invited to work with Grey Goose full-time as their UK ambassador and later, as the global ambassador.
What makes Grey Goose different from other vodka brands?
Grey Goose is built from the ground up to express the true, natural flavours of the ingredients we use – the finest wheat from Picardy in France, and pure spring water from Cognac.
Because our ingredients are so pure, we only need to distil Grey Goose once, which is different from most other vodka bands who distil numerous times to remove impurities. Distilling once means we can retain the vodka’s natural flavours, instead of stripping them from the mix.
We also have a human touch element, which is unique for a global brand of our size. Our Maître de Chai (the creator of Grey Goose), François Thibault, still tastes every single batch of Grey Goose produced! Tough job.
Are there any innovations in vodka that have you have encountered in recent times?
The biggest innovation I’ve seen in the category is the introduction of our Grey Goose VX, which is Grey Goose vodka finished with drops of cognac drawn from the champagne region of France.
What is exciting to me about this innovation is that it is more than just the latest new flavour (we’ve all seen how over saturated the flavoured vodka market is, for example).
With your extensive travels, what are some of the best bars around the world?
For me, a great bar is one that is innovative and creative with their drinks, and renowned for their service and hospitality. A good bar creates a sense of escapism, where guests can relax and be taken under the wing of the bartender.
Some of my favourites include; the Artesian at the Langham Hotel in London; White Lyan (London); and classic bars like Schumann’s in Munich and Dead Rabbit in NYC.
I’ve also been impressed with Australia’s bar scene. I haven’t had a chance to explore Sydney yet, but Melbourne was a standout! Both1806 and Black Pearl were very impressive establishments. The cocktails were outstanding.
What cocktail trends have impressed you of late?
I’m seeing a big trend towards serving spirits / cocktails with a garnish or small tasting dish, which I think is really exciting. For example, at 1806 in Melbourne recently, I was served a Grey Goose La Poire cocktail (pear) with a Tasmanian blue cheese. The combination of flavours was perfection.
In your opinion, what makes the perfect martini?
Everything has to be really cold! The glass, the vodka, the vermouth and good quality ice. It’s important to use the best quality spirits too (of course!).
Where do you see the vodka category going in the next 3 to 5 years?
People are moving away from the notion of vodka being a tasteless, odourless spirit, which is completely untrue. In the next few years, I can see this shift continuing as more people develop an appreciation for vodka’s subtle flavour, and how this can be used to craft simple, elegant cocktails. This is great for Grey Goose, as we’ve always championed the expression of natural flavours in spirits and cocktails.
What does the future hold for Grey Goose Vodka?
A number of exciting endeavours – including a new one soon to be announced. You’ll have to watch this space!
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