Some product–celebrity collaborations just make inherent sense. Michael Jordan and Nike. David Beckham and Adidas. George Clooney and Nespresso.
And, undoubtably, Nick Offerman and Lagavulin.
While its distillery has been in operation in one form or another since 1816, Lagavulin all but assuredly owes a decent chunk of its brand recognition in the United States to the Illinois-born actor. After all, his Parks and Recreation character Ron Swanson's love for the single-malt scotch introduced it to an entirely new audience (including, full disclosure, your author). But as it turns out, unlike Swanson's woodworking skills, the character's love of Lagavulin 16 wasn't initially chosen because of the actor; it was because it was the favorite scotch of Parks & Rec creator Michael Schur.
It was, however, serendipitous, as it was already Offerman's favorite beverage from Scotland. His love for the liquid dates back to when he was 29 years old, he says, when a friend bought him a glass at the Chicago Film Festival. "It knocked me on my ass," he says.
For 2022, Offerman and Lagavulin are embarking on their third joint venture, dubbed Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Charred Oak Cask Aged 11 Years. It's peaty on the nose, with notes of chocolate, berry and creaminess, followed on the palate by wood, spice, sweet berry, cocoa, and (of course) more peat, according to the company. Or, as Offerman described it, it's a scotch formulated so that it "would go perfectly with a perfectly grilled ribeye."
Offerman describes it as trying to come up with fresh new episodes for an existing TV show — and in the case of his collaboration with Lagavulin, one that's coming off two hit seasons in the form of the last couple expressions.
"The last one, the second expression, was awarded the number one whiskey of the year from Whisky Advocate magazine. When that kind of thing happens, I immediately say, 'well, let’s just assume we’re gonna crash and burn on the third one," he says. “I'm of the opinion that if you’re going to trick yourself into another triumph, it’s going to be by going outside the box.”
Of course, he doesn't do it alone. “I’m very lucky to work in collaboration with a man named Stuart J. Morrison,” Offerman says, “who's kind of the wizard over at Diageo [the company that owns Lagavulin, as well as a bevy of other alcohol brands]. I feel like an apprentice at Stuart's elbow.”
Crafting a great whiskey, not surprisingly, takes time. The process of creating what he lovingly refers to as "a confection," he says, took a few months. Offerman, who lives in California, had to do most of his share remotely, with Morrison and his Lagavulin crew sending the actor samples to taste, which he would then correspond with them about.
"It’s a really fun sort of pen pal relationship," he says. "People would probably write a lot more letters if it came with delicious single malt scotch."
His involvement isn't done when he signs off on the last sample, though. Offerman pens the pithy blurbs found on the box, and weighs in on the joke illustration on the side of the bottle — for the latest one, it's Offerman in a boat holding a steak on a harpoon over a fire. However, he does manage to scoot over to Scotland in order to film the "My Tales of Whisky" Lagavulin commercials that he makes with Morgan Sackett and Dean Holland, two producers he knows from his Parks & Rec days.
"I think we're approaching 50 commercials," he says. It's also his favorite part of the partnership, he admits. "Getting to go to go shoot fun, dumb comedy centered around this single-malt scotch that was already my favorite drink,” he says, "it's like getting paid to get a massage."
Indeed, Offerman speaks about the whole partnership as though he won the lottery. "It's weird," he says. "I usually feel pretty cynical about a relationship like this." But promoting Lagavulin — "something that was already my favorite luxury beverage" — is like being paid to say he's a fan of the Chicago Cubs or Powermatic woodworking machinery, he says. "What was already my favorite brand came to me and said, ‘Hey, we want to pay you to say you love this thing that you sincerely already love.'"
"The company actually has to keep telling me not to promote it so much," he says. "There are FCC regulations."
*Writer's note: While the brown liquor made in Scotland and Japan is often styled "whisky," Gear Patrol style is to use "whiskey" for all versions of it. So if you're reading this, Mr. Offerman, I was indeed listening when you pointed that out.