Most times, when I see a celebrity endorsed spirit, I turn and run the other way. With very few exceptions (like Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin), they tend to be attempts by the celebrity to cash in on their name and milk as much money as possible out of their fans instead of actually putting together a quality product. With Nick Offerman and Lagavulin, though, it’s the exact opposite. I can almost feel Offerman’s passion and the genuine appreciation of the spirit, and this latest collaboration with Lagavulin seems to be his biggest swing yet.
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.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
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. For this new collaboration with Offerman, Lagavulin specifically selected heavily charred bourbon barrels as well as a selection of previously used red wine barrels to create the desired flavor profile. The barrels then sit for a period of 11 years, either at their facility or other storage facilities around Scotland before bottling.
According to Offerman, this version of Lagavulin is designed specifically to be paired with a juicy steak.
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 previous version of Nick Offerman’s Lagavulin was in a faux wood box, but this new design makes it look like the box itself is on fire with heavily charred wood and flames leaping from the bottom. It’s a striking design, and I think helps to differentiate this bottle from the rest of Lagavulin’s line. 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 glass is a smoked and tinted color, which I have conflicting feelings about. On the one hand, the opaqueness better protects the content of the bottle. But on the other hand, 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 an illustration of a bearded Nick Offerman prominently featured as a portrait in the middle of the bottle and also depicted in a small boat in the bottom right hand corner.
It’s an appealing bottle, and the playful caricatures add some appreciated levity to the otherwise stoic labeling.
This is a bit darker than the previous version of Lagavulin that Offerman collaborated on; still in the realm of gold, but bordering on light rust. Taking a whiff from the glass, you’ll notice that most of the smoky peaty aromas that you’d associate with an Islay whiskey are muted and secondary, with the sweeter and more fruity components taking center stage. I’m getting a lot of peach aromas, as well as apple, pear, banana, sourdough bread, honey, and a touch of dried raisins. Wafting in the background is a wisp of peaty smoke that adds some depth and character.
Taking a sip, this is one of the more fruity and delicious versions of Lagavulin that I’ve ever tried. Immediately, I start getting some flavors of apple, banana, and pear, combined with more traditional single malt flavors like sourdough bread, honey, and floral blossoms. As the flavor profile develops, some richness and complexity are added through some baking spices, combined with dried raisins and dried figs (both from the charred oak and the wine casks). On the finish I finally get a good look at the peat smoke as it makes a token appearance.
On the one hand, this is still pretty darned delicious even when you add some ice. There’s a good level of flavor and saturation to the spirit, and the important parts of a scotch whisky are coming through clearly: the sourdough bread, honey, a bit of salty butter, some flower blossoms, and a hint of vanilla. But what I’m missing are the parts that made this the unique Nick Offerman edition. There’s almost no trace of the raisins or the figs, and the baking spices are severely muted.
You should probably stick to drinking this neat. I’m sure Mr. Offerman would agree.
Sometimes, when a distillery does a different finishing process for their spirits, you can’t really tell whether anything happened at all. There might be a slight hint of a change or a little different flavor peeking through, but in general it just tastes the same. This isn’t one of those cases.
This Nick Offerman edition of Lagavulin is absolutely a distinct and different beast from the normal offering. There’s much more fruit here (which definitely does pair well with a nice juicy steak) and the peat smoke is significantly toned down (which lets you actually enjoy the flavors of the steak instead of just tasting the smoke).
They had a plan and they executed it well here.
|Lagavulin 11 Year Offerman Edition Charred Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky|
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 11 Years
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $83.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
The perfect whiskey to go with your steak: fruity, delicious, and just a bit smoky. Ron Swanson would be proud.