I don’t think there’s a single thing that Nick Offerman has ever done that is a disappointment. From his years on Parks and Recreation to his 45 minute video of him sitting by a fire and drinking Lagavulin, he’s a national treasure. So when I heard that he was collaborating with Lagavulin to produce his own version of their scotch whisky, I knew there was no way I would be missing out on it. And since it’s Christmas, what better way to treat yo’ self?
Illegal distilling has been going on at the current site of the Lagavulin distillery dating back to at least 1742, but the officially licensed and legal Lagavulin distillery was established in 1816 by John Johnston. Using pear shaped stills to distill their malted barley mash in small batches, they quickly gained a reputation for their fine product.
Johnston would continue to run the distillery until his death in 1836, expanding the distillery to take over a second facility that had appeared next to his original building. What followed was a succession of small Scottish companies who owned and operated the distillery between 1836 and 1887, when the owner died and Peter Mackie took over.
Lagavulin was originally only available within Scotland, not even exported as far as England to the south until 1890. One of Mackie’s first moves was to create a whisky called the “White Horse Blend” that incorporated Lagavulin as a component for the export market and became wildly popular.
In 1908, the distillery had a bit of a spat with the neighboring Laphoraig distillery. After trying to choke off their production by damming the stream they use as a water source, Lagavulin actually duplicated Laphoraig’s distillery at a facility called the “Malt Mill” and started producing an identical spirit in an attempt to drive them out of business. While Mackie was unsuccessful in killing the rival distillery, the Malt Mill was somewhat successful and operated until the 1962 renovation and expansion of the Lagavulin distillery. The old Malt Mill distillery now serves as the visitor’s center.
Private ownership of the distillery ended in 1927, when the current owners of the distillery sold it to the Distillers Company Limited, a conglomerate of Scotch whisky manufacturers. The distillery changed hands most recently when The Distillers Company Limited was sold to Guinness and finally in 1997 to Diageo, the newly formed British spirits company.
Lagavulin Scotch Whisky is a traditional recipe with a twist.
The spirit starts as malted barley from Port Ellen Maltings that has been smoked and baked using local peat. The barley is separated into its components and added to the mash in a very particular ratio.
The mash is created in a stainless steel mash tun and cooked for a longer duration than most other whiskys, then transferred to large oak vats for fermentation, where it is also left to sit for an abnormally long 55 hours. Once the fermented mash is created, it is distilled in one of Lagavulin’s pear shaped pot stills.
Like other Scotch producers, Lagavulin uses former bourbon barrels to age their spirit. These charred American oak barrels are imported, filled with neutral grain spirit for three years, and then re-filled with the distilled spirit from Lagavulin’s stills. The barrels then sit for a period of 11 years, either at their facility or other storage facilities around Scotland before bottling.
For the Nick Offerman version, the man himself collaborated with distillery manager Colin Gordon to select the specific barrels that would be used for the bottling. Fitting, since he certainly knows a thing or two about wood.
There’s a rather significant difference between this version and the usual edition of Lagavulin whisky. They definitely didn’t just slap a new label on the bottle and call it good.
The experience starts with a box that is printed to look like it’s made from wood, with Nick Offerman’s portrait front and center. Lifting up the top flap reveals the bottle, as well as a cheeky message from the man himself that sets the tone for the rest of the package.
The bottle itself is a beauty of understated simplicity.
A traditional styled bottle with a round body, a gently tapered shoulder, and a rather long neck, it’s not pulling any new tricks here — but I wouldn’t expect a flashy bottle from a distiller that dates back to 1816.
The bottle itself is a smoked and tinted color. I’m conflicted about this. On the one hand, it better protects the content of the bottle. But on the other, it doesn’t show off the beautiful color of the liquid within. Overall, I’ll chalk it up as a win for now. The bottle is capped with a wooden and cork stopper.
Normally, the labels on the bottle are reminiscent of a late 1800’s style design with faded black lettering on a yellowed paper. In this case, the lettering is bold and black, with a bearded Nick Offerman prominently featured as a portrait in the middle of the bottle and also depicted sailing a small boat in the bottom right hand corner while strumming a guitar.
It’s a damn appealing bottle, and the playful caricatures add some appreciated levity to the otherwise stoic labeling.
The best way I can describe the “standard” edition Lagavulin 16 year scotch is that it smells like standing on the Scottish seashore while holding a cedar chest and tastes like licking a granite rock that spends half its life submerged in the waves. With the Nick Offerman version, there’s some distinct differences.
As you might expect with five less years in the barrel, the aroma isn’t nearly as pungent as the “full strength” version. It’s much closer to a standard traditional scotch whisky, with the peat smell more in the forefront and less of that briny aroma. It almost smells buttery with a little bit of vanilla mixed in, and some of the same aromas that you’d get from a burned out campfire. Missing from the aroma is much of the depth and that cedar aroma — it’s lighter and sweeter.
The primary flavors I get from the whisky are the usual Scottish elements, namely peat smoke and wet dirt. But once that sledgehammer attack of flavor starts to dissipate there’s some delicate details that creep in around the edges. Specifically, I can taste some orange citrus flavors combined with clove and fresh cut grass. It’s light and fresh — like someone took a bottle of Glenmorangie and cranked it up to 11.
Like with most other delicate whiskies, the added ice has a negative impact on the flavor. While the bolder peat flavors remain and come through unscathed, the more delicate aspects get lost in the battle with the ice cube — gone forever.
At this point, the spirit is pretty much just a plain old standard scotch whisky. There’s nothing much fancy going on here and nothing below the surface. That doesn’t mean it’s bad — it’s still a damn fine scotch — but there’s nothing special going on anymore.
I’m a big fan of everything that went into this bottle, from Lagavulin whisky to Nick Offerman. And while this whisky is delicious, I think the original 16 year version still barely edges it out to be the more delicious of the two. There’s some great delicate flavors around the edges here, and it’s always great to see different variations on the same theme. As the Ron Swanson himself describes Lagavulin, this is all the “nectar of the gods”.
Lagavulin 11 Year Nick Offerman Edition
Production: Lagavulin, Islay, Scotland
Classification: Islay Scotch Whisky
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Aging: 11 years
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $110/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
A fresh take on a classic theme. Which both describes Nick Offerman and this whisky.