Q&A With Cîroc Master Distiller, Jean-Sebastien Robicquet
Since its launch 15 years ago, Cîroc Vodka has become known as one of the world’s most sophisticated Vodkas. Unlike many other brands in this spirit category, which are made from grain, Cîroc Vodka is distilled from fine French grapes. At the heart of Cîroc lies Master Distiller Jean-Sebastien Robicquet and his distillery Maison Villevert, which has been in his family for over 500 years. We caught up with Jean-Sebastien to find out more about his Vodka and his role at Cîroc.
Can you tell us a bit about the journey that brought you to the position of Master Distiller at Cîroc?
I was trained as a lawyer and a winemaker in Bordeaux but spent many years working for top spirits businesses. I therefore understood the qualities required of a great spirit and the best people to work with to create that spirit. When I started to work with Diageo I knew that the soft and flavorful combination of grape spirits would produce something dramatically different from the category so I worked with distillers from Armagnac and Cognac backgrounds to create Cîroc.
Can you tell us more about your role?
My role is to lead the team of distillers, blenders and drinks developers to ensure that we are buying the best-quality product available in France and producing the best-quality Vodka—every element is precise and requires great skill. My job is to be the team captain and I have the final say on the quality of every batch.
Can you tell us about the history and origins of Cîroc?
Cîroc began 15 years ago as a joint project between us and Diageo to introduce a dramatically different Vodka into the USA, which was already seeing some interesting grain products. As the only grape-based Vodka we made an instant impact and now we are one of the world’s top luxury spirits brands. Along the way we have produced every drop of Cîroc, of which we are very proud.
Can you tell us about the production process?
Cîroc is distilled five times. Fine French grapes are specially selected for harvest and made into a Wine. The Wine is distilled four times in column stills. In the fifth distillation, Cîroc is truly created in a traditional, tailor-made copper pot still at the historic Distillerie de Chevanceaux in the South of France.
What makes Cîroc different to other Vodkas?
Our most obvious difference is that we start with grapes. Our second difference is that we use craft skills handed down from the great distilling regions of Cognac and Armagnac. We developed special stills that slowly drip our liquids through copper to reveal a soft, smooth texture and a slightly citrus note.
If a bartender was to ask you "what do I need to know about Cîroc" what would you tell them?
I wouldn’t presume to tell bartenders their craft, however, blue stone Cîroc and its flavor variants open up a world of flavor and texture that can bring a juicy lusciousness to their drinks. So for a Martini that is roundly satisfying, use Cîroc, for a Cosmo that really bursts with flavor use Cîroc Red Berry. Why? Because Cîroc is not made to be sharp and dry, it is made to deliver the round, juiciness of the grape in every drink.
What are the key points for a bartender to talk about when recommending Cîroc?
Ask the customer if they like soft fruit and grapes, if the answer is yes then Cîroc is for them.
What Vodka trends are you seeing at the moment?
There are many good Vodkas available, however, too many are being produced that rely on gimmicks rather than what truly delivers in the glass. We don’t need to pretend to be handmade or created on a mountainside in the middle of nowhere. I respect Vodkas that are truly crafted that come from great base materials and require time, skill and the right ingredients.
Why do you think Vodka is so popular with consumers?
Good Vodka doesn’t need to challenge, it sits at the heart of a good time because it satisfies so many needs in so many drinks.
What is the best way to drink Cîroc?
I like my Cîroc straight, over ice with a twist of lemon.
Can you recommend a signature serve for Cîroc?
It depends where you are and what mood you are in. When it’s hot and I am out with friends I like it with lemonade, before dinner as an aperitif, straight over ice. After dinner, Amaretto Cîroc is perfect with coffee.
What do you think are the future trends for Vodka and specifically Cîroc?
I have been really pleased to see how well Apple Cîroc has been received and I think that we will explore more fruit flavors. As for other Vodkas, I think that bars will make some calls based on having the best of breed of different core base Vodkas, the best rye, corn and grape Vodka and the battle will be between brands to take those slots.