The world was a different place before Grey Goose. Cocktail culture was in its infancy, premium vodka was unheard of and the idea of a celebrity mixologist was hardly conceivable. What a difference two decades can make.
Just shy of its 20th birthday, Grey Goose has had more influence in the way we enjoy spirits than any other brand in the world, and its legacy is nowhere near complete. Having transformed the way we think about vodka (not to mention the way we drink it) the vaunted French brand has taken on a new endeavour: to create a world in which excellent, innovative cocktails are as easy to find as that signature frosted bottle. Each year Grey Goose holds the Pour Masters program, a national cross section of the country’s most talented bartenders with a passion for building cocktail culture in Canada. Add to that a fierce competition where each year a new winner is crowned, new talent is fostered, new friendships are formed and the art of mixing the perfect vodka cocktail advances further.
“I think what makes Pour Masters an important project for Grey Goose is the value it carries,” says Julien Lafond, North American Brand Ambassador for Grey Goose. “François Thibault and Sidney Frank, when they created Grey Goose, wanted to challenge conventions and pursue the extraordinary very much the same way that top contemporary bartenders are working to better themselves on a day to day basis.”
When Thibault and Frank first conceived Grey Goose, they were dedicated to the idea of creating something new, original and without equal. These ideals live on in the Pour Masters event. As in many high-level competitions, mixologists from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal enter to compete in their home cities for a regional title before going on to the nationals. In addition to the discerning eye of veteran mixologist Julien Lafond, these hopefuls will be judged this year by the legendary Dale Degroff, AKA King Cocktail.
A titan of the industry, Degroff pioneered modern mixology at New York City’s acclaimed Rainbow Room in the 1980s and has since become active in promoting cocktail innovation and fostering new talent. If that weren’t enough to bring out the best in the Pour Masters’ contestants, the winners of the regional competitions will travel to Cognac, France on an all-expenses-paid trip to Le Logis, the storied home of Grey Goose, to compete in the finals. There, they will present their winning cocktails to Francois Thibault, Maitre De Chai and creator of Grey Goose, who will judge and crown the 2016 Pour Masters champion
Kevin Brownlee, Bar Manager at Vancouver’s AnnaLena, was crowned Grey Goose Pour Master in last year’s competition, a win that took dedication, skill and a bit of luck. “The Pour Masters program was full when I inquired about getting into it,” he recalls. “Then, through some stroke of good fortune, the very next day, I get a call to tell me someone was unable to participate, which opened the door for me to compete.” And compete he did, wowing judges David Kaplan and Alex Day, of influential New York cocktail bar Death + Co., at the Vancouver regionals. Brownlee’s next step took him to France with a select group of Pour Masters finalists for the ultimate showdown, where he went on to thrill Francois Thibault with his unique creation at Le Logis.
For Brownlee the competition was both a way to prove his skills behind the bar and learn new ones. “The competition itself challenges us to apply methods that we don’t necessarily use everyday in our bar programs,” he says. For aspiring international bartending celebrities like Brownlee, Pour Masters is also an opportunity to learn from the best in the business. “The fact that Grey Goose can attract the biggest names in the industry to educate, inspire and participate on the judging panel for this program just goes to show how incredibly influential they are,” he says, adding that making cocktails for Death + Co.’s David Kaplan and Alex Day was both an honour and an incredible learning experience.
As fierce as the competition is, however, it’s also designed to create lasting friendships across the country and around the world. “The best part of it all is the participation in this incredibly talented, considerate, well-educated and fun community of people,” says Julien Lafond. “The friendships that are developed through Pour Masters are forever.”
This year’s competition will feature a challenge as iconic and refined as Grey Goose itself: the vodka martini. Across the country Pour Masters will be tasked with creating the next iconic take on the classic vodka martini using only a handful of premium ingredients. It’s the kind of challenge designed to inspire creativity and bring out the best in a new generation of mixologists. Competition will be intense, but the competitors are up to the challenge. As Grey Goose has proven time and again, the bar can always be raised.