Joe McCanta’s life would make a great movie. The global brand ambassador for Grey Goose® started out studying to be a jazz pianist. To put himself through school, he took a job at a wine store run by Joshua Wesson, one of the top sommeliers in the US. After moving to New York, McCanta continued to work in the beverage biz, first as a sommelier himself before his interests grew to include spirits as well. Soon he was mixing up cocktails for Al Gore and travelling the world growing roof top gardens that he could harvest for fresh ingredients for his cocktails.
It’s also easy to imagine the London-based McCanta as a movie star. He is impeccably-dressed and blessed with Bradley Cooper blue eyes, but instead of being star struck by his charm, McCanta has the rarer ability to put his guests at ease.
McCanta is in Toronto for TIFF. He says it’s probably his seventh year designing drinks for after parties (this year at the member’s only Soho Club). The most important ingredient for any soirée, he says, is making sure everyone in attendance is having a good time. “It’s not just the drinks, it’s the whole experience,” says McCanta. “Everyone talks about the celebrities, but I treat everyone equally. And from the minute they enter the room.”
Whether you’re throwing a movie premiere party for 800 or having 8 friends over to watch Netflix, here are some more tips for help you be the host with the most.
Setting the Scene
First, pay attention to the ambience. “From the music, to the lighting to the smells,” says McCanta, “you want to create a welcoming mood.”
“I’m passionate about great service,” says McCanta, who literally once gave a guest the shirt off his back (“he spilled a drink on his, and thankfully I had a nice t-shirt under mine”). The first thing he tells his bartenders is to make eye contact with guests as soon as they arrive and acknowledge them with a big smile. Even if the bar is six deep (especially when the bar is six deep), a little recognition goes a long way to making guest feel valued.
At the same time, try to ensure that your audience never has to wait for a drink. McCanta likes to start the evening out with something refreshing and fizzy that can be pre-mixed and easily poured from a bottle.
Also have something for everyone. While booze is a great social lubricant, you don’t want guests to become too over-refreshed. Good food is as important as good drink in making sure guests feel appreciated while also keeping them from getting too tipsy. A good party should be about connecting people, so having interesting edibles at the ready from the start gives guests a place to congregate. And talking about food provides wallflowers with an opportunity to make conversation. And, adds McCanta, “Always have a non-alcoholic cocktail and water on hand.”
Make sure you mingle yourself. It gives you a chance to check in with party goers and take the temperature of the room. To keep the good vibes going, midway through any event McCanta likes to bring out a signature cocktail, keyed to the night’s theme (this year, at the Film Festival, he’s created a popcorn-infused drink called Le Premier, which he has graciously shared below). At the end of the evening, when invitees get a little tired, he likes to serve a twist on the classic espresso martini to give party-goers an extra boost of energy.
And like the movies, if you want to have a hit, your ultimate goal is to create an unforgettable experience. “At the film festival, people are going to events all week. You don’t have to make yours the most-over-the-top to make yours the most memorable. Just do your research in advance, make the mood and the drinks meaningful and thoughtful and treat everyone on the guest list like a star.”
“Le Premier” Drink Recipe
A Grey Goose® twist on the classic movie snack to toast the world’s best in film.
- 1 1/2 partsGrey Goose® Vodka 3/4 parts popcorn syrup
- 1/2 parts fresh lime juice
- 8 mint leaves
Method: Stir all ingredients in a Collins glass with crushed ice, and garnish with fresh mint and popcorn.
- 250 ml water
- 250 g granulated sugar
- 1 bag of extra buttery popcorn
Method: Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add half a bag of popcorn. Let it infuse for 10 minutes. Strain out popcorn through a sieve, conserving the popcorn water and squeezing as much liquid out of the kernels as possible. Bring the liquid back up to a boil and repeat steps 2 & 3 with the remaining popcorn. Combine the popcorn liquid with sugar and stir until dissolved. Bottle and keep refrigerated.