They started out playing fictional brothers on the dreamy CW series Vampire Diaries, with Paul Wesley the amiable blood-sucking foil to Ian Somerhalder’s manipulative, malevolent older sibling, both members of the undead. Time passed, curses were broken, friendships were cemented, the show ended its run in 2017, and today, Somerhalder and Wesley sit in their office in California, giddily sipping bourbon bright and early in the morning. But fear not, it’s all in the name of duty: This spring, they’re launching Brother’s Bond, a ridiculously smooth and delicious four-grain, high rye bourbon whiskey.
And because the amateur talking to them knew as much about spirits as she does about astrophysics, Somerhalder and Wesley did a little tasting over Zoom. First surprise: It goes down easy, with absolutely none of that jarring, scalding aftertaste you expect.
“I don’t like it burning me either!” says Somerhalder. “I’m so proud of this. I cannot even tell you. So I just went ahead and put ice on mine right now but I usually drink it neat. So your first sip of bourbon obviously is not going to be your best because you don’t know what’s on your palette, but that second sip is really what you’re getting there. If you smell it, you get those banana bread notes. And then you taste all those grains as they go over your palette. And then once you swallow, you’re going to feel a little bit warm, with a sweet kick down the back of your tongue. And it’s just magic.”
Before you roll your eyes at yet another celebrity slapping their name on fill-in-the-blank booze and suddenly becoming a self-proclaimed sommelier, this isn’t that. Somerhalder and Wesley have been developing this particular bourbon since their show ended five years ago, hanging out at the home Somerhalder shares with his wife Nikki Reed and daughter Bodhi, 3, and blending, sipping, and blending some more. The two friends dialed in from their new office to talk bonds, booze, and bed-shopping.
Let me start by saying: I know nothing and I do mean nothing about bourbon or whiskey. And yours is very, very good. Even at noon my time.
Paul: This is one of the things that we’re so proud of — everything you see, the bottle, the label, the name, the neck tag, and certainly the liquid inside, it’s all something that Ian and I created together. And I think it’s so important to say that because there are so many endorsements these days, and people put their names on something. They don’t really believe in it, or frankly, even know much about it. This is not something that we are endorsing. This is our product, from the ground up. I think it’s just such an important distinction and so important to note that, in this world of quote-unquote celebrity alcohol brands.
Ian: I’m not even kidding you— we spent over a year in my kitchen and my living room with hundreds of iterations of this, blending tirelessly. Our wives thought we were crazy, but they’re also insanely supportive and they knew we were chasing something. And I would even talk to Nikki about this and say, ‘I know we’re going to get it, but sometimes I feel like I’m chasing a ghost.’ Which is that incredible approachability right out of the bottle, something very complex for the bourbon drinker, but smooth enough for the new bourbon drinker to say, you know what? I’ve never had this spirit, but I’m going to drink this because this is amazing.
At what point, when you started shooting the show, did you guys realize you had a real connection?
Paul: We knew we were going to be brothers and it was a lot of method acting. We just hit it off.
Ian: While we were stuck together? It’s called a contract. It’s called an ironclad seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. Honestly, we got on pretty much from the onset and I remember, even flying on the plane to Vancouver, to go shoot the pilot we just hit it off, you know? And Paul was like, ‘Do you think it’s going to work?’ Paul, it’s fucking Twilight on television. Yes, it’s going to work. It’s going to be huge.
Paul: That actually describes our relationship perfectly. I’m a glass half empty, always pessimistic — I’m just always thinking about worst-case scenario. Ian is always optimistic and everything’s always going to be okay. And so with this bourbon brand even, I’m always the one who’s bringing up the worst-case scenario and Ian’s always the team cheerleader.
What’s the best or most annoying quality about each of you, as perceived by the other?
Paul: He just wiped his spilled bourbon on my jeans. So that’s an annoying characteristic. He literally wiped it on my jeans, like a kid putting snot on you.
Ian: I have some of that too.
Paul: His best quality is his optimism, and his worst quality is just endless optimism.
Ian: Paul’s best quality is his endless pessimism. It really is because he makes you ask another thousand questions and it’s like, ‘God, Paul, it’s the sky is not falling.’ Paul’s worst quality is his endless pessimism because at the end of the day, I want him to like the little wins. We could close some massive deal. And he’d be like, ‘It’s not on the shelves yet.’
Paul: I would rather always expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised, a hundred percent.
A bourbon smooth enough for a newbie and complex enough for a connoisseur, this one was created by Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley, who have been friends for more than a decade.
What was the biggest learning curve for you while making this product? I imagine it’s a very different world from acting.
Paul: For me the roadblock, other than my dog’s bowel movements, and that’s a huge problem, is producing enough bourbon. It’s extremely difficult to produce. It has to be aged. You have to be very patient.
Ian. It’s like you, Paul. You’re expensive. You take a long time. And you’re wildly complex.
Paul: I’m an expensive date. But it’s the whole bourbon-making process. It’s extremely laborious and in the best of ways, but with that comes a lot of challenges. What would you say?
Ian: You know, production challenges are incredible because you’re looking at something at scale. And so you’re dealing with big, big numbers. The level of moving parts is incredible. Paul and I might have 20 years of experience drinking bourbon, but our team has 20 years on the ground working for the biggest companies and developing the biggest brands in the world. So for Paul and I, man, we just have to pinch ourselves and look at who is running this company with us. One thing goes wrong on one of the quality control checkpoints, and it’s done.
Paul: There’s this stereotype with dark spirits, bourbon, Irish whiskey, dark spirits in general — that you have to be a grumpy old man to drink it. I’m the old grumpy man.
Ian: I’m in my 40s.
Paul: I’m catching up. But this a drink anyone can enjoy. Certainly, we would like to appeal to the grumpy old man as well. But at the end of the day, this is absolutely a drink that anyone can enjoy, regardless of whether they think they like dark spirits or not.
Ian: I drink this shit and I am happy.
Are you done with acting for now?
Paul: I look at it this way. We’re certainly not done with acting that we love. It’s what we’ve been doing for 20 years and I don’t know what I would do. But I will say this: this has really gotten my attention and the reason that I’m so passionate about this is that sometimes when you’re an actor you’re hired to do a job. It’s created by someone else and you’re hired to do a job. It doesn’t mean you don’t become a part of it or you don’t enjoy it.
But at the end of the day, it’s really not your baby. You’re part of the larger puzzle. And this is something that we created from the ground up. And so there is a real kind of feeling of satisfaction.
Ian: We built this during a global pandemic. I was producing a show with Netflix called V Wars and Netflix ended up not moving forward with the show for a bunch of reasons I don’t need to go into.
Paul: Your performance?
Ian: Probably. Unfortunately, I was director, producer, and actor. I was so pissed about that. I was sitting with Nikki and she says, ‘Think about now, your world has opened up. Now you get to be so much more of a present dad and you get to build your company.’
For him and me, this is the dream. I say this to all the dads out there: It’s the little wins throughout the day, when you’re balancing work, family, friends, health, there’s a lot to balance. These are the little wins, sitting with a dear friend or brother, having a little sip of a bourbon that is smooth, smooth, smooth. That’s huge, man.
Paul: We just moved in together.
Ian: We just moved in together.
Ian, you left your wife for Paul? Now that would be one hell of a scandal.
Ian: It would be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. But I’m already married to Paul. It doesn’t matter.
During COVID, we were super-cautious and we’d test like crazy. But we have an office. The office is a full crash pad, with a bedroom. Paul and I needed to go pick out a bed. And we decided to do it digitally because I cannot imagine the press: Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder walk into a mattress store together. We were going to go to a store in Santa Monica and check out beds together. And we decided we can’t do it, we’ll just buy it online.
Ian, when putting together this brand, did you always have in the back of your mind the thought that this is something you could pass on to your daughter someday? I know part of the proceeds are going to support regenerative farming practices.
Ian: One hundred percent. We’re an agricultural product. When I look at my little girl, I don’t want to be saying, ‘I’m so sorry for what we did.’ I want to be saying, ‘I’m so grateful for what we did.’ And so, this is generations and generations. Paul and I, we’re in this for the long haul. This is generations and generations of this company. And by the way, we talk about this. Whether it’s us getting up in the morning and coming to work, or someone getting into that delivery truck, that they know they’re doing something special.
Paul: I’m not paying attention to anything he says. When Ian talks, I imagine a kaleidoscope. I’m going on a little journey.
You’re a dad. So what’s the most rewarding part of fatherhood?
Ian: Every single second. Now going through this, and he’s been through all this stuff with me, the fact that we are walking around this planet right now, having a conversation, is a miracle. And it puts you a step back to say that these sunrises, all of these sunsets, they’re all special. They’re all numbered. So just to be here right now with this munchkin, this child who’s teaching you constantly every day — anything you have that’s your own, you have to shelve it. It’s your job to instill and put into this kid all the best parts of you. It makes things not about you. It takes away that me, me, me thing. And puts it into something special.