Breaking Bread—and Booze Bottles—with Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston

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Max Barsness.

Aaron Paul is in the middle of a story when the familiar chorus of breaking glass rings out from behind the bar. We’re at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz, and he’s telling me about filming the Westworld finale when it happens. Not two minutes later, the waitress who took our drink order is back at the end of the table, sheepishly ducking into the conversation, “I’m so sorry, but when the bartender was making your Negroni, he dropped the bottle of Dos Hombres.” Aaron laughs, as she adds, “And it was our last one.” That’s an awkward thing to say to the co-founder of mezcal brand Dos Hombres who is here, with me, to discuss Dos Hombres over a few rounds of cocktails made with Dos Hombres, but the actor rolls with it. He shifts his order to an old fashioned, which he insists is also great with the smoky spirit.

“​​Once I started substituting bourbon with mezcal in an old fashioned, I fell madly in love with it,” he says, leaning across the table. “I liked it way more than the drink that I would drink all the time for years and years and years.”

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Max Barsness.

We’re waiting for Bryan Cranston, the second hombre in this mezcal family, to get into the particulars about why these two fictional meth chefs got into the real life liquor business. He arrives in the middle of another TV conversation—this one about Big Brother, which Paul tuned into for the first time in years this season. Having been filled in on the broken bottle situation, when the waitress comes to grab his drink order, Cranston barks, “I’ll have a Dos Hombres old fashioned, please. And I’ll take nothing but Dos Hombres!” Her face pales as Cranston lets out a big laugh.

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When you’re breaking bread with the leading men of Breaking Bad, you quickly realize that you’ve actually signed up for a father-son, dinner-and-show rather than a straightforward meal. Tonight’s performance just happens to heavily feature the topic of mezcal. Since the award-winning AMC series ended, Paul has taken on big budget projects like HBO’s Westworld while Cranston led an acclaimed Broadway run of Network, but on the side, the two have waded into the lush Oaxacan forest, searching for a spirits recipe they’d feel enthusiastic about putting their names on.

Paul puts in an order for pizza and artichokes as Cranston recalls the origins of the venture. The two decided to get into the business of booze after splitting a table of sushi one night in New York. Over dinner, they agreed that they wanted to work together again, though something on-screen was too predictable. Maybe alcohol, Paul thought. He suggested mezcal, to Cranston’s initial confusion, who asked, “The shitty spirit with the dead worm at the bottom of it?” Paul gave Cranston a quick education—whatever Cranston was talking about? Not mezcal. Then both of them got a full crash course on the liquor down in Oaxaca. The winning recipe literally darted across their path. “​​A kid runs up to us and invites us to their palenque,” Paul remembers. “You got to take off your shoes and hike through a river to get there, and we’re like, yeah, let’s do it.”

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Max Barsness.

Cranston, finishing a bite of our appetizer, says, “All that was missing was…” before he launched into monkey noises at the table, suggesting that the physical surroundings that their hunt led them into were only a few primates shy of a full-on jungle. Paul is unfazed and takes the moment to hop back into the details of their visit: donkeys pulling giant stone wheels, mashing up smoked agave that would eventually become mezcal. “It’s coming out of the copper kettles and dropping into the buckets,” Cranston says, holding out his cupped hand. “And you take a little copita, a little half coconut shell basically, and you interrupt the flow.” He pushes the last slice of pizza toward me and says, “That’s you, by the way.”


Celebrity spirits are so numerous at this point that they’re becoming unremarkable. Most of them are little more than branding endeavors. Cranston and Paul wanted to be different; to join the process from Stage One. And while the bourbon, tequila, whiskey, and vodka markets felt saturated, certainly when it comes to familiar faces being behind the bottles, the two of them saw an opportunity in mezcal—a maguey-based spirit set apart by its captivating, smoky taste profile.

It had to be worth it, they insist. “We were willing not to do it, so we were just enjoying tasting, seeing what we responded to,” says Cranston. “It really feels like Dos Hombres found us and we embraced that, embraced the culture. And now it’s about taking that piece of that history, that liquid history and bringing it to the rest of the world. And it’s so exciting because most people have no idea what mezcal is. No idea.” That may not be exactly true; mezcal has been steadily growing in consumption for years. In fact, the U.S. surpassed Mexico last year to become the spirit’s largest market—but Cranston and Paul’s excitement suggests it’s the secret you’ve been missing out on forever.

Dos Hombres Espadin Mezcal

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The recipe the two signed off on came from the hands of Gregorio Velasco, a third generation mezcal maestro whose family’s process is the backbone of Dos Hombres. Paul and Cranston were down for it immediately; Velasco was a bit more cautious. “I think he was vetting us,” says Paul. “He wanted to like the people that he was going into business with. And he did!”

That’s a great origin story but, as it’s impossible not to point out right here at dinner, the three people at the table talking about an Oaxacan mezcal named Dos Hombres are… three gringos. Bopping down to Mexico, finding a killer mezcal recipe, bringing it back to the States—it could be a hard sell for people who feel like these are just two fancy white guys on vacation, looking to cherry pick a piece of Mexican culture for their own gain.

Paul welcomes the conversation. “We want to educate people on the process of mezcal,” he says. “The community there and why we have personally fallen in love with it.” Cranston picks up where Paul left off: “We asked them, ‘What can we do for you? What is it that you need? ​​San Luis del Rio… the river that runs through this mountain town, is very small. This town has one landline telephone in the entire town. One.” In a still-ongoing give back mission, they made water their first objective.

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Max Barsness.

The duo started with getting the town of 400 people a water filtration system that was more reliable than the mountain spring water they previously relied on. Once it was installed, residents sent a video of the priest blessing the newly installed system to Paul and Cranston.

And while a more abundant source of clean water is also likely beneficial to the production of mezcal, Paul is adamant. “We did not want to be viewed in any way as these two gringos, going down and raping the country,” he says. “It’s immoral. It’s unfathomable to us, the idea of taking ill advantage of a group of people. It’s the opposite of where our heads are.”


How does a friendship that blossomed as co-stars work as business partners? I ask as our main dishes disappear. Paul falls over onto Cranston’s shoulder and says, “I instantly fell in love with this man. He’s impossible not to love.” Cranston looks down at him, then back up at me, and says, “Impossible!”

“He became one of my closest friends—my mentor—very early on,” Paul continues. “Someone I can confide in. And when [Breaking Bad] was done, it was a very hard goodbye. A lot of times when you’re doing a show, a film, a play, it’s like you’re going away to summer camp. You’ve become best friends with these people and you think, oh, we’re going to be ride-or-dies until the end and then you go your separate ways. You get back into your day to day normal life and you realize, oh, it’s hard to stay in touch.”

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Cranston adds: ​​I will say, when I met him he was in his twenties. And now he’s in his forties and it’s changed. He’s a husband and a father now,” Cranston says. (Paul is still laying on Cranston’s shoulder, by the way.) “In our show we have a mentor-mentee relationship. But Aaron’s the guy who’s really the brains of the [Dos Hombres] output. He started it all. It was his idea. He knows more about business than I do. Someone has to be the cover girl, and that’s me.”

Breaking Bad debuted almost 15 years ago now, right as the anti-hero era of television was really beginning to peak. Cranston had come off Malcolm in the Middle a couple years before. Paul was booking a whole slew of bit roles. Both were hoping for a big win. “That was my seventh pilot—six pilots before that didn’t go—and I was at the lowest point in my career,” Cranston remembers.

Breaking Bad, it was seven years from the pilot to the finale. And during those seven years, a lot of the time on set it was him and I,” Paul remembers. “I would love to do a play with this guy just because, I mean, I’ve seen him on stage multiple times, and what he does on stage is just so… I felt like I was a decent actor diving into Breaking Bad. I grew so much as an actor because of this guy.”

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Max Barsness.

Paul is, generally speaking, reassessing his priorities. 42 years old, he’s cemented a solid acting career, but he wants more. In the time since Breaking Bad wrapped, some of the most core parts of him have changed. While filming The Path in 2015, Paul shared the screen with his fictional son, Kyle Allen. Coming into the series, he didn’t want kids, something he’d told his wife, Lauren. But by embracing the character, a piece of himself changed, too.

“You actually told her you did not want to have kids?” Cranston asks.

“Yes.”

Wow.”

Paul sat on his newfound baby-fever for six months before blurting it out in a less than private setting. At a screening of a J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars movie, he admitted it to his wife: “The words are coming across the screen at the beginning, and I go, ‘Hey, babe. Can I tell you something? I want to have babies.” She’s confused, but he continues. “I go, ‘I want to have babies with you. I want to have babies. I want to be a dad. I want you to be a mom,’ and she starts sobbing.”

“You’re such a great dad, by the way,” Cranston says, getting a proud smile out of Paul. To me, he adds, humorously, “Speaking of babies, he sent me pictures of his little baby boy with a big nose. Just a huge, huge honker. I’m sure, you know,” tapping his nose, “cosmetic surgery down the road. Is there infantile cosmetic surgery?”

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Max Barsness.

“The moment you see him work, he is the hardest worker in the room. He’s such a professional. Like he knows his shit,” Paul explains. “But he is also the most immature person I’ve ever met in my life, but I say that in the most beautiful, loving way.”

In the coming year, Dos Hombres hopes to expand and hit the road, embarking on a traveling tour with a van. Or an RV. It’ll be called “The Hombre Mobile,” the know that. With luck, you might just get served some mezcal from Cranston and Paul themselves, depending on the location. Paul is also wrapping up that upcoming season of Westworld as Cranston works on his newest stage role in Paul Grellong’s Power of Sail, which is set to premiere later this year.

As for whether the two have any projects together coming up on-screen? That’s a negative. But it’s something they’ve talked about, and they know how quickly time passes. “In 15 years, I will be 80 years old. Oh my god,” Cranston jokes. “I mean, that’s like someone just kicking you in the nuts. Just turning around and just slamming you right in the nuts.”

Dos Hombres scratches that itch for now, though. “I say it every time I’m with him. I love this man so much. I get so incredibly emotional,” Paul says for at least the fifth time. “He is truly a father figure, an older brother figure, that I just love and adore so much, and the fact we get to kind of be in cahoots again—”

“It’s good,” Cranston says, cutting in.

“It’s a fucking dream,” Paul adds, taking a sip of his wine. “It’s truly a dream.”


Photographer: Max Barsness.

Stylist: Ilaria Urbinati.

Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on television, pop culture, food, and the south; he is from East Tennessee and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Source : Esquire