Life

Beloved Comedy Director Paul Feig Talks About His Love Affair With Gin

Paul Feig holds a lofty place in the world of comedy. He’s has been behind the camera on Spy, Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development, The Office, Bridesmaids, and the criminally underappreciated Ghostbusters reboot, among many others. He’s worked with the best and been trusted with massive properties. In the process, he’s become a defining voice in modern comedic cinema and TV.

Now, Feig is hoping to help shape modern cocktail culture, too. One martini at a time.

More than simply liking booze, Feig seems to be a true believer in cocktail culture (right down to his three-piece suits and boulevardier persona). During quarantine, his spirits prowess has been on full display. He spent the early part of lockdown on Instagram making cocktails as everyone’s favorite “Drunk Funcle.” More recently, he announced an endeavor to bring the world a new top-notch gin.

In a world full of celebrity white-labeling, it would have been very easy for Feig to slap his name on a label and go about his business. Instead, he partnered with a distillery to craft his gin from the ground up, based on decades of experience. He toiled with glassmakers over the bottle’s design and even named the gin after his mother, using her maiden name. Artingstall’s Brilliant London Dry Gin is personal to Feig in every way. And that personal care definitely translates to the final product.

We jumped on a call with Feig this week, between set-ups on The School For Good And Evil, shooting in Belfast, Ireland. If you want more from him after this interview, this Saturday, May 1st, you can see him live via a virtual cocktail party and trivia night. At the end of this interview, you’ll find a recipe for the “Feigtini” — a perfect cocktail for your weekend.

When was the first time you knew gin was your drink? What was the “Oh, I love this spirit!” moment?

It was when I had my first real martini. It was 30-plus years ago and I went to the Savoy Hotel and went to their bar. I had a weird experience with gin when I was a kid, because we were down in somebody’s basement, like their parents’ basement, and opened a bottle of gin and just like, “ugh, what is that taste?” It tasted like Beefeater, which is super piny, super juniper-y.

I was like, “well… I don’t like gin.”

Then I’d read so much about cocktail culture, which I love and I loved the look of martinis and all that. I read that a real martini is a gin martini. I was like, “Oh, I don’t think I like gin, but I should try to like it.” So when we hit the Savoy, I ordered a martini, which I had heard had great martinis at the time. They gave me this frozen, thistle-shaped martini glass with an ice-cold gin martini with a big twist in it.

I remember just thinking, “this is the greatest thing I’ve ever had.” It started this lifelong love affair with gin. But then, over the next several decades, I tried to find the gin I wanted, and I wanted everything out of one gin. I would find all these gins and be like, “Oh, I like this one. I like this about it,” but never found one where I like, “this is the one.”

Then, I started thinking, “if I can make my own gin, I know I can make the perfect gin, at least for myself.” I also thought about making a gin for a lot of other people who have the same experience that I had, which led them to “I don’t like gin” initially. Finally, I teamed up with Minhas Distilleries and we built this from the ground up.

This was not something I just put my name on. It’s my mother’s maiden name actually, Artingstall. I really wanted to formulate this, so we built it from scratch and designed and came up with the recipe, which took several rounds of micro tastings and all that to get it right, and then we designed the bottle. This is a passion project for me.

Paul Feig/Instagram

Let’s talk a little bit about what’s inside the bottle first and then we’ll talk about what’s outside of it. Gin recipes are very confusing for people. They hear “juniper” and then they maybe hear “anise” or they hear “pine.” What sort of matrix of spices and botanicals were you going for in your gin?

To be a gin, you have to have juniper — that is what makes gin a gin. But I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t juniper-forward. I like the taste of juniper and over the years have developed a taste for some of the heavy gins like Berry Brothers No. 3 or Junipero. They hit you in the face with the juniper. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to bring people into gin who think they don’t like it. I really wanted to do what I consider a gateway gin. There’s certain gin, especially in the London dry world, that is just smoother. They’re a little brighter too.

I’m a guy who likes my martini with a twist. I can enjoy an olive, but I sometimes feel the olive holds the gin down versus a twist, which brightens it up. I wanted a gin that was bright already, which is why we called it “Brilliant London Dry.” We really tried to formulate it so that it had notes of citrus, notes of juniper definitely, but then also a little bit of spiciness to it, a little bit of a floral quality to it with none of them taking the forefront. I wanted them all to be bright but smooth and round too. That’s what we came up with.

In finalizing the taste and feel of the gin, I wanted to make sure that it was first and foremost a martini gin. It needed to hold up to being in a gin and tonic, gin and soda, a Negroni, even a dirty martini, if needs be. We tried all those combinations and it held up to all of them. Then what I then discovered was that it also works very well as a vodka substitute. You can put it into any drink that you would put vodka into and it just gives it a little bit of a center, a little I dare say, almost like a spicy citrus center. It doesn’t overpower the rest of the drink. It just makes the drink a little more interesting.

I definitely dig that. I also really love the style of this bottle. It’s so rare to see so much thought put into both the design of the decanter and the logo. Plus, it really feels like you because you’re probably the best-dressed man in the entertainment industry. There’s this real — and I don’t mean this as cliched — but there’s this essence of style to the bottle. Can you walk us through how you came up with this beautiful decanter and label?

Well, that’s exactly it. What I love about cocktails and drinking and all that is the style around it, the lifestyle around it, the pageantry around it. To me, the worst thing in the world is to just pour something into a red solo cup and drink to get drunk. That to me is not fun. That’s a reason why I want to have cocktails or anything — I want the entire lifestyle around it. I wanted to make sure that our bottle showed that. I wanted it to feel like a gin that has been around for 150 years. That’s why I picked the name Artingstall’s because that’s my mom’s maiden name. She was British, so I wanted it to be like a London dry.

I wanted the design of the label to look like it’s been around for a long time too. That’s why we went for a very classic look for it. But then I also wanted it to be a bottle that you would want on your bar, that you would want on your drinks cart. If you’ve got a small drinks cart or drink tray or whatever, that it could almost be the centerpiece bottle, so people look and go, “Oh wow, you’ve got really good taste.”

The first idea was “Oh, we should do a decanter.” Then I found some antique decanters and I loved that. We looked at it, the in-house team and myself, and took some of the etchings from it and the carvings. Then we took it to the next level and really wanted to make it a very special bottle that still came at a reasonable price point and then capping it with the stopper that we have, which I just love. It’s almost like your bottle of gin has a beautiful cocktail ring on top of it.

Absolutely. It’s very, very well done. I want to ask because this weekend you’re hosting a live tasting event. Are we going to see the Drunk Funcle come back to life to teach us some cool cocktails this weekend?

Drunk Funcle and I are one and the same. There is no escaping it even if I want to, sadly. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m going to make two different cocktails. One is the big “Feigtini” that I invented. It’s a martini that has a few extra surprises in it, like sake.

Oh, nice.

It’s one of the first cocktails I invented, back at the beginning of my quarantine cocktail time. Then I’m also going to do a very classic gin cocktail, the Dubonnet, which is what the Queen apparently drinks every day. It’s a very fun drink. It’s just gin and Dubonnet and ice and a slice of fruit. I like cocktails that aren’t hugely complicated. I’m not a fan of cocktails that you have to make a lot of stuff for.

Amen to that.

The technology today is great, but it’s so labor-intensive. For me, that takes a little bit of the fun out just being able to go to my bar with a lot of fun bottles and just have a drink that I can make; that I can tell people the recipe; and they can mix without having to invest in a centrifuge and that kind of thing. It’s really just about the adult fun of cocktails.

Paul Feig/Instagram

Let’s talk a little bit more about drinking gin culture — because I feel like, for a lot of people who know gin on a surface level, they’ll think of a martini or gin and tonic and that’s basically it. But there are so many other lovely cocktails and even sipping gins out there. That’s what I love about this brand is it does lean into real sipping gin territory. What are some other applications you love using your gin for that people might not be quite privy to yet?

You hit the nail on the head when you said a sipping gin. That is the first and foremost test of a gin. That’s really one of the things I formulated this for is to be able to literally pour it into a glass and drink it neat at room temperature. Because when you watch these old movies from the 30s, you don’t see any ice really. You see people mixing these martinis and pouring them out. I swear to God they’re coming out at room temperature. I think back then, maybe, just ice wasn’t as available or something and people drank more drinks that were room temperature that way.

I really wanted to do a gin that didn’t need to be ice-cold to be at its best. Ours is great when it’s ice-cold. I love a good freezing cold martini, but I do love to just sip this either straight up or to put it on the rocks. It’s great for that. But then there are so many different cocktails and that’s, again, why I wanted something that could almost work as a vodka substitute. Because honestly, this gin could go into so many different cocktails and not get in the way.

I even reformulated a passion fruit margarita where I substituted the tequila out for my gin and it works fantastic because you get that spicy center that you don’t get with tequila. You get this other extra taste from the gin that doesn’t get in the way of the Cointreau, lime, and the passion fruit liqueur in there. Gin can hold up to anything. I think we need to free gin from the confines of a few cocktails people think you can make with it. I love a martini, it’s fantastic. But you can really branch out and I think people should branch out more with good gin.

Back in the day when I worked at Victoria Bar here in Berlin, one of our great gin cocktails that people would really fall in love with was a Gin-Tai. We were just making a Mai Tai, but with gin. It has that balance of barky spice and botanicals with the orgeat and the citrus. It just is this beautiful, blossoming cocktail.

Oh, nice.

I like to pairing cocktails with a good film. If you’re sitting down to watch a drama, what sort of cocktail would you pair? Or if you’re sitting down to watch a slapstick comedy, what’s your cocktail pairing?

I love comedies from the 1930s. Those are just my absolute favorite just because they’re funny and I love the characters and the writing and all that, but I also love the worlds they go into. They wear tuxes and somebody is mixing a drink or pouring a highball or something. But for me, that’s definitely a martini kind of a movie.

For a drama, I think I enjoy a nice highball. A highball could be anything, with two ounces of any booze and four ounces of any kind of soda. I like to do it with gin. I like to make a good gin highball and that feels refreshing to get you through the heavier moments of a movie. Honestly, for a real heavy drama, I think just obviously just a straight-up scotch is always a great thing to do.

You can never go wrong with a nice pour of scotch, that’s for sure.

Exactly.

What’s your pitch to people who still aren’t sold on gin? Why gin is cool? Why are they going to like it?

Here’s the thing. So many people are into vodka. I love vodka. It’s great. But vodka is vodka basically because it doesn’t taste like anything. It’s regulated to not taste like anything. That’s the great “beginner’s spirit” because you get to mix it in other things. It doesn’t get in the way and you can taste all the other non-alcoholic ingredients if you’re doing that kind of thing or whatever else you’re putting into the drink.

But I think, if you want to walk into adult life, gin is great because it’s complex. It’s not simple. It requires you to be aware of it in a way that vodka doesn’t. A vodka, you can just keep slamming them down and eventually you get drunk and it’s like, “okay…” That’s not the fun of drinking to me.

Drinking is about lifestyle. I think gin brings that lifestyle to people by the fact that it is more complex, just like adult life is complex. But, it’s also fun. Just like adult life can be fun. I think people have to free themselves of their preconceptions about what gin was and really have fun with what gin is now.

The “Feigtini

Paul Feig/Instagram

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz. Artingstall’s Gin
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 oz. sake
  • 3 dashes of orange bitters

Method:

  • Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker over ice and shake.
  • Strain into two chilled martini glasses.
  • Squeeze an orange peel over the top and drop it into the drink.

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