Behind the Scenes: Nick Offerman on Creating His Own Branded Bottle of Lagavulin Scotch Whisky
If you’re a fan of the show Parks and Recreation, then you know that character Ron Swanson had a special relationship with whisky—specifically Lagavulin. It’s a love that is also shared by the actor who portrayed Swanson on the show: comedian Nick Offerman. Now a few years after Parks and Rec finished airing, Offerman’s love has reached a new level: He has his own Offerman-branded bottle.
“It’s ridiculous to be talking to you about my Lagavulin whisky,” Offerman tells Fortune. “Strokes of good fortune like this are exactly what will keep me minding my manners in the hopes that they’ll ask me back again next time.”
Lagavulin Offerman Edition, aged 11 years, hit store shelves late last month. While the actor has had a long-standing relationship with the brand, this is the first bottle with the Offerman name on it. Offerman collaborated with the brand not only on the packaging (which happens to have his face on it), but also on the taste of the whisky, an expression that carries the signature Lagavulin peatiness, with extra spices and notes of dried fruit.
Fortune caught up with Offerman between stops on his stand-up comedy tour to chat about the whisky’s launch as well as what is on deck in the actor’s near future.
Fortune: I know you’ve been a fan of Lagavulin for a while. How does it feel to have your own bottle?
Offerman: It feels really surreal. I’m also a very intense Cubs fan, and I liken it to suddenly just getting a call that the Cubs want me to come pitch on Sunday. It doesn’t seem possible.
To that point, when we were shooting the commercials for the release of the whisky, we were at the Lagavulin Distillery, where I’ve shot numerous times now and always with a sense of humor. And now we have these bottles with my face on it, a label that says, “Lagavulin Offerman Edition.” I just say this for obvious reasons—it just feels like it must be a comedy bit, when in fact, it’s real life. So, as they say, somewhere in my childhood, I guess I must’ve done something good.
How did the bottle come about?
We [Lagavulin and I] have maintained a relationship. We went and shot a Ron Swanson story line at the distillery for Parks and Recreation, I guess in about 2014 or so. We kind of hit it off where Lagavulin then had me start doing these comedy commercials for them. And so I’ve basically been under contract with them ever since. I’ve been there once every year or so, and we’ve also shot comedy spots here in Los Angeles, so it’s been a pretty constant relationship. So it wasn’t like it was an out-of-the-blue idea, but still it’s quite a leap to take the clown out of the commercial and put him actually on the bottle label.
Did you have any input into the actual liquid that is in the bottle?
We did a very gratifying and intense session. Two of my Parks and Rec producers, Morgan Sackett and Dean Holland, they make all of these commercials with me. And so we’ve all maintained this Lagavulin relationship. So the three of us did a whole mixing and tasting session. It was a day of it, and I was frankly surprised at the variety, this sort of spectrum that was available for how we could steer the liquid.
I’ve been through the distillery a handful of times, and I’ve been to other distilleries, as well as breweries and wineries. I have a general idea, a grasp of how different alcohols are created, but nonetheless to actually get down to “Okay, here’s how we’re going to make this expression of this single malt.” I was kind of astonished at how light or heavy a lot of the different flavors and accents could be.
That was really gratifying, and I’m very grateful to [Lagavulin] for holding our hands and walking us through that. And it made it so nice to actually be able to choose what the whisky tastes like.
I’m a little bit of a pain in the ass when it comes to advertising campaigns. I’ve turned down very lucrative offers to represent a coffee brand or a tool company, and I don’t even begin to negotiate, because I say, “Look, I would never recommend that particular coffee or that brand of hammer to anyone, so I’m not going to put my name or face on it.” And so to have a product like this where my name and face are on it, I’m thrilled that I was able to choose what it tastes like and love that taste.
What were you looking for in the taste?
Well, I’m not the most discerning palate. My Lagavulin 16 was the first Scotch I ever had, and I’ve been kind of spoiled by it. And so the sort of base material that we started with had certain notes of fruit in it. I guess the thing I love about the Islay single malts is the peat and the smoke. So I kept leaning towards a heavier, smokier, peatier experience. Everybody sort of kept the governor on my gas pedal and helped me keep it within the realm of good taste.
Ever since I had my first Lagavulin, I would say to people, “Oh, you guys, I finally had some good Scotch. I see what all the fuss is about. You got to try this stuff. It’s like a campfire in a glass.” I wanted that to be somewhat true of my own Offerman edition.
You liked the peat right from the onset? I feel like a lot of times that’s kind of an acquired taste with whisky drinkers.
I mean, when I had my first smoked barbecued pork ribs, it didn’t occur to me that I should try them unsmoked.
So the video series that you put out delves into a little bit of how whisky is made. Did you get to participate in any of the whisky-making process?
Well, two times I have “harvested” peat, but it’s never apples to apples. I made a big pile of peat logs that day—I’ve done that in the past.
But to answer your question, no.
They let me take a swing at things—I have rolled casks, and I’ve been through every stage of the distillation. But I would not want to trust a novice like myself with any meaningful work in the actual process. I would love to take a swing at coopering a barrel in real life, but I wouldn’t trust any precious liquid to the result of my labors.
I am a woodworker, and I’ve actually done a lot of homework about coopering. I’ve learned that I will never try to make a barrel, because to properly make one takes years of practice and coordination to hew the barrel staves in the particular tapered shape with the beveled edges. It’s the kind of thing, you don’t want to have a novice come in and build a lifeboat and say, “All right, was that fun? Okay, hopefully it’ll float because the ship’s going down.”
Now that your whisky is available, what do you think is the optimal way to enjoy it?
I don’t know what it is about the character of Ron Swanson for Parks and Recreation, but people really want me to weigh in on things like whisky and meat preparation and breakfast preparation. And I always laugh at that and say, “It’s all a matter of taste.” Everybody gets to like what they like, and that’s why you can get your eggs in a myriad of different preparations.
And so when it comes to whisky, I don’t require any complications. When I order whisky, I usually get Lagavulin, and if they don’t have that, I look for another Islay single malt. I like rye. I’m a fan of rye and I’ll get a double neat and call it a day. It’s not a night at the opera for me. I can appreciate the liquid without worrying about the number of ice cubes or the shape of the glass or the number of drops of spring water. I feel the same way about bacon. I just fry it and then consume it. I don’t need to dip in chocolate or wrap it around a fig or anything like that.
Beyond just launching your own whisky, what are you up to?
Well, I got about 12 cities left on this comedy tour. I played the Masonic [in San Francisco] a few weeks ago, and so that was a blast. I love doing these tours and making people laugh in person. My wife [Megan Mullally] and I are launching a podcast. I think it’s called In Bed With Nick and Megan or In Bed with Megan and Nick. I can never remember which—they must’ve put Megan first to be safe.
And I’m just starting another book, and I’m very excited. Well, heck, in December, season two of Making It will premiere on NBC, and that’s really fun. It’s a great season, slightly bigger and vastly better than season one. And then in the spring, I have a show on FX called Devs, a sci-fi thriller from Alex Garland that I’m exceptionally proud of and really excited for people to see.