From Breaking Bad to Dos Hombres Mezcal, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul prove good stories—and good guys—stand the test of time.
It’s been nearly a decade since the last episode of the award-winning AMC hit series Breaking Bad aired. The series that redefined television wouldn’t have been possible without its two dynamic stars, Bryan Cranston (Walter White) and Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman). And, it turns out, the future of the mezcal industry might not be, either.
Cranston and Paul are the co-founders of Dos Hombres Mezcal, a sustainable spirits brand working to elevate the mezcal producers from the small village of San Luis del Río, in a remote section of Oaxaca, as well as the industry at large.
According to Paul, he and Cranston became closer following Breaking Bad. The seed was planted for Dos Hombres, he says, about three years after the series ended while the two were out for dinner one night in New York.
“[Cranston] asked me, ‘do you think it’s a little too soon for us to share the screen again? Do you think we could maybe do a play or a limited [series]?'” Paul recalled during a recent tasting event.
It took some convincing on Paul’s part, but the vision he had for the duo wasn’t on the screen—at least not exclusively. He had his eye on something bigger.
For Paul, the spirits industry felt like a natural fit. He’s not the first celebrity to get the spirits spirit, though; it’s a booming business for a number of celebrity founders and investors.
Kendall Jenner and Eva Longoria both have sustainable tequila brands. Cameron Diaz co-founded sustainable wine brand Avaline. Leonardo DiCaprio recently invested in Champagne Telmont. Celebrities are even getting in on the non-alcoholic beverage sector; Brad Pitt co-founded organic tea brand Enroot, Katy Perry recently launched aperitif brand De Soi, and Bella Hadid loves the botanical-based Kin Euphorics so much she joined the brand as co-founder.
Paul was drawn to the smoky, rich flavor of mezcal, and knew that Cranston would be too—eventually. It took some convincing, including a trip to a mezcal bar, but Cranston soon saw the vision.
“I didn’t know there were bars exclusively for mezcals and how many there were, how many different varieties,” Cranston said. “So we’re sitting there, I’m sipping stout and some are sweeter than others. Some are very fruit forward. Some are flowery, some are incredibly strong and smoky, some are weaker. I mean, it was just all over the place and I grew a tremendous affinity for the juice itself.”
In search of a mezcalero
That set the wheels in motion. And while the Breaking Bad characters the two played were masters in the meth lab, the art of mezcal is all about how steeped in tradition the mezcalero is. It requires history, processes passed down from generation to generation to ensure a smooth sip.
“And, so I said, ‘okay, listen, let’s, let’s talk about this. I mean, let’s seriously talk about this. If we’re going to do this, let’s go down to Oaxaca. Let’s find it,'” Cranston said. “We’re not about to slap our names on something on a bottle and say, ‘hey good luck!’—so we have to be passionately involved in the entire operation or else we’re just not interested.”
That passion has translated into a fierce determination not unlike that found in the characters the two actors brought to life in Breaking Bad. With their production partner Gregorio Velasco, a third-generation mezcal maker, Cranston’s and Paul’s Dos Hombres is focused on the old ways: tradition, sustainability, and community.
Dos Hombres launched just before covid lockdown started, but the brand has found its footing. Mixologists love it as much as consumers buying it directly; it has become a bestseller at retail in stores like BevMo. Celebrity founders has something to do with it, certainly, but Cranston and Paul are quick to tell you it’s the mezcal that sells itself. They were picky about the product from the start, losing hope something would meet their quality standards.
Then, they visited San Luis del Río, a small rural town of about 500 people, a few hours outside of Oaxaca city. It was their last scheduled day of tastings. They tasted a few in town, but none were “it.”
“So we were walking back to the town, heading to our car, and this was our last day of tasting. We knew we were leaving the next day. We’re going back home. And in my head, I’m just thinking, ‘okay, when can we get back here?'” Paul recalls, saying he wanted to continue the mission after striking out. Then, a kid approaches and invites them to sample juice from another mezcal producer.
“So, it’s back to the village, we follow this kid and we get to this river bed. He’s like, ‘yeah, we have to hike through the rive,'” Paul recalls. This is during the rainy season, and they come to a spot where there’s a guy standing on the opposite end of the river looking holding a giant machete.
They hike their way through the forest to a clearing, and that’s where everything changed.
“We tasted it, we looked at each other, we didn’t say anything,” Paul remembers.
“And then I turned away because I didn’t want that influence. I wanted to make sure,” Cranston said.
“Oh my God, is this it? And we tasted it again. And we’re like, ‘holy shit. I think we found it,'” Paul said.
That was mezcal from mezcalero Gregorio Velasco, now an equity partner in Dos Hombres. His mezcal wasn’t on the tasting itinerary, and that made it even more special for the founders.
“It was the only single operation that wasn’t part of the scheduled tastings, and the fact that he was not producing for anybody,” Paul remembers, “we were like, ‘wait, how has this juice not been discovered? Are we the ones to bring this juice out into the world?’ It’s just pure artistry,” he says.
The founders bonded with Velasco and his family—his sons will take over the business when he retires. But Cranston and Paul are aiming to make Dos Hombres about the bigger family—the remote Oaxacan village and others like it.
Mezcal and community
The agave used for Dos Hombres is sourced locally; agave is vetted for soil quality and use of natural fertilizers.
For its Tobala mezcal, that agave must be sourced from the wild. It takes 25 years of maturation before it can be harvested. Dos Hombres offers a limited production run of Tobala, but for each Tobala harvested from the wild, the company plants two more.
“And that planting, it doesn’t mean that Tobala is going to be for us,” Cranston clarifies.
Ahead of Earth Day this year, the founders announced Dos Hombres recently donated and installed a water filtration system for San Luis del Río. It also built a cooling system to treat the water used during distillation so it reduces its overall water usage.
Cranston is working with Oaxaca’s governor Alejandro Murat Hinojosa to establish ways to support the region. Mezcal is as fundamental to Oaxaca as tequila is to Jalisco and the lesser-known bacanora is to Sonora.
For Dos Hombres, that means sticking to tradition. For a bottle to say “mezcal artesanal” it must be produced the old ways. Modern technology such as silos and steamers aren’t allowed.
“When we stumbled upon San Luis del Río and this palenque that we first saw, the thing that struck me right away, was there is no electricity there. None. There’s no running water there, at our operation, that ensures that it is done in the old world way,” Cranston says, noting that the fermentation process “happens naturally.”
Mezcal is made in the earth—smoked in earthen pits—an ancient process that requires no electricity. There are some advancements to the operation; Dos Hombres installed solar panels that offers a bit more light, but they’re not used in the actual mezcal-making process. Like other technologies, it’s not necessary to improve production or flavor, says Cranston, it’s quite the opposite. “This is old world.”