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Nick Offerman Tells Us How He Made a Single Malt With His Dad, Among Other Things

In real life, Nick Offerman isn’t exactly like Ron Swanson, the iconic character he portrayed on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation from 2009 to 2015. It’s reasonable to assume, for example, that unlike Swanson, the actor still has all 10 toes, leaves plenty of room for non-breakfast foods in his daily diet, and appreciates the library as a vital institution instead of condemning it as a scourge on society.

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But Offerman does share a shocking amount of traits with his stoic, mustachioed avatar: He’s an avid outdoorsman, a sneakily proficient saxophone player, and most famously, a master craftsman.

Before he hit Hollywood, he used the woodworking skills he acquired from his old man to first build sets and scenery for local theaters in Chicago, and later, after moving to Los Angeles, to construct decks and cabins in between scoring pre-Swanson TV parts. In 2001, Offerman opened his eponymous woodshop, where today, he still fashions hand-crafted items like fine furniture, canoes, and ukuleles for fun. (Check out his wares here.)

There’s one more thing that links both men for life: a fanatical love of Lagavulin, a single malt whisky named for the tiny village in which it’s distilled on the Isle of Islay, Scotland. Swanson frequently professed his adoration for the Scotch on Parks, and even visited the idyllic distillery (“the one place in Europe that’s worth seeing,” he admitted) in one memorable episode.

But it turns out the actor was already a devotee of the dram long before Mike Schur, the show’s creator, serendipitously determined Swanson’s drink of choice. Naturally, Offerman became the face of Lagavulin, regularly appearing in funny Father’s Day-themed ads alongside his equally deadpan dad, Ric.

In 2019, Offerman launched his very own limited edition of Lagavulin: an 11 Year Old packed with heavy notes of peat, the decomposed plant matter that covers one-fifth of Scotland’s land mass. Because the country’s different regions yield unique peats, they leave diverse notes in their whiskies. Islay peat, like the stuff you sniff in Lagavulin, is dark and bold due to the swamp-like conditions of the island, so an Islay whisky tastes intensely smoky, salty, and, in Offerman’s words, “like a campfire in a glass.”

Now, Offerman has teamed up with Ric—the mayor-elect of Minooka, Illinois, from which the family hails—and master blender Stuart Morrison for a twist on his custom 11 Year Old. The Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish, available at select retailers nationwide beginning this month, adds sweet caramel, roasted coffee, and dark chocolate notes found in former Guinness Casks from the Open Gate Brewery in Maryland.

To mark the release, Offerman filmed another Father’s Day ad with his dad, which we’re exclusively premiering here:

With the new whisky out in the world, we called up Nick and Ric Offerman, as well as Morrison, to talk about how they made their classy creation—with welcome detours into topics like dandelion wine, handmade sheds, and ox wrestling.

Pop Mech: Nick, your ideals align closely with ours, in that you prefer to make things yourself. How does Scotch fit into that philosophy? Would you say it’s a spirit for makers?

Nick Offerman: Well, first of all, that’s a very generous estimation. I’d say I aspire to the ideals of Popular Mechanics, as we all should. With that in mind, single malt Scotch particularly involves a great deal of hand-crafting. It’s a tool set, chemically and physically and agriculturally, that has developed over centuries, and it’s one of the most charismatic practices that we homosapiens can engage in.

Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish

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If we succeed at crafting this incredibly satisfying liquid, then when we’re done using our more conventional tools—when we set down the hammers and saws and sewing needles—we can enjoy the product of yet another craft. And, I mean, that’s the dream life: If I could embroider every scene of my existence like my Mom and Dad taught me, it would end with a glass of giggle juice.

Pop Mech: Have you ever tried your hand at distilling?

Nick Offerman: I have not, but I have a brother who’s a talented craft brewer in Illinois, and I believe Dad also hasn’t attempted anything. Except, when I was like 5 or 6 years old, I remember one time in the basement, there was a batch of dandelion wine, which … thinking back on it, I find pretty astonishing. I remember more than anything, it caused more headaches than mirth. It was one and done.

Pop Mech: Do you remember the first time you had Lagavulin?

Nick Offerman: I remember it very specifically. I hadn’t had anything resembling a nice whisky of any sort. I was a Chicago theater actor in my late 20s, so I knew my way around a pint of beer, and on a special occasion, I’d get an Irish whiskey, but I wasn’t a connoisseur by any stretch. And then I was at the Chicago Film Festival, and my filmmaker friend bought me my first glass of Lagavulin. I said, “Holy cow, this is like a campfire in a glass.” And little did I know that he had ruined the rest of the spectrum of single malts for me.

It was crazy when we started Parks and Rec. It turned out Lagavulin, which was a little more obscure at the time, around 2008 or ‘09, was also [Parks creator] Mike Schur’s favorite Scotch. So lo and behold, it became the drink of Ron Swanson. And then the actor playing Ron Swanson became the American artisan of Lagavulin.

“If I could embroider every scene of my existence like my Mom and Dad taught me, it would end with a glass of giggle juice.”

Pop Mech: Not everyone loves that peaty, “campfire-in-a-glass” taste. Why do you?

Nick Offerman: Well, I mean, that’s inscrutable. Why … is it so enjoyable to wrestle an ox on a Spring day? Why … is the Mississippi River?

Pop Mech: Fair enough. Any celebrity can be a whisky enthusiast, but your involvement with Lagavulin runs deeper. How have you helped shape Offerman Edition over the years?

Nick Offerman: Well, it’s very generous of Lagavulin to involve me—and this time around, my Dad, as well.

[Ric Offerman joins the call.]

I think I heard him get on the line. Are you here, Dad?

Ric Offerman: Yes, I am! And you sound terrific, young man.

Nick Offerman: Right back at you. It’s good to hear you on your feet.

lagavulin offerman edition

Lagavulin/Handout

Anyway, every sort of step of ascension in this relationship just keeps me giggling more and more fulsomely. When we first started out, we would be shooting an advertisement spot, and the director would say, “Just skip along the ridge over there on the highlands over that loch,” and I’d literally go with tears streaming down my face, thinking, this is my job. I went to theater school and enjoyed alcohol in moderation, and look where it got me.

We have the incredible alchemists led by Stuart—they’re the magicians. Basically, it’s as though he were a master painter of fine art, he’d be letting us pick the colors, and we’d say, “Well, could we maybe try a tree over there behind the barn?” But he’s the one actually executing the image—in this case, the flavor—and so, I mean, it’s all incredibly fun and gratifying.

They send a spread of samples to me and my dad, and under Stuart’s guidance, we mix them and taste them and weigh in with our limited vocabularies. Pretty quickly, we’re reduced to thumbs up or thumbs down, or eyes open or comatose. From that, he’s able to deduce the magic potion.

nick and ric offerman

Nick and Ric Offerman.

Lagavulin/Handout

Pop Mech: Stuart, why introduce Guinness into the mix?

Stuart Morrison: This is our second collaboration with Nick and Ric. We’re always looking for new flavors—a little bit new, a little bit different, a little bit awesome—leaning on our experiences, and just continually looking around us to see what the opportunities are. The Guinness opportunity is underlined by practicality. Guinness and Lagavulin are owned by the same company [Diageo], and it’s a matter of picking up the phone and speaking to our colleagues, saying, “I’ve got an idea. Can we do something?”

Bringing it back to the ideation table, though, it’s really just about gathering the ideas and the collective together and just giving it a go. What a combination Nick and Ric have managed to guide us through. You get some amazing flavors in a Guinness stout, and those wonderfully loving flavors from Lagavulin. They just work so well, and I think we were all just taken aback by how fantastic they stick together.

Pop Mech: Ron Swanson once famously said, “There’s no wrong way to consume alcohol.” Well, what’s the Offermans’ preferred way to consume whisky?

Nick Offerman: Let’s turn to the patriarch first.

Ric Offerman: My favorite method is to have it in some shot glasses that I might have bought at a garage sale in 1933. They’re wonderful, and give just the right amount for me to have this wonderful elixir that Stuart has made up. He always gives us too much credit, and I thank him for that.

Nick Offerman: By and large, I take it neat myself. I’ve never found it to need any assistance. Sometimes I pause to pour it in a glass—

Rick Offerman: Ha!

Nick Offerman: —and then I send it on its merry way.

nick and ric offerman

Lagavulin/Handout

Pop Mech: You’re both avid builders. What’s the best thing you’ve built together?

Ric Offerman: I’m trying to think, son, what have we worked on?

Nick Offerman: There have been a few building projects around the house, but specifically, one in the country and then one when we moved into town: a couple of barn-shaped sheds that Dad designed. Those were where I really cut my teeth as a framing carpenter in my teenage years, and really where the wellspring for all my use was being inspired by Dad’s knowhow, as well as his gumption and elbow grease.

Ric Offerman: Thank you. I can just say they haven’t fallen down yet.

Nick Offerman: That’s the best review.

Pop Mech: Ric, what’s the best lesson Nick has taught you about being a father?

Ric Offerman: The best lesson I’ve ever gotten from him is he never gives up, and he has the confidence that it’s going to all come out at the end. I sometimes have trepidation, but after watching him over the years, I keep going, and he’s right: it usually ends up pretty good at the end.

Pop Mech: And Nick, what’s the best lesson you’ve learned from your dad?

Nick Offerman: On top of the simple decency that Mom and Dad have done their best to instill in me, and succeeded to at least 83 percent at the current grading—

Ric Offerman: That’s fair.

Nick Offerman: —and growing. I’m on my way up. Just you wait, Dad. The best lesson, I think, is simply my work ethic. Dad always said if you’re going to do a job, do it right. No matter if you’re cutting the grass, or splitting firewood, or shoveling snow, or writing a book, or making a single malt, or whatever it happens to be, apply yourself with everything you’ve got, do your best job, and then even in the times you stumble or fail, you can’t be faulted, you know? You gave it your best shot, and nobody’s going to get it right every time.

I’ve found that I, especially, get it right so often, but people seem to enjoy the way I fall down. And they say, “Well, actually, we’ll hire you to do that.” It’s called being a clown. And so here we are today.

Pop Mech: And here we are.

Nick Offerman: Before we go, though, let’s ask Dad: Was there not, when I was like 5 or 6 and we were living on Bell Road, a batch of dandelion wine in the basement?

Ric Offerman: Yes, there was. That’s true.

Nick Offerman: How did that go?

Ric Offerman: It turned into vinegar. So I gave it to a couple of guys I didn’t like!


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