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The former co-stars turned business partners are famed for their portrayal as vampire brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore on The CW’s franchise hit The Vampire Diaries. But Wesley and Somerhalder’s on-screen brotherhood extends far beyond the eight-season run of the show that catapulted them to stardom.
When they weren’t playing blood-thirsty vampires on-screen, Wesley and Somerhalder were building a thirsty tradition of their own — drinking bourbon, of course, off-set after hours.
“So we could tolerate each other off-screen,” Wesley jokes.
“It became this thing we did on-screen and then off,” the actor adds. “We were shooting in the South, and I never really appreciated bourbon until I was living in Atlanta.”
A Louisiana native, Somerhalder grew up surrounded by the culture of Southern whiskey. “I’ve been drinking bourbon for 25 years,” the actor says. “It pumps through my veins.”
So, after over a decade of drinking together, Wesley says that creating their own bourbon “felt like an incredibly organic thing to do.”
And so began their journey to creating Brother’s Bond Bourbon — a passion project that has seen Wesley and Somerhalder through the next stage of not only their professional relationship, but their friendship, as well.
The pair — “attached at the hip,” says Wesley, in their Vampire Diaries days — are now in the midst of what they call their “2.0” phase of life. “This is gonna be another decade together,” Somerhalder says.
For the target audience of their new product, they’re looking to extend beyond that of their TVD following — the show, which ended in 2017, was the 15th most-streamed series of 2020, according to Nielsen’s yearly rankings — and into the homes of bourbon connoisseurs and new whiskey drinkers alike.
The name of the product — Brother’s Bond — is a nod to Wesley and Somerhalder’s on-screen relationship, but also to the camaraderie formed between friends and family over a shared drink. It’s a four-grain bourbon, made from a blend of corn, rye, wheat and malt, which is then distilled in a combination of copper-column stills, as well as copper pot-doublers. Described on their website as “elegant and exceptionally smooth … with a touch of sweetness & spice,” the taste profile notes a complex balance of flavors including baked banana bread, dried fruit, warm rye spice and fresh cut oak.
Luckily, the former co-stars share the same palate when it comes to bourbon. That is, they like an out-of-bottle approach. But for all their similarities in taste preferences, the co-founders note their differences as business partners — Somerhalder as the dreamer and Wesley as the realist.
“Ian is an eternal optimist and I’m an eternal pessimist,” Wesley says. “We balance each other out in so many ways — he’ll go big, and then I’ll bring him down a little sometimes, when it’s necessary.”
“Paul and I cut through the bullshit,” Somerhalder adds matter-of-factly. “It’s great from a productivity standpoint, our team loves it.”
Surrounded by a group of long-established players in the spirits business, the co-founders sing the praises of the team who are helping bring their vision to reality. With over 20 years of wine and spirits industry experience, Brother’s Bond co-founder and CEO Vincent Hanna — “the illegitimate third brother,” Wesley jokes — has served as a guide in the brand’s decision-making processes. Prior to Brother’s Bond, Hanna managed the Peter Igel Group wines & spirits brokerage business, selling millions of liters globally and supplying Constellation, Gallo, Bacardi, Arterra and Andrew Peller, as well as other multinational alcohol beverage companies.
Often to the surprise of various buyers and distributors, Wesley and Somerhalder insist on taking a hands-on approach to the business — they make a point to be a part of every decision, every process, and even every Zoom call.
And they don’t like the term “celebrity.”
“Ian loves to call himself a celebrity,” Wesley jokes.
“We really don’t like saying that word,” Somerhalder says. “It really matters as an asset, but it makes us sound so douchey. We sound like such tools.”
“Egomaniacal actors,” the other affirms.
“But we refuse to compromise when it comes to quality,” Somerhalder continues. “You can have a celebrity-driven or celebrity-powered label and a bunch of investment capital behind you, but if what’s in your bottle is not quality, then you have nothing.”
In their search for that high-level quality, they carried out an extensive tasting process. Night after night, the pair spent hours in Somerhalder’s living room, sampling an endless amount of iterations before finally getting it right.
“We’ve painstakingly driven ourselves insane,” Somerhalder jokes of their determination to perfect what he calls the “gold standard.” Once that standard was pinned down, every batch since has been approved by a sensory panel — Wesley and Somerhalder included — all to ensure a consistent quality across all bottles.
And the time-consuming process of fine-tuning the perfect bourbon wasn’t much different from Wesley’s audition experience for The Vampire Diaries.
“I’ve never read more times in my life,” Wesley recalled of the casting process, in which he read for three different parts.
But Somerhalder felt similarly. “I was deeply concerned I was not gonna get that role,” he remembers.
But with Brother’s Bond, the TV stars didn’t have a shred of doubt.
“There was never a moment when I didn’t think we would find it,” he continues. “My wife would come downstairs and say ‘This is crazy, get some sleep, you can do it again tomorrow, it’s three in the morning.’”
“And then Ian and I would go to sleep in the guest room,” Wesley joked of the pair’s extensive time spent in close quarters together. “Now I’m kidding.”
Much like their real-life counterparts, Wesley and Somerhalder’s on-screen characters were portrayed drinking bourbon throughout the show. Of course, it wasn’t actual alcohol they were imbibing. Early on, they were downing black tea that left them wired off the caffeine buzz (“We didn’t realize how caffeinated it was,” Wesley explains).
As part of their endeavor, Somerhalder and Wesley also are pushing forward in the fight against climate change. Brother’s Bond is giving back 1 percent of gross revenues to regenerative farming in support of the goal to reduce the negative effects of large-scale agriculture and farming. It’s an issue Somerhalder has been active in; the actor, founder of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, served as an executive producer in 2020 on Netflix’s Kiss the Ground, an environmental documentary focused on the healing power of regenerative agriculture.
This summer, Brother’s Bond — available for around $40 to $60 for a 750 ml bottle — expanded its national reach, and is currently being released on a rolling basis across the country.
And as the name suggests, Wesley and Somerhalder want their bourbon to create a bond among the people who share it.
“If you are going to have a drink, drink in good company,” Wesley advises.
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