Spirit Of The Week: ‘Lagavulin Offerman Edition’ Single Malt Scotch

We shared a dram with Nick Offerman and talked Ron Swanson, the good fortune of finding his wife, and the joys of peated whisky.

(Lagavulin)

On a recent overcast afternoon, Lagavulin held a fete in Anjelica Huston’s erstwhile Windward Avenue complex in Venice Beach, California to debut its latest collaboration with Nick Offerman. There, in the cool and wettish open courtyard, the beloved Islay whiskeymaker celebrated the fourth edition of an ongoing partnership with the actor best known for playing Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec

Needless to say, the newly-launched Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Caribbean Rum Cask Finish single malt Scotch was poured from the bottle like fine wine during a Dionysian orgy, only interrupted by passed plates of street tacos, clam ceviche and other delicacies. 

You want to pay me to say that I love my favorite thing? That sounds pretty good to me.

The limited-production expression starts life as Lagavulin’s famed single malt, aged eleven years in ex-bourbon and sherry barrels, and then second aged for over eight months in ex-Caribbean rum wood. It’s a tasty paradox, adding cinnamon, lemon peel and toffee to Lagavulin’s signature bonfire and brine goodness. 

The concept also happened to goose Nick’s love of nautical adventuring, so the Caribbean-aligned finishing certainly tickled the boat builder in a happy place. 

We were lucky to share a dram with Mr. Offerman himself in that crisp courtyard while we chatted all things Ron Swanson, the good fortune of finding his wife—the beautiful and razor-witted Megan Mullally—and, of course, peated whisky.

But the convo began with an offhand comment congratulating the actor on having the foresight to wear a jacket to the beach for an early evening soiree—a small but prescient Angeleno move several of the shivering guests failed to do. It was an amicable, dynamic and sincere conversation with an artist we’ve respected for quite a while, so we’re sharing it pretty much in full.  

The limited edition Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Caribbean Rum Cask Finish comes bottled at 46% ABV for $90.

You’re smart wearing a jacket—that’s a seasoned Angeleno move.  

Well, that’s because of a stylist. I’m willfully a Luddite; all through the great fortune that I’ve had working in the business, I never know anything. I mean, I am very friendly and curious and I love to collaborate—I just never know what’s going on in popular culture. And so it behooves a company if they want me holding this bottle of Offerman Scotch to look decent, to show up with a cute jacket and be presentable.

Doesn’t your wife [Megan Mullally] help with that?

She does very much, but I don’t want to saddle her with that. She is the most exquisite curator of all things that I’ve ever met across the board, from arranging my sock drawer to picking my outfits to designing our home to picking rescue dogs—you name it. She’s an incredible picker-of-stuff with a couple of obvious lapses in judgment. But yeah, so I get the stuff from the stylist and then I show it to Megan.

How’s her aesthetic eye? I assume it’s pretty good.

It’s ridiculous. She’s so sophisticated, while I learned early on, thankfully, I don’t have taste. I’m a laborer. I don’t give a shit. All I need is functional: I’m like, “What is this, a talk show? Okay, give me a suit. I don’t care what the suit looks like. Does this work? Okay, give me Carhartts and work boots and a Bonhoff lumber t-shirt.”

But you obviously do have strong aesthetics, whether it’s a good palate or woodwork. It’s just that maybe you don’t care that much about physical appearance, fashion, etc. I mean you definitely have good taste. 

That’s true. I mean, I do make some good choices. My gut takes very good care of me when it comes to choosing projects, but I guess I’ve never parsed it this way. Yes, to me it doesn’t include the facade of superficiality, like appearances, but rather the spirit of things. So craftsman-style furniture, the things we make at my wood shop are pretty specific and they’re pretty, I don’t know, folksy and authentic. We make a beautiful cutting board, but it wouldn’t work in everybody’s home.

Don’t you think making craftsman furniture—there’s the spirit of it, there’s the handmaking of it—but there’s also the aesthetic value. So I think you’re kind of joking around here; you must be self-aware that you do have taste, that aesthetics do matter to you. You just don’t care about fashion, what clothes you wear, etc.. And that’s a different discussion.

That’s correct. Yeah. Aesthetics matter to me when it comes to furniture, for example, or I’ve built some beautiful wooden boats. But all of those things weren’t my idea. I’m copying beautiful designs and innovations that came before. I say, “Oh, I’m going to make my version of that Nakashima table, or that wooden canoe from Fair Mountain Boats in Canada.” And so I don’t know. I mean, I’m glad that I’ve made it as far as I have, not being able to choose a sport coat with any great efficacy.

(Lagavulin)

Once could argue that even if you don’t particularly care about shoes or what pants you’re wearing, that you have a very strong aesthetic value and it is unique, and you take great pride in it whether you’d admit it or not.

I will admit I am very proud of my particular personal aesthetic, which is born more of the wood shop and the small town Illinois family I grew up in. If I could, my outfits I would wear on a talk show would be halfway towards Heehaw or something, but I would try to make it cool. So I do care, but I just don’t share the sophistication of my household.

I actually do find that whole conversation fascinating, but on that note, let’s move to your taste in whisky.

I’m going to be thinking about it because I haven’t been made to do a deep dive on it, and I’m going to go home and be like, “Am I cool?” [LAUGHS]

Not so much cool, it’s more that you don’t really give a damn whether your shoes or pants are trendy, but you have a very strong palate—whether that means your tongue or your eyes or what project you want to work on. Your wife once again being evidence of that.

Well, I appreciate that, and I don’t disagree, and that’s my gut taking good care of me.

You must have done something your impress her. 

I must have a terrific personality. I own a mirror and it’s not my cheekbones.

So walk us through the Lagavulin history. Did Nick Offerman bring it to Parks and Rec and you were just like, “I love this stuff. I want to incorporate into the character.” Or did they create that passion? 

It’s a great question. Lagavulin was the first Scotch anybody gave me when I was 29. I was at a film festival, I loved beer and whiskey but hadn’t had anything good. With all due respect to Jameson, which I love, but nothing that was a step towards luxurious. 

Then somebody gave me Lagavulin and I said, “Oh, I see what all the fuss is about. This is incredible. It’s like a campfire in a glass.” So that became my default Scotch, and it kind of ruined me because then people said, “Oh, you got to try one of these Glens.” And I was like, “This is lemonade.” And by the way, I’m not persnickety, like any one of those things I’ll be delighted to have at our dinner table. 

But by the time we got to Parks and Rec, there was a scene early on where it says, Ron pulls a bottle of Scotch and two glasses out of his desk for he and Leslie to have a scene. And I opened the drawer and there was my favorite Scotch: Lagavulin 16. And I said, these prop people are so good, they found out my favorite Scotch! 

And it took me about another year to find out it was actually Mike Schur, the creator of the show — it was also his favorite Scotch. He had no idea that it was my drink. And so out of a beautiful coincidence and serendipity, it became Ron’s drink and we just reveled in it just like Ron’s love of meat, which came from me and his woodworking and so forth. We didn’t know when we started that it would become one of the accessories that the people loved about him. 

(Lagavulin)

Was Lagavulin beyond stoked? Did they approach the show?

Eventually we asked, “Hey, has anybody heard from these people? We’re giving them literally millions of dollars of airtime of product placement.” And the answer was no. They were still pretty obscure, and I don’t think they had heard of Ron Swanson. 

Then Chris Pratt got cast in Guardians of the Galaxy and was going to be shooting in London for many months, and if we wanted to keep him on the show that year, we were going to have to find a way to take the show to the UK. And our brilliant producer Morgan Sackett figured out a way by doing a three card Monte with our budgets to take our little Indiana show to shoot a couple episodes in London. 

Famously in the show, Ron hated Europe, so he was having a miserable time. So Leslie came up with a treasure hunt for him. And so our show literally traveled to the remote little island of Islay to the Lagavulin distillery, and that was where this all began. 

We just hit it off. I get along well with people and they liked me and I love them. And they said, “Hey, do you want to start doing these dumb little funny shows you do? Do you want to do those for our Scotch?”

We started making these comedy shorts, which are all on a YouTube channel called My Tales of Whiskey, and that just developed over the years.

I’m the luckiest sorcerer’s apprentice working in the business.

I assume it was a smashing success?

We all had a great time. It worked—they sold more Lagavulin, and a lot more people go visit and say, “We’re here because of around Swanson.” Six or seven years ago they asked, “How would you like to do a collaboration?” And I said, “You want to pay me to say that I love my favorite thing? That sounds pretty good to me.”

So they partnered me with Stuart Morrison, their Master Blender, and we’ve now come up with these four Offerman Editions, which is just bananas to me. I mean, I can’t believe it—it’s like my favorite truck, Ford, called me up and said, “Hey, we want to do an F250 with a bust of you as the hood.” I’m just over the moon and I’m so grateful to get to work with him.

I get to collaborate on all parts of the design. If you look at the carton, it’s full of jokes that I write. Those are really fun. But just the box that you buy in the store—on the back, they call that the romance language, and I write the whole thing. And it goes back and forth with the corporation. They have to take out all the prurient adjectives—you’d be amazed.

I’m going to have to write something good one day about the back and forth between me and the Diageo lawyers, because there are all of these legalities in advertising. You can’t say your alcohol is warming, for example. You also can’t intimate that it’s medicinal. Or in no way can we say this will make you intoxicated, and that feels good. It’s a fun game. I like words so I’m like, “Okay, how about ‘reborative?’”

Nobody likes being told what to say! I have a similar path to Scotch, but my early single malt of choice was Balvenie only because it was the one I could afford at Costco, and that introduced me to that world.

Dave Stewart is that guy’s name, they do some really nice work. They’re a very handcrafted label.

One of the things I learned from visiting those top guys in Islay is that they think the peated stuff peaks in aging between 8 to 10 years, because you then start to lose the peat to the oak. What do you feel like as a whisky guy?

For me, that’s the flagship. And I suppose then my answer is yes. I am not a connoisseur across the board, but people often will send me Ardbeg offerings or Peat Monster or things like that. And I find that really interesting. And my particular palette, I appreciate a mellowing of the peat. I love the smoke and the peat, but I don’t like to be clobbered over the head with it.

(Lagavulin)

How did you select a rum cask as the finish? Are you given five different options and they’re like, “Nick, which one do you like most?” Or do you say, “Hey man, why don’t we try X?

I’ll tell you exactly how this goes. Now, I couldn’t begin to have the knowledge that is held by Stuart Morrison, our Master Blender. So over the years of getting to do this with him, initially he was just the hero that made Lagavulin. And I’d shake his hand and genuflect, and then I’d pick up his tab.

Then we started working together—and what that means is he’s the wizard and I’m at his elbow. So he creates six bonbons and he says, “Okay, try these candies and tell me which one is the yummiest.” And we winnow it down, and he sends more samples. And sometimes I get my dad involved and a couple friends, and so it’s this delightful collaboration curated by him. He’s the chef. I mean, it’s unmistakable. 

He also holds the knowledge of how much liquid is available and what casks are available. He oversees the whole thing. He’s the executive producer, and I’m a participant that’s very lucky. And I’m just so spoiled—it’s like a modern day season of Mad Men, where they send me these ideas where we’re like, “Alright, what if we do rum cask?” And then that sparks my creativity. And I say, “Great, I’m a wooden boat guy. We can do a Caribbean thing.”

Were there other cask options? 

There were a few other options. I forget exactly what the finishing was, but there was one that was going to be a jazz direction. So we talk about not only the flavor, but we also talk about the story that we’re going to wrap it in. Then we ultimately decide on this route, and Stuart says, “Okay, I’m going to put it in the cask, and every couple months we’re going to sample it.”

Then we get together on a Zoom, and we sample it, and we’re like, “This is the greatest job ever!” Eventually we all agree, and, led by him, we say, “Okay, it’s been six months, eight months, I think the cookies are ready to come out of the oven.” And this is good, we can get it all packaged and ready for Father’s Day. So win, win, win. I mean, I’m the luckiest sorcerer’s apprentice working in the business.

It must be so much fun to do with your dad and be like, “OK, here are these six options. Let’s see which is best.” Just having that moment. 

It’s the greatest. And my dad is the mayor of our little town, Manuka, Illinois. So he’s full of country idioms. So having him on this Madison-Avenue-meets-Glasgow Zoom call was pretty wild. 

What was the idiom he used when he tried one of these?

He hasn’t had this final one yet. We’re just in the process of it coming out and I don’t want to take a guess. But he’s 92% charm and 8% language, so it’s him kind of smacking how he felt with his lips and saying, “That’s the most delicious gasoline I’ve ever come across.”

(Lagavulin)

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stecher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday. 

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