Early in 2021, the Cigar & Spirits staff met with Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley to talk about the duo’s newly released spirit, Brother’s Bond Bourbon (March/April issue). During our conversation with Ian and Paul, we discovered not only their incredible passion for bourbon, but a willingness to do the hard work it takes to create and promote an exceptional spirit.
A year later, we decided to revisit the actors-turned-entrepreneurs to see how things were going with Brother’s Bond Bourbon. What we found not only impressed us, but made us realize that Ian and Paul were as committed to their product as they appeared when the brand first launched in May 2021.
The brothers-from-another-mother have been working hard to get their brand distributed throughout the U.S., so everyone from the first-time bourbon drinker to the life-long whiskey connoisseur would have a chance to try it.
The result is one of the fastest-selling ultra-premium bourbon brands in the country, shipping 50,000 cases in the first four months of its release.
But Ian and Paul are not the types to rest on their laurels. Inspired by their bourbon’s success, they’ve released a cask strength that’s ready to hit this summer, and a rye that will be available soon.
In our most recent conversation, we talked about what success feels like in the spirits world, where Brother’s Bond Bourbon is going next…
In our most recent conversation, we talked about what success feels like in the spirits world, where Brother’s Bond Bourbon is going next, and a teaser about Paul’s upcoming role as Captain James T. Kirk in the Paramount+ streaming series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Cigar & Spirits: Congratulations on the successful launch of Brother’s Bond Bourbon this past year. How rewarding has it been to create a spirit that’s been so well-received?
Ian: We just got gold in San Francisco, which is huge, but that doesn’t really mean anything. The greatest reception is customers and people like yourself. That’s the greatest reception, the people who really love bourbon and who don’t have any vested interest, other than it tasting great and sharing in that. It’s been mind-blowing for me.
Paul: I liken it to the entertainment industry because that’s the only thing I really knew prior to this and probably the only thing I still know. When you make a TV show and you put it out there, you’re like, “I don’t know, is anybody going to watch this? Is anyone going to even appreciate it?” I’ve done a ton of those shows and movies that people don’t watch and don’t appreciate. When something does hit, the word “gratifying” is an understatement. You’re just really humbled by it.
C&S: Did it take you guys by surprise that your bourbon got this big of a reaction?
Paul: I knew we worked our asses off, and I knew our product was good, but taste is subjective. Also, in general, who knows? I don’t know. Maybe people weren’t in the mood for bourbon. I had no expectations. I was proud of what we created, but I had no expectations. Which is generally my outlook in life. Ian will attest to that.
Ian: Actually, just to add to what Paul was saying, there’s a difference between being the stars of a massive hit television show, which we were, thankfully. At the end of the day, yes, you’ve helped create that character, but it’s owned by the studio, the network, the producers. They dictate, ultimately. You can kick and scream. Trust me, we did. You didn’t like a certain storyline or you didn’t like the way this was handled or that, but at the end of the day, they own it. It’s their property.
This is at a totally different level. We created this literally from the ground up. We built this with our bare hands, with our team. It started with Paul, myself and Vincent [Hanna, co-founder and CEO of Brother’s Bond Bourbon]. Then Vincent built this amazing team around us. That, you cannot touch. That feeling of connectivity. It’s like having a child. It’s like having a baby. It’s amazing to see it now crawling and walking and talking. It’s mind-blowing.
The bourbon category is really competitive … there’s so many celebrity brands nowadays.
C&S: The bourbon category is really competitive. Sometimes there’s pushback in the industry because there’s so many celebrity brands nowadays. In this case, you guys are really personally involved. How are you able to get that across to people, that this isn’t just something that you put your name on?
Ian: Hopefully by telling our story over and over again. Like with you. But it’s in the bottle.
Paul: I think it’s through educational efforts like doing interviews. Or Instagram Live. We’re an independent brand. We’re not owned by any corporate conglomerate. We’re not funded. We do everything ourselves. It’s a little bit like a political campaign. You do a grassroots effort. We’re like that. We’re a political campaign. We go, we spread our message, we say our beliefs, we say what we stand for, and we hope that we build a community through that kind of an effort.
Ian: This was never about diluting the bourbon category. This was about bringing new consumers to this category, to this amazing category that we love, ultimately. Again, like Paul said, it is through grassroots. Instead of a political campaign–instead of a political party, we’re a cocktail party. How about that?
C&S: That’s good.
Ian: Paul makes fun of me because he’s like, “Dude, you literally look like a Tupperware salesman.” I travel around with a freaking box of this bourbon because you got to know what it tastes like at 7:00 in the morning. You got to know what it tastes like at 7:00 in the evening. You got to know what it’s like after you have a meal. We never stop tasting it.
This is a very special business and community and we don’t want to just show up. We want to exceed, and we want to give back to this community. It’s like [master distiller] Jim Rutledge said in the first Zoom I ever did, “If you are distilling or blending bourbon, you’re not competition. You’re community. You’re family.” This is a family, the bourbon community. That’s humbling, but man, you got to come out of the gate with quality.
“We created this literally from the ground up. We built this with our bare hands, with our team.” -I.S.
There are a lot of celebrity-backed brands, and this is not celebrity-backed. This is celebrity-owned. Paul and I really try and not use that word “celebrity.” We actually make fun of each other a lot, but it’s like, I don’t know what else to call ourselves other than just “dudes.”
C&S: You guys are really active on social media, and it seems your followers are especially excited about this. What do you think about that? How does that make you feel?
Paul: Lucky. It’s one thing to get people excited about something because they know who we are and they want to support us. It’s another thing to get them to forget about us and get them just excited about the product. It’s like, yes, cool. It’s Ian and Paul. Alright, fine, that’s why they buy it initially. But then it’s “I’m going to buy Brother’s Bond because it tastes really good.” It’s really about the long-term goal. It’s not about the short-term goal.
Ian: When people walk out of their homes, they have a vote on who they can spend their hard-earned money with. We can only hope to be that company. On a Friday night, we want them to vote for us because the flavor speaks to them, the story speaks to them.
Every bottle that’s bought of this stuff is going to help us build up a big, big, big carbon capture system against climate change. [A portion of Brother’s Bond Bourbon proceeds go to support regenerative farming practices, which increases the drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere.]
C&S: Have you been able to meet your goals as far as positioning the brand in retail and being in the global markets?
Ian: Honestly, we have. We did exactly what we hoped we would do.
Paul: Shockingly, yes, but not even shockingly because you know what? I mean, shockingly always, because you want to stay humble and you want to always maintain realistic expectations, but we’ve also been working our asses off. We’ve been on every Zoom, we’ve gone all over the nation. We’ve met with every retailer. We go on-premise, we do virtual tastings. We’ve put in the work, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make it happen.
C&S: When will the cask strength be available?
Ian: Our cask strength launches in May or June. Paul and I will be launching our bourbon in the UK around July as well.
C&S: Tell me about the rye that’s slated to come out in September.
Ian: Paul and I shot in Atlanta for 8 years, and our show [The Vampire Diaries] was the first one to really utilize the state tax incentives. It was a big hit, and a lot of other big productions came, and the economy in the city really took off. At one point when we were there during the first five or six years,
“Captain Kirk will drink bourbon on the show. That’s all I can say.” -P.W.
Atlanta was named the fastest growing city in America. We watched this explosion of economy in Atlanta and in a lot of old cities. They ripped up all the old railroad tracks, and they built belt lines. Along them are restaurants, bars, just amazing stuff. Paul and I spent years riding our bikes and walking up and down the belt line in Atlanta, going to all the new restaurants. We knew all the owners, and just seeing people out smiling, riding bikes, dogs, kids, people drinking cocktails, and eating food out there. It was very special.
For the rye, we knew we wanted it to come out in time to catch the very tail end of summer. When it’s still warm and people are really soaking it in before the leaves start changing. In October, the temperatures are going to drop. We’re really pushing hard to get it out for September. We’ll make it happen. We’re hell-bent on it.
C&S: Paul, I have to ask you a Star Trek question. Of course.
Paul: I’m glad it’s not a Vampire Diaries question.
C&S: Well, it starts as one, but then it turns into Star Trek. You guys have had a bourbon connection in your show going back to The Vampire Diaries. Have you been able to work bourbon into your new role as Captain Kirk on the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds?
Paul: Without giving away too much, all I’m going to do is say is yes.
C&S: That’s it? That’s all you’re going to give me?
Paul: Captain Kirk will drink bourbon on the show. That’s all I can say.
C&S: Okay. Is there anything else that our audience should be on the lookout for over the coming year or so?
Paul: Well, for those who are looking in terms of other expressions, we have the, as we mentioned, the cask strength, the rye, we have bottled-in-bond and then we have an 8-year. We got a few things that we’re cooking up. For our friends that live outside of the U.S., just know that we’re working hard to head to international territories. We’re having some conversations with England, Canada and Australia. It’s making sure we have enough product, and doing it the right way.
by Audrey Pavia
Portraits by John Russo
Audrey Pavia has authored twenty-three non-fiction books. She is an award-winning writer living in Southern California, and a frequent contributor to Cigar & Spirits Magazine.