When it comes to making cocktails, there’s no spirit more versatile than vodka. From the simple screwdriver to the sophisticated dirty martini, a seasoned mixologist can create almost any flavor profile with a liquor that many people describe as flavorless.
The thing is, vodka does have flavor. If you’ve ever done a shot of the stuff, you can definitely recognize it, and according to Jon Kreidler, co-founder of Tattersall Distilling in Minnesota, just because a distiller strives for a neutral spirit does not make it devoid of distinct tasting notes. “There’s a big difference between vodkas, if you taste them,” he explained to Wine Enthusiast. “To claim that vodka is flavorless and tasteless is just silly.”
Vodka can basically be distilled from anything that’s fermentable, including potatoes, wheat, and even fruit. With that much variety in base ingredients, different textures and subtle hints of flavor are bound to sneak through. Lance Winters, master distiller of St. George Spirits in California stressed in the same article that without distinction between each vodka, “There would be no reason for a consumer to choose one over another, except for price.” And there’s the catch — price. If you’re looking for a specific flavor in your vodka or perhaps absence of flavor, price doesn’t necessarily dictate what you’re going to get — and the perfect example of that is Grey Goose.
Born as a marketing campaign, Grey Goose sells social status, not vodka, and plenty of people are willing to pay top dollar for a pretty bottle without ever comparing how it tastes against its competitors.
Grey Goose was created as a luxury brand before there was even a vodka to sell
Sidney Frank, the man behind Grey Goose, has the stereotypical American dream backstory. He comes from nothing, not having been able to afford even more than a year of college at Brown, but he was ambitious. According to NPR, his goal in life was to be rich, and it just so happens he married into a wealthy family and got sort of thrust into the liquor-making business.
It was the ’90s and Absolut vodka was selling like crazy. Matthew Latkiewicz, author of “You Suck At Drinking” explained to NPR, “[Frank] essentially out of thin air goes, I want to make a vodka. So Absolut’s charging 15. I’ll charge 30. He didn’t even have a product at this point.” To make a long story short, he marketed the brand as luxury because it came from France, put it in fancy bottles and it sold like crazy. In ten years, he sold Grey Goose to Bacardi for $2 billion, and the dream became a reality.
There was only one problem – people were starting to realize that the price of Grey Goose didn’t actually reflect the product’s quality. NPR analyzed Grey Goose in a lab compared to two much cheaper brands, and found that the “differences in all three samples weren’t anything most people were going to taste.”
That basically means you’re paying for a pretty bottle to display on your home bar and impress your guests, or you’re paying for the status of ordering a cosmopolitan that costs triple what it should.
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