Airing between regular episodes of the VinePair Podcast, “Next Round” explores the ideas and innovations that are helping drinks businesses adapt in a time of unprecedented change. As the coronavirus crisis continues and new challenges arise, VP Pro is in your corner, supporting the drinks community for all the rounds to come. If you have a story or perspective to share, email us at [email protected]
In this episode of “Next Round,” VinePair CEO and founder Adam Teeter talks to Hollywood director Paul Feig about his new venture: Artingstall’s Brilliant London Dry Gin. Designing a gin had long been a dream for Feig, who grew up associating the spirit with the most glamorous parts of adult life, vowing, “God as my witness, I will be an adult.” He’s perfected his Martini recipe and shares it here, as well as plenty of sage advice on the dos and don’ts of vermouth.
Feig gained fame for directing such hits as “Freaks and Geeks,” “The Office,” and “Bridesmaids.” Here, he describes another new project he was working on right up until the moment quarantine went into effect, and how he’s stayed busy in lockdown.
While Covid-19 has complicated the release of Artingstall’s Brilliant London Dry Gin, lockdown gave him time to curate a popular Instagram show on which he made his way through 110 different cocktail recipes and raised money for important causes. He describes his hopes for the brand going forward, what it was like to partner with Minhas Distillery, and every step that went into designing the gin he truly loves.
Or Check Out Our Conversation Here
Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter. And this is a VinePair “Next Round” conversation. We’re bringing you these conversations between our regular podcast episodes to give everyone a clear picture of what’s going on in the industry since Covid-19. Today talking with Paul Feig, director of “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” “Spy,” the new “Ghostbusters,” creator of one of my favorite shows, “Freaks and Geeks,” and now the creator of Artingstall’s Gin. Paul, thank you so much for joining me.
Paul: Adam, thank you so much.
A: So where do I find you today?
P: Today you find me in beautiful downtown Burbank, Calif. in my house. I’ve been here for eight months, and I’m desperate to resume normal life. But I can’t complain. I just miss New York, because I have a place there, and right before the pandemic, I was actually shooting in North Carolina. And so I was coming into Manhattan on the weekends to my place. And one of the last weekends I was like, “Oh, I’m going to leave all this stuff here, because I’m going to come back next week and pick it up.” And so lots of stuff is stranded in New York right now.
A: So, did you complete shooting in North Carolina, or is that on hiatus now because of everything that’s happened?
P: Actually we were prepping for this new TV series and shot for one day. And it was halfway through that first day — we were sort of the last show that hadn’t closed down because we were kind of in the middle of nowhere. So it felt like, okay, we can keep going. But halfway through that day, we were in one scene where we were in this little room and I remember just saying “forget it.” We got to get out of here. So, we shot for one day, but we shot so much stuff we were able to put together a 16-minute presentation and ended up selling the show.
A: Oh, that’s amazing.
P: Yes. We just got picked up. So I’m actually heading back to North Carolina a week from today.
A: This is off the topic of gin, but now just out of curiosity, what is the show and who picked it up?
P: It was picked up by the Fox network. It’s called “This Country,” and it’s a remake of a British TV show of the same name that’s very much in the style of “The Office,” but about two cousins who live in this very small town. It’s very, very funny and a slice of life, and super fun.
A: That sounds awesome. So obviously your day job is directing, writing, et cetera, in TV and film, but then on the side, you decided to create a gin. So I’m curious, what was the reason for wanting to create a gin? I mean, you have a funny quote on your site for the gin that says, you’ve never had a gin you didn’t like, but found one you love when you made your own. But you know, it’s funny, ‘cause making alcohol is not easy. So I’m curious, what was the inspiration for it?
P: Well, this has been decades in the making. I’ve always been an absolute devotee of cocktail culture and just the cocktail lifestyle, really. And early on, realized that the Martini was the gold standard of cocktails. Just everything about it. I mean the taste of it, but also it’s the perfect glass and everything. It’s just aesthetically pleasing. And to me, it represented adult life. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an adult. And so, but I had a bad experience with gin as a kid weirdly, as I think a lot of us would sneak down to your, or somebody’s parents’ basement bar, and of course you get into the bottles and the first one you opened is gin, for some reason.
A: Yeah, totally. Yeah.
P: And you just get this blast of that Pine-Sol scent and taste. And you’re like, “Oh, this is terrible.” So I think a lot of people, including myself, go, “Oh, I don’t like gin,” but when I wanted to get into Martinis and all that, I realized after my reading that a real Martini is gin. And so this was 25, almost 30 years ago that I was like, “I gotta just learn to love gin.” And I was in London at the Savoy Hotel and went up to the bar and the guy made me a Martini that was so perfect. And that was the moment I was like, “Oh, I do like gin” because it’s presented correctly, it’s ice cold, it’s got a beautiful twist in it. And so it just started this lifelong love affair with gin. But there’s always things about it that I carried along from those old days of going like, “ugh, it’s still that really piney thing.” And back then, that’s really all you could find, were the Beefeaters and all. But over the years traveling with my wife all over the world, making my movies and just going on trips, anywhere I’d go, I’d try different gins and started to discover, “Oh, there’s a million different variations,” some that don’t have that super-juniper-forward thing that I didn’t like, some that are more botanic, that are more almost like savory, you know? So I just started like, 15 years ago, going, “I can make my own gin.” I know I can make one that I think people would really like, that would bring everything together. Take out the things that a lot of people are put off by, but keep the things that people who like it do like, and so I just made this vow. And literally about 10 years ago, just started talking to my agents and stuff and saying — because there’s departments in my agency that help with this stuff — “Can you get me a gin? Can I get my own brand of gin?” And they’re like, “That’s impossible. You’re doing well in the industry, but you’re not George Clooney. You’re not a famous actor, a famous musician or something like that.” So I just said, “just stay on it.” I had also requested, I wanted to do my own clothing line, too, which they also said was impossible, but then they actually got me hooked up with J. Crew and I did a little line of stuff for them for charity that expanded into a big, two suits and all kinds of accessories and stuff. So once that cracked, I was like, well c’mon, you guys can pull off the gin. And so they found this company called Minhas which is out of Calgary in Canada, but they have a distillery in Wisconsin in Monroe, Wisc. And they had been approached a lot by people in showbiz who wanted to have a brand and they just had no interest in it, but they saw that I was really serious. They liked the lifestyle that I represent and how in the press I’m always in a suit and tie. And so they’d been looking to do a premium spirit because they’re a big brewer of beer. They’re like the seventh biggest brewer of beer in North America. They made their name making lower-priced beer that was really good. And then they went into well drinks with their spirits. They do the rum for Trader Joe’s and that kind of thing, but they wanted to have a premium. And so that’s what we did. And this was almost three years ago and we’ve been just working on it ever since. And, it’s been the most rewarding collaboration of my career because it’s just something I’m so passionate about.
A: Right. Well, so obviously you said it came from wanting to be an adult. But do you know where that came from as a kid? Was it just that you were looking up to — and I would assume this goes into also your desire to wear suits and things like that — were there people you were looking up to, or others that you were trying to emulate in either the entertainment industry or things like that? You know like, “Oh, they always wear a suit. They drink gin. That should be something that I do as well.” And then just sort of became your personality?
P: Yeah. There was a key moment in my life and it happened very, very early. I think I was five or six. This sounds very weird. And my parents took me to Las Vegas, because they were going to see a Mohammad Ali fight. And this was at The Sands or The Dunes. I forget, one of those. This is back of the glory days of Vegas, when it was very glamorous. And. I remember they were going to go to the fight. So they’re taking me. That was the time when you couldn’t, even as a kid walk through a casino, you had to be like up on the edge. So we’re walking around the outer edge of this casino, and I’m looking down at these lights and these people, and everybody’s dressed in like suits and gowns and tuxedos, and they’re drinking cocktails and they’re smoking, and I’m just transfixed by this. And then in the cruelest possible way for this casino, they had the nursery right on the edge of the casino. So I remember being taken in there and there’s a big sliding glass door. Then they close me in there with a bunch of other kids. And all I do is spend the entire time at the window, staring out at this adult wonderland in front of me and going, “God as my witness. I will be an adult.” I had no interest in the other kids. I had no interest in the stuff they were doing and I just wanted to be an adult. And that never left me. It’s the craziest thing. Like I just have been obsessed with “grownup culture” ever since. And then also with my mom, I was an only child. I used to watch old movies with my mom all the time, and watching those movies in the ’30s and ’40s. “The Thin Man” movies and Cary Grant, everybody drinking cocktails, those movies of the ’30s, which have really gotten my wife and I through quarantine, because we just went on a binge of just watching everything from those old William Powell movies and stuff. Because between world wars and coming out of the Depression and everything, everybody just cut loose with this almost wish fulfillment of these supper clubs and everybody’s in gowns and tuxedos and drinking Champagne and cocktails every place they sit in their house. And that stuff just really affected me to the point where I was like, well, why can’t life kind of be like that? Why can’t we move it that way? You know? And especially in the world now where, I just turned 58. And my generation of guys have really been sort of a lost cause because we were coming out of the ’50s and the ’60s where the patriarchy was all about dads and this suit and tie represents something bad. And so all the guys my age were like, “Oh, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to dress like kids and we’re going to wear shorts and do whatever we want.” And, so that just polluted adult culture for guys my age. And so it was like, why can’t we bring back that time, without the weird politics of it? But at the same time, just that not being afraid of glamor and not feeling like, “Oh, I’m pretentious if I put on a suit” or, “Oh, I’m so uncomfortable.” That kind of thing, let’s just bring that “adult time” back. So you work hard and you play hard.
A: That, that makes a lot of sense to me. So, I’m someone who got into cocktails, wines, in the same way, because it felt like a very adult thing. It was one of the only things we’re restricted from doing until a certain age. And also it’s funny, our employees always joke, “Why don’t we wear suits more?” Or “Why don’t we do some of these things more?” Just because it is something that goes hand in hand with that connection to cocktail culture. So what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. I’m curious, so obviously, you were able to make this connection and make this gin happen. What went into the formulation? How long did that take and what was that process like for you?
P: It was great. It was so much fun. It’s nerve-wracking because — I’ve written a few books also, and there’s this thing where, you’re putting it together and getting what you want, but then when it comes down to like, okay, now I’m going to send this off, and it’s finished. Like, “I’m stuck with this.” You know, same with my movies, but really anything like that where you’re like, “Oh my God, now I’m going to live with this recipe for the rest of my life.” And so it was the same way in the formulation of this, it took us about a year to get the recipe right. But it started with me sitting down with them and just describing what I wanted out of the gin, and talking about referencing like, “Oh, I like this brand, but here’s what I don’t like about it. I like this brand. Here’s what I don’t like about that, but I want to bring this in, which I haven’t had before,” and it was a total just “talking-it-out”-type thing. And with a couple of tastings of other brands to point out and illustrate. And then they went away from that and came up with eight variations. That were not that close together, just to really get a sense. And so going through that, “I like this, but I don’t like this part of it,” “This, no,” and from that, that’s just kinda how it went. And so they would take those notes and then they’d bring back eight much more micro variations. So we did that several times and really worked our way towards the final recipe. But what I was so fascinated by is how the alcoholic content changes everything. I did not expect that. I thought it was going to be all botanicals, and obviously it is, but when we got down to one of the last rounds, there was one that I was like, “Wow, this is so close, but something’s off,” and I said, “Maybe it’s too much of this botanical. Maybe it’s too much of that.” And Ravinder Minhas, who was one of the co-owners of the company, goes, “I think we’re off just a hair with the alcohol content.” I was like, “No, it’s not that it’s a taste.” He goes like, “Okay, okay. But I’m telling you, I’m going to do one of this lower and you can do it in the next tasting.” And he was completely right, because the one that I was having an issue with was at 44 percent, and it was too alcohol-forward. But then he also did one at 40 percent and I tried that and it was too botanical-forward. But then when you did the 42 percent, it was completely perfect.
A: That’s amazing.
P: Yeah, and it was crazy. I never expected that that was going to be such a heavy factor in conjunction with the botanicals.
A: Yeah, it shows you how much goes with dialing it all in, right? So you can have what you want, but then everything plays on itself, which I think is really interesting.
P: It’s exactly like when we do sound mixes, where it’s like if one element is just a little too loud it throws everything off. Just having a master mixer who goes, “Oh, if we just pull this back a hair and push this up a hair.” That’s exactly what it was. And you know, there’s no other gin I drink now.
A: That’s amazing.
P: I love my gin.
A: So, what has it been like for you to now be involved in launching this product? And especially, obviously, the large issue we’ve already spoken about is Covid, right? A lot of people launch new brands, especially brands that are connected to people who are known like yourself, through on-premise because you can get in when other smaller craft brands might not be able to. But there is no real on-premise right now. So what have you done to try to launch the brand? What are the plans moving forward for the brand?
P: I mean, it was hard, because we were literally setting to go into a lot of places right when everything shut down. But we’re very close to getting a major distributor, which will probably happen next month. I don’t want to tell you what it is, because we don’t have it yet. But I’ve just been doing tons of outreach, really calling owners of various liquor stores we wanted to get into, and just talking to them. But also I had this Instagram show that I did throughout the first hundred days of the quarantine, just a nightly show to raise money for Covid charities and for Black Lives Matter charities a couple months in. And I got to talk about the gin and I collect cocktail books and I like making cocktails, but I only have like a few that I really make. I am a master Martini maker, I would say, but I’ve always wanted to make other ones and never had the time, really, and it’s such a specialized thing. But then I used this to teach myself on camera how to do cocktails. And so I made well, 110 different cocktails. I invented 10 different original recipes and so it was really fun. So that was a way to sort of — I didn’t want to make the show about promoting my gin, because it was such a dicey time — but the gin was there and I would mention it and all that. And then now I’ve just been getting back into starting to push it out there. But it’s such a slow windup that you just have to be patient with it. And again, I’m not George Clooney. I’m not Aaron Paul. Most people don’t even know what a director does. When I was directing “The Office,” I remember I was at some party and some woman goes, “Oh, you direct ‘The Office.'” And she goes, “Oh, have you ever met Steve Carell?” It’s like, yeah, I’ve met Steve Carrell. I do direct him. So, you know, I definitely have a leg up on most people who are trying to start out a brand, but at the same time, it’s still a daily struggle to get it out there, but we’re coming up with a lot of fun stuff, and once we get this big distributor, we can really go whole hog, if you will.
A: I’m going to come back ‘cause I need to know your Martini recipe.
A: But before I ask that, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up one of the more famous gins recently, owned by a celebrity, was really well-known for the commercials they created. They did some really funny stuff. But again, that celebrity, who we won’t mention, is not a director, right? So, you are. I have to assume you have thought about what those might look like or things that you can do on Facebook, Instagram, et cetera, that really help promote the gin in sort of the same ways that they did, but probably different, just given your background and then also your background in comedy directing. Have there been thoughts so far?
P: Well, yeah the thing is, we’re not at the point where anybody’s willing to put the money into doing a big thing, but yeah, I think about it all the time. Because a celebrity who will not be mentioned, is extremely clever and really funny. And I know him actually very well because I’ve worked with him and his wife, and I don’t want to get into his territory, because, yeah, it’s going to look like that’s what I’m trying to do. And that’s not really what I want my brand to represent. I want my brand to represent that it’s fun to be an adult, but also it I’m trying to hit this like “It’s okay to try to be classy.” You know what I mean? If you have a fun attitude towards it, it’s not like, “Oh, be a stuffy guy in a tuxedo.” But again, adult life is fun, but give it the respect that it deserves and embrace the coolness of it and the beauty of it. Going into a beautiful bar in Manhattan, where the bottles are all uplit and it’s beautiful wood, and everybody’s dressed up and you’re having Martinis out of gorgeous glassware. That’s the aspirational thing I want to try to bring to this, but with an irreverence to it, too. So it’s a needle to thread, but we’re definitely working on it.
A: So what is your Martini recipe?
P: Well, I have two. The best is the Duke’s Martini which is, you freeze everything. So you can take your bottle and your glass and you freeze it for a long time and then you take them out. And there’s only a 4-ounce — not a 10-ounce, please — Martini. We’ll talk about the 10-ounce and my hatred of that soon. So you basically got your frozen glass. You put in a little bit of vermouth, you swirl it to just coat the edges and then you dump out the rest of the vermouth. Then you take the frozen gin and just straight into the glass to the top. And then you get a good lemon, with a good thick rind — At Duke’s they bring them in from the Amalfi Coast — you need to cut a very big, wide twist, then you squeeze it over the top, get all the oil out, kiss the edges, and plop it in. And it’s the perfect Martini, but it is a strong Martini because it is completely undiluted.
A: It’s 4 ounces of gin.
P: Yeah. Four straight ounces of gin, with a kiss of a vermouth. And then my other one, basically I do it in a mixing glass with ice. Same thing. Just a micro drop of a vermouth. I’m not a fan of “no vermouth” or, “just look at the bottle” because you do need something. It’s like getting a drop of water into a single-malt whiskey. You just need to open it up a little bit, but then stir it long enough to get it ice cold, but not to dilute it too much, pour it in. And the same thing with the twist and, oh, baby, it’s good.
A: So you would do that. So you would not be a fan, then, of the people who’ve done either the 50-50. Which is becoming all the rage in Brooklyn, or serving the Martini on the rocks, I would assume, is also something you’re not a fan of.
P: Yeah. I don’t like all that delusion. And, I mean the 50-50 is really like where the Martini started back in the day. But yeah, I like vermouth. I just, for some reason, don’t like it competing. I don’t know. It’s weird. If I do like a drink that has a lot of vermouth and a lot of gin in it, I have no problem with it if it’s not a Martini, but for some reason, if it’s in a Martini glass and it’s that much vermouth, then I find it slightly off-putting. But also, I’ve been traumatized over my life by bad Martinis. In so many places where they don’t know how to make a Martini, and they overload the vermouth, and then they don’t make it cold enough. So you get this tepid swill of too much vermouth, and — well first of all, isn’t it amazing how many people don’t know you’re supposed to keep vermouth in the refrigerator?
A: Oh, it’s incredible. It’s incredible. Even at bars.
P: Yeah. I mean, how many times have you gone to somebody’s house, been in a bar, and you go like, “Do you have vermouth?” “Oh yeah. It’s over there” in this dirty bottle. It’s clearly been open for years. And it’s like, “Oh my God.” So, yeah. You gotta get it right. So yeah, if you’ve got vermouth, all bets are off.
A: It is pretty funny. Yeah. There’s the misconception that you can put it on your bar, which obviously not. And then also that people don’t realize that it’s wine and goes bad, and so, yeah, there’ve been lots of places where I’ve been in bars or houses where it’s just turned and it ruins the drink.
P: Oh my God. And that’s when they put too much in, on top of it.
A: Exactly, exactly. So that’s really interesting. So, if you were to think about your ideal places for this gin in the next year or so, are there bars that you love both just because, now mentioning that you come to New York often, you have a place here? LA, are there bars that you’d be like, man, I would really love if these places had my gin and also were making great Martinis or other cocktails with it?
P: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, we were all set to go into the Polo Bar. ‘Cause that’s one of my regular haunts and they know me there and they’re very kind. And they actually always keep it behind the bar for me. But you know, until we have a distributor, they can’t legally take it in. But definitely the Polo Bar, definitely Bemelmans, which is one of my other favorite bars in the world. One of my favorite restaurants, called Il Tinello, which is a great Italian restaurant. And then the Soho Houses I’d like to get into, or the King Cole bar. I’d like to be in bars everywhere. But to be in those sort of the pinnacle of the class and the cocktail culture places, and then, you know, a lot of the hipster bars down in the Village, which I’m not as familiar with. I mean, Death & Co is in Manhattan, right?
A: East Village.
P: Yeah. Okay. But you know, but those kinds of places, too, ‘cause I’d love to have these new mixologists who are so great really have some fun with it. And I think they would. We put so much time into the design of the bottle and the label that it’s really part of the experience. ‘Cause it looks like a decanter and it’s all cut glass and this beautiful top on it that is like a giant diamond. I really wanted it to be something that every bartender wants behind their bar, that every home bar wants to have on their cart. ‘Cause it’s all about that presentation. Getting the gin right is priority No. 1, but once you’ve got it and you’re like, “Oh, I love this,” The idea of just putting it into a normal bottle is really important to me, because it’s not the presentation, it’s like drinking a Martini out of a red Solo cup. You want the full experience. And so I feel like anybody I show the bottle to, any bartender, they tend to flip out over it, and it up-lights them. It catches the light bulb.
A: Right. So you’ve thought a lot about that. Yeah. I can see this, especially with your love of Martini, doing very well at Dante.
P: Yeah. Oh yeah. That’d be great. Yeah.
A: With their Martini lists and all that stuff, which will be really great.
P: Yeah, and like the Tower Bar in L.A., it would be a dream.
A: So, what do the next six months to a year look like for you? Obviously, you’re going to shoot this new show in North Carolina. What do they look like for you? What are they like for the brand?
P: We’re going to be full steam ahead, really. Now that we almost have this distributor, we’ll be getting out to a lot of places, but we’re already set to go into BevMo and Total Wine. So we’ll be getting out there. So now it’s going to be about just getting the word out because we’re already all over Canada. We’re in all the state-run liquor stores there. Because since Minhas is a Canadian-based company, they’ve got a lot of clout over there. And we’re in a lot of places like Barkeeper in L.A., Remedy Liquors, all that. If you go to artingstallsgin.com you can see all the places to get it, but we’re very close to being everywhere. And so that’s where the real outreach is going to begin. I’m also going to be shooting in North Carolina for a month. And then I take off to London to shoot a movie. So I’m going to be in London a lot. That’s the next goal, to get it into London. Just because it’s such a great gin market. But the weird thing about the 750-milliliter bottles versus the 700-milliliter bottles is right now. We’re busy making the mold for that 700 one because that’s what you have to bring into the U.K. You can’t bring in a 750, so it’s just one of those little things to complicate everything.
A: Yeah, exactly. In times that are also quite complicated.
A: What does your Negroni look like?
P: I mean it’s got some secret things in it, but it’s a very traditional Negroni, with just a little extra something.
A: Interesting… okay.
P: Yeah. Very proud of it. I’m very, very proud of it.
A: I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it then. That sounds awesome. Well, Paul, thank you so much for taking the time. This has been a really, really, really interesting conversation. I love hearing about how you started the brand and where you see the brand going. I think your positioning of it as a brand that really speaks to “fun adulting” in a very classy way speaks to me very strongly. I think it probably speaks to a lot of other people. I think that’s why a lot of us fell in love with cocktails in the first place and how cocktails make us feel when we consume them. So I think it’s really smart.
P: Oh, I love that. Thanks. I really appreciate it. I mean, it’s such a weird time, because there’s so many people in showbiz who are trying to come up with their own liquor brand, and I always just want to just go up to everybody and say, “No, I’ve been trying to do this for decades! Don’t steal my thunder, everybody.” So when you see my name’s attached, don’t go, “Oh God, another showbiz idiot.” No, I’m really, really dedicated to this. I’m as proud of this as I am of some of my movies, and I’ve been more proud of this than of some of the other ones.
A: Awesome. Well, thank you again so much. And again, people can find out where you can buy it at artinstallsgin.com. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time. It’s been awesome.
P: My pleasure, thank you Adam.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now, for the credits. VinePair is produced and hosted by Zach Geballe, Erica Duecy and me: Adam Teeter. Our engineer is Nick Patri and Keith Beavers. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder Josh Malin and the rest of the VinePair team for their support. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you again right here next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity