For the last few years, the institution that is Lagavulin has been represented in advertisements by another institution: Nick Offerman.
This is not a match borne out of a marketing team scouring CVs and faces for an appropriate match to their brand. No. Instead, this is a relationship borne of Nick Offerman’s own love for Lagavulin. And what could be sweeter than that?
It is fair to say that Nick Offerman’s breakthrough role came from his on-screen portrayal of the poe-faced, moustachioed, loveable, and infinitely quotable Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation. The actor’s love for Lagavulin’s flagship 16yo single malt release saw him introduce that element to his on-screen character once the series progressed. This ultimately resulted in Ron Swanson visiting the hallowed turf of Islay and touring the distillery, meeting legend Iain “Pinky” McArthur, and drinking “God’s chosen elixirs” on the show.
Then came the adverts. Nick Offerman started to promote Lagavulin (and sometimes Oban) for Diageo. Whether a toned down version of Ron Swanson, or an amped up version of himself, the ads have played heavy on the cult nature of Lagavulin drinkers whilst not taking it (or himself) too seriously. There are numerous instalments of “My Tales Of Whisky” available on YouTube, including the infamous 45 minute “Yule Log” video where he sits in silence in front of a roaring fire enjoying his Lagavulin.
Then came the collaboration. In 2019, the first Offerman Edition of Lagavulin was released. An 11 year old limited edition which pretty much sold out overnight. Whilst plenty of the bottles still pepper the resale sites and auctions, I’ve not yet had chance to sample it, but did take some comfort in the fact that this was an age statement whisky, bottled at 46% ABV, and honoured both their partnership and Offerman’s other love of woodworking. And so…
Flash forward to 2021 and the launch of a second Offerman Edition. Another 11 year old age statement single malt scotch whiskey from Lagavulin but this limited release has been finished for its final 4 months in barrels that previously housed Guinness. Not just any Guinness barrels though: American white oak barrels from the Open Gate Guinness brewery in Maryland.
If you’ve read any of Offerman’s books, you will know how fond and close he is with his father, and apparently Offerman Senior’s drink of choice is a pint of “The Black Stuff”, and the promotion of this limited edition plays heavily on that relationship.
This time I was able to strike whilst the iron was hot and bagged a bottle when they first went on sale. On that note then, let’s finally delve into this 46% ABV nectar…
First and foremost it is packing Lagavulin peat! I would hope that I could identify Lagavulin’s peat in a blind tasting but am yet to put that to the test… but what I mean by that note is that there is a distinctive drying, earthy, peaty smoke flavour without feeling dirty or heavy. Beyond the signature smoke there is sweetness in the form of caramel, barley sugars, vanilla, and cream. There’s also a tiny strawberry juiciness and sweetness, and it’s finished off with a little bitterness like that from coffee grounds. It is ultimately quite sweet and malty once you’ve acclimatised to the smoke.
That smoke is the first to coat the mouth but it quickly takes a back seat to the malty biscuit and vanilla sweet flavours. A few sips in and those caramel notes and creamy coffee flavours really stand proud. It also has a really familiar barley sugar flavour that you’d expect from good malt whiskies, but without the attack of youthful spirit. A touch of good quality plain chocolate. It’s even got a crème brûlée type flavour with the smoke adding the sensation of the charred sugar topping to the vanilla custard dessert.
A comforting oaky spice and peppery finish. The full smoke flavour from the nose only really reappears and plays out when you exhale after swallowing the liquid down. The whisky texture remains soft enough that it has no killer smoky or oaky rasp afterwards either.
When I have opened this bottle, I have never had just the one glass of it. And that is unusual for me with a peated whisky. It is a really inviting whisky. It is a Lagavulin for sure, but some of the red fruits associated with the flagship bottlings have gone in place of a cleaner malt-led flavour with barley sugars and a bit of crisp apple bite, but complemented by a mature, soft, and silky texture. I would hazard a guess that’s it more bourbon barrel led than regular Lagavulin output. I’ll post a direct side-by-side review in due course. The use of American white oak barrels for the Guinness seems to be imparting even more vanilla than I’d expect. And I’m liking it.
It’s not awash with pages upon pages of tasting notes but they are all good ones and they work bloody well together to make for a delicious treat. Especially for this Offerman/Lagavulin fanboy. I have also realised that Nick Offerman was actually on Islay a couple of weeks before my first visit to the island to shoot the Parks and Recreation scenes. In fact in the opening shot of his video he is stood in the garden of the cottages that we stayed at. A wonderful place. It was even where the idea started for writing this blog.
I’m going to pour another glass of this delicious whisky and think about those times and the smells in Lagavulin Bay etc but before I gush any further on here, I’ll end by saying that – despite how biased I may be – this is a great whisky. Already a firm favourite in the household and sadly one that I won’t be able to easily replenish. Grab it and savour it while you can. I regret nothing. The end.
Sample disclosure: I bought this bottle myself as soon as I could get the chance, having learned my lesson from missing out on the 2019 edition. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whisky. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.