Paul Feig knows how to have a good time. As a writer and director — you know him as the director of Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters, and as the creator of Freaks and Geeks — he’s built a career out of finding the funny in unfortunate situations. That skill serves him well in these strange times. For the past six weeks, Feig has been hosting Quarantine Cocktail on Instagram. Every night, dressed in one of his trademark three-piece suits, Feig mixes up a new cocktail recipe, all in support of various charities for people affected by the pandemic. The series is a ton of fun – and also informative. Turns out you can trust a guy who recently launched his own gin — Artingstall’s London Dry — to put on a good cocktail show. We caught up with him at home (where else?) to talk about cocktails, movies, and making the most of a weird situation.
So how are things with you?
I would be terrible if I complained. We’re hanging in. But I feel good. I get to do the little drinks show every night and that’s fun.
It is fun! What prompted you to start that?
I’d been in North Carolina shooting a TV pilot, and they had to pull the plug on that, obviously. So I came back to LA, and I remember thinking that we’re going into months of quarantine, and I can either sit around everyday and write and try to get work done — or, I’m in showbiz, I was an actor for a while, and it felt like since I don’t have any essential skills like being a doctor or anything like that, what can I do to help out? Well, I can try to raise money by doing a goofy show. And I figured it was a good time to get into mixology, because I’ve never really done it — I make a great martini and a negroni, but that’s about the extent of my mixology skills. So i figured let’s make cocktails and do it in a way that everyone can have fun and take 15 minutes away from the news or other terrible thoughts.
How have you been honing your mixology skills?
I’ve always collected cocktail books. Over the years, whenever we have a party, people always bring me some kind of booze. So we had all these bottles stacking up in the bar in our guest house. For years I read these books and I said, “Oh, I should make that.” This was an opportunity to use all that stuff and make all the drinks I’ve always wanted to make. But then it becomes a slippery slope, because once you start doing that, you start finding recipes you want to do that you don’t have ingredients for, so I’ve started ordering new stuff — I’ve stocked up the craziest bar. Some of these drinks are bananas. It’s hilarious just trying to make them! Last night in particular we made one called the Hot Pants, which was not really good. It tasted like Vic’s Vapo Rub. It made me laugh because it had Tequila, peppermint Schnapps, grapefruit and sugar in it. But now we know.
Tell me about the charity side of it. How do you decide where the money goes?
I didn’t want the show to be frivolous, especially in this time. It had to have a purpose. We’ve been trying to raise money for medical resources, but I’m also very concerned about people being out of work, so things like Feeding America or No Kid Hungry or Meals on Wheels. Or charities that give money to first responders. Or to restaurant workers. I try to give to both giant charities and really local ones. I’m just trying to hit everyone that’s been affected. You always wish you could do more, but that’s another reason to do it everyday.
And you recently launched your own gin. How did that come about?
I am a gin fanatic. I’ve always loved it. Martinis are my favourite thing in the world — and the only real martini is a gin martini. So I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of having my own gin. Eventually I found this company out of Calgary, Minhas, that was looking to get into the premium spirits business and we both thought it would be fun. There are so many gins that I really like, but I’ve never found the one that I absolutely love. So I thought let me invent the gin that I’ve been looking for, which is both something that gin people would like but also an introductory gin.
What makes it good? What are some tasting notes?
It’s a softer gin. Obviously you have to have juniper. But we have 11 different botanicals including some citrus peel and black pepper that make it neither sweet nor savoury. It doesn’t have that big juniper-forward pine hit. It’s very round. So much gin is very gin-y, for lack of a better term. I’m trying to rehabilitate gin!
What’s the story behind the Artingstall’s name?
It’s my mother’s maiden name. I wanted to make a gin that sounded like it had been around for a hundred and fifty years. And being a London Dry I wanted it to sound very British. And I thought, if I’m at the bar and I ask for an Artingstall’s martini, that rolled off the tongue very nicely. So in honour of my mother, who never drank in her life, I think it sounds good.
What’s the secret to a perfect martini?
There are two perfect martinis in my book. One is the way Duke’s Bar in London makes it, which is they freeze everything. They don’t mix it with any ice, it just goes right into the glass. The bartender, Alessandro Palazzi, pours in some vermouth, swirls it around and then dumps it out, and then pours in the gin and puts a big twist on it. So you get this very cold martini, but it’s also very strong. That’s my favourite kind, but for many people it might pack too much of a punch. My other favourite is to do it in a shaker, with ice, stirred — not shaken. The biggest mistake people make with martinis is they don’t serve them cold enough. How many times have I been in a restaurant and the drink comes up and it’s kind of lukewarm, and then it’s just not fun at all. And I like it with a twist.
Let’s curate an evening for people. What are three cocktails and three movies that just go together?
I’ll be self-serving on the first one: my movie A Simple Favour is definitely a martini movie. That was my way to do martini porn, basically. I think if you want to watch any kind of Patricia Highsmith story, like The Talented Mr. Ripley, you want to have a Scotch and soda with that. Because if you read any of her books everyone is always drinking Scotch and soda. And then for the third one, I would watch any movie from the 1930s — a Thin Man movie or anything with Fred Astaire — and you have to have champagne with that. A nice bottle of champagne in a beautiful glass, and put on a tuxedo if you can. It’s just so fun to watch the glamour of those old supper clubs.
You’ve been having cocktail hour with your wife and your dog and you Instagram followers. But if you could invite anyone else over, who would be at your dream quarantine cocktail party?
My goal would be to be invited to one of Truman Capote’s cocktail parties. You see pictures of them jammed into those small New York apartments, but everybody’s wearing black tie and gowns. That would be so much fun to be with the literati of the day. Or to sit at the Algonquin Round Table with Dorothy Parker or H.L. Mencken or Harpo Marx. That to me is the glory days. I always say I think I was born in the wrong period, but I’m glad I wasn’t because if I was I’d be dead now.