Interview: Q&A with Joe McCanta

Joe McCanta, the Global Brand Ambassador for Grey Goose, recently hosted the first Taste By Appointment events held in Australia. Originally a trained jazz pianist, Joe has since delved into the world of drinks, becoming a sommelier and mixologist – an expert in the complexities and pleasurable sensations of taste. Despite having a busy schedule that takes him all across the globe, Joe was kind enough to answer some questions about his intriguing life.

How did you come to the position of Grey Goose ambassador and what do you love most about your role? What has been your most memorable event to date?

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 I love about my job is that it takes me all over the world. I have travelled to some of the most incredible places and met the most amazing people. Meeting bar tenders who have the same passion as me to learn new things and try the unknown really makes me love my job every day.

My most memorable event to date has to be our 2012 Grey Goose Winter Ball to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation. It was hosted at one of most experimental and renowned restaurants in the world el Bulli, where we collaborated with such outstanding chefs to make it one of the most memorable evenings of my life. Serving over 600 people cocktail pairings and edible cocktails alongside the world’s greatest restaurant and in the name of a good cause is a memory I will hold close forever.

What makes Grey Goose stand out?

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.

We only distil Grey Goose once, which is different from most other vodka bands who distil numerous times to remove impurities. When you start with the best once is enough.

We also have a human touch element, which is unique for a global brand. Our Maître de Chai (the creator of Grey Goose), François Thibault, still tastes every single batch of Grey Goose produced! Tough job.

What do you think makes a great bar? Can you name one or two examples that really stand out to you?

Three things:
1.  Passionate and knowledgeable staff
2.  A great atmosphere and
3.  A real focus towards hospitality.

A great bar needs to put their guests first at all times.

Two stand out bars for me are:
1.  Artesian at The Langham Hotel in London because of its attention to detail
2.  Paris Bar in Rio De Janeiro because of its incredible bar tenders, cocktail list and awesome location, its in a colonial mansion near the beach, just stunning

What are your tips for creating a great cocktail?

Start off by knowing the base spirit.

When I start making a new cocktail I will taste every ingredient individually. Every day the taste of your ingredients will change; lemons or limes are different each day.

Slowly build up your taste and don’t be afraid to tweak it as you go along and until you get the balance exactly right.

What would be your advice to someone seeking to develop their taste matching expertise?

Research! There are a lot of great books out there, which will help develop your taste.

Look up The Flavour Thesaurus written by Niki Segnit. It is a wonderful book. Or check out – this site will help you play with flavours and match ingredients.

Constantly pay attention when you are out and about and be aware and observant when you are on your travels and when you eat out.

Do you still spend any time as a jazz pianist? Is it something you would consider revisiting in the future?

Yes I play; whenever at home I play.

I’m very lucky that as I travel I get to play in bars.

We also have an unbelievable grand piano at Le Logis, home of Grey Goose so I can practice there.

Would I consider it professionally given the opportunity? Sure why not.

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