by Randy Mastronicola I portraits by John Russo

We have met interviewed many notable people here at Cigar & Spirits Magazine. Actors, directors, comedians, musicians, athletes. Obviously, most are cigar and/or spirits enthusiasts, and each has varying degrees of notoriety. This time, the magazine’s staff reaction to the news we’d be interviewing Jeffrey Dean Morgan was especially interesting. Jeffrey’s career has proven to be diverse because he’s worked in many different genres, but the majority of the recognition among the staff broke down into two obvious camps: The Walking Dead and Grey’s Anatomy. Evidently, worlds do collide. Around the water cooler, we discussed both shows and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s characters.

The words used to describe Jeffrey’s The Walking Dead character, Negan Smith, were brutal, charismatic, bawdy and ruthless, yet somehow honorable.
Jeffrey’s Denny Duquette character from Grey’s Anatomy garnered comments like “That heart patient guy broke my heart,” and “That love story really got to me,” plus words like warm, funny, deep and soulful.

My takeaway from my real-life conversation with Jeffrey was the best of all those descriptions. He was charismatic, warm, funny, deep and soulful, and has a love story thrown into the mix, too.

I’ve interviewed people over the years who have shared about their gratitude for being able to do what they do—others, not so much. It always reminds me of the quote: “There are two types of people in the world. Those who have been humbled, and those who are about to be.”

Right. We have all been humbled, and we’re probably about to be humbled again. It doesn’t end. I think if you come at any venture, or any profession, or even everyday life–coming from a place of being humble–I think your day is bound to be better. I like to think that I’m still learning something every day. Especially as a parent. I can pass that on, hopefully, to my children, with hard work being the number one thing. I’ve never been afraid of hard work.

My wife [actress Hilarie Burton] and I both believe in working hard. It’s taken a lot of that to have success. It’s too bad that we’re judged on “success” so often in this life because I know a lot of hard workers that don’t get to grace the cover of a magazine. I think what we do is very unique in that way.

It’s about keeping your nose to the grindstone and never giving up.

You developed a rye. You didn’t hop on the bourbon boom.

I thought a rye was a good idea. I’ve always liked rye. The whole bonfire rye comes from the fact that I live on a farm and have a bonfire going about 24 hours a day–literally. I love the smell and feel. I love a nice sipping whisky–a nice rye will do that for me. It seemed like a great combination, the spiciness of rye, and we knew Vale Fox could do a good one.

Then it was a lot of experimentation to come up with the flavors that we wanted. Once we came up with how to get that smoky flavor, I think, it was a tough deal. I got a little thing sent to me today. My little bonfire, a little taster.

Your path has led you from Seattle to Hollywood to the farm in New York’s Hudson Valley.

We fell in love with this town and saw this life. When we first met, we were in New Mexico. I was doing a movie, and we’d walk around New Mexico. We talked about all of our dreams and aspirations and what we wanted. We’d literally just met. One dream was to live in this Norman Rockwell kind of town. We both pictured that. I really wanted a cheese shop where I could hang my photographs, and we wanted a farm. My grandmother had a farm outside of Seattle. She had a little bit of everything, but it was primarily pigs. Hilarie grew up in very rural Virginia, and had her own farm upbringing.

We had this picture of our life. We bought this tiny cabin, 1,200 square feet, but maybe 800 of it livable. The rest was unfinished basement. I thought, “We’ll spend a month out of the year up in our little cabin and some 14 acres of woods, and we’ll spend most of our time in Los Angeles. Then our son was born, I was in Miami doing a job, and blah, blah, blah–we never went back to Los Angeles. We kept going back to this little cabin in between jobs, and we loved it. It finally got to the point where with Gussy it was time to decide what the hell we were going to do regarding school. We decided we were going to stay in Hudson Valley. We ended up just finally selling the L.A. house, bought this farm, and fell in love with the land more than anything.

The farm has since expanded. It had a little tiny farmhouse on it that we gutted and then added onto because our family started getting larger, and we loved it. It really is a working farm. It’s really–more than anything– about the animals. We’ve got a little bit of everything–primarily rescues. We rescue a lot of animals that are in need of a home. We’ve got a very odd assortment of creatures. Seriously, it’s a fucking odd assortment of creatures.

It’s a really authentic project from what I’ve gathered. What was the inspiration?

My wife and I have more ideas than we know what to do with. One of our ideas, moons ago, like when we first met was, “It would be really cool to have a spirit brand.” We’ve been approached, over the years, by different companies, much bigger kinds of companies. We would do a Zoom meeting, or we had lunch with some people once. It just never felt right. It was one of those things that I didn’t know if it was going to come to fruition.

Then, a distillery opened, very near us, and if you know anything about us, we’re big on community. The Hudson Valley [New York] really has become such an important part of our life.

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