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Cocktail chat: Paul Feig

Paul Feig may be a player in Hollywood, but he’d much rather be known for his passion for hospitality, he revealed last year.

Paul Feig

*This feature was originally published in the October 2023 issue of The Spirits Business magazine.

2020 was the year that living rooms became the new drinking lounges, lunch breaks became the new happy hours, and for one Hollywood film director, cocktails became the ultimate side hustle.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, actor, producer and director Paul Feig did what many of us did as we stared down the barrel of months of global lockdowns: he turned to alcohol, and social media. Launching his Quarantine Cocktail Time series on Instagram, Feig filmed daily videos in the comfort of his generously stocked home bar in Los Angeles, in which he demonstrated how to make some of the world’s most iconic cocktails, often with the help of his wife, Laurie, and usually while wearing a tailored dinner jacket.

Fast-forward three years, and that Instagram series has led to Feig publishing Cocktail Time! The Ultimate Guide to Grown-Up Fun, which he describes as a love letter to the aesthetics and culture around cocktails.

“When I was recording the show, people were asking me to share the recipes,” he tells me, “but I quickly realised there’s a million books out there with cocktail recipes, and nobody needs another one of those, so I thought, well, this is a good chance to give all my advice, and my kind of take on the world of drinking and adult fun.”

Cocktail-time- Paul FeigThe question some might ask is what authority does the man who played Mr Pool in the seminal teenage sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch have telling people how to make cocktails, or ‘up’ their drinks party game?

But in the hour I spend chatting with Feig, it becomes clear the man is obsessed with cocktails and the culture that surrounds them, with so much of what brings him joy centring around the world of mixology, entertaining and hospitality. In his book, he even writes how he would prefer the reader know him for his love of cocktails rather than his showreel of successful films and TV shows.

“I am not an expert,” he writes. “I am merely a guy who really, really loves cocktails and the lifestyle they represent, and one who wants to share that love with a world that has gotten away from what I consider to be the glory days of grown-up good times – cocktail parties, dressing up, and having a fun night with friends as you sip libations.”

However, while Feig isn’t necessarily an expert, he does have decades of experience attending and hosting Hollywood cocktail parties, and visiting bars around the world that have given him an understanding of what good, if not great, hospitality entails.

For the past 25 years, he has been a regular of Dukes Bar in London, where head bartender and Martini ‘legend’ Alessandro Palazzi has become a close friend and a source of inspiration to Feig. “I would always go there, and I would watch him make the cocktails, and over the years he demystified the world of cocktails for me.”

Alessandro Palazzi and Paul Feig
Alessandro Palazzi and Paul Feig

Feig notes that some of his favourite cocktail bars have also taught him what he didn’t want Cocktail Time! to be about.

“I have my friend Todd Maul, who is a bartender in Boston, and is the most scientific bartender ever. He taught me to be open-minded about stuff, but he also taught me that I didn’t want to be as scientific as he is, because the guys that do that, like the Death & Company guys, they’re really good at that kind of thing, and I didn’t want to do a book where you’re like, oh I can’t do that.”

Friends in high places

Cocktail Time! includes 125 cocktail recipes that span everything from classic serves through to cocktails created for specific holidays and occasions, as well as a few of Feig’s original concoctions, including serves inspired by his works, such as the Fritz Bernaise (AKA Shittin’ in the Street), a nod to his film Bridesmaids, and The Emilia-Tini, inspired by the star of his romantic comedy Last Christmas, Emilia Clarke.

Having worked on some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows, Feig also benefitted from his little black book of celebrity contacts who were willing to contribute a few of their own recipes to the book, including a recipe for a Gibson put forward by Academy Award-winner Charlize Theron, who Feig worked alongside on Arrested Development.

The first cocktail Feig comes to in the book, however, is the classic Martini, which he dubs ‘the king of cocktails’. As his favourite cocktail, Feig has dedicated no less than 13 pages to it, through which he explores the best gins to use, his preferred glassware, the difference between stirring and shaking, the optimum serving temperature, and what makes a ‘gold-standard Martini’, ie: a step-by-step guide on how to make a Dukes Martini. However, I’m intrigued to know how Feig makes his own.

“I like to have the vermouth mixed in, so I use a mixing glass and literally just a drop of vermouth,” he explains. “I use Dolin dry because it’s got a bit of sweetness, a little more something to it, and then I pour in the gin with a good amount of ice and stir for one or two minutes, just to make sure that the gin is interacting completely with the ice.”

Feig then pours the liquid into a frozen glass taken straight from the freezer – he notes in his book that “a four-ounce (120ml) Martini is the perfect size” – expresses a lemon peel over the top, rubs the edges, drops it in, and then “you’ve got what I consider to be the perfect Martini”.

Gin it to win it

While Feig doesn’t stipulate the gin choice for his ‘perfect Martini’, you would be forgiven for assuming that he would always opt for his own brand, Artingstall’s Brilliant London Dry Gin, which he launched in 2020.

Featuring 11 botanicals, including orris root, coriander, cassia bark and cardamom, the 42% ABV gin is packaged in a bottle inspired by the decanters of the 1950s and 1960s – a nod to Feig’s interest in vintage glassware, and another talking point in the book.

When curating the recipe for the gin, he was keen to create a liquid that would work as a substitute for vodka in a number of cocktails. “I really wanted to make sure you could have a good chance of swapping into a vodka-based cocktail, and have it only be an additive to it, not compete with it. That’s one of my favourite things about my gin – that it works in about 95% of vodka-based cocktails.”

However, as Feig wanted, Cocktail Time! is about more than the cocktails you should serve at a party. Rather, it emphasises the importance of great hospitality if you want your guests to have a good time, anecdotally explaining all of the other components to be considered when hosting, from the playlist and dress code, to the food you serve (“not serving food is the most monstrous thing you could do at the cocktail party,” he warns).

But what, I ask, does Feig believe to be the key ingredient to hosting a successful cocktail party?

“The guestlist. It’s all about making sure you’re gonna have a group that will have fun together, and the most important thing is that they all are friends of yours. They know you, so they trust your tastes, and they know you’re not going to invite an outlier, so now it will just be a very fun hang, with cocktails.”

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