In an ideal world, I’d be interviewing Nick Offerman with a neat glass of scotch in one hand and a bottle nearby, so I could pour a second dram as he unfolded yet another deadpan story in that dry, unmistakable baritone of his.
Unfortunately, this interview was scheduled for 9:30 in the morning, so scotch isn’t in the cards. "Those days are behind me," Offerman says, a little ruefully.
But even if I’m settling for coffee this morning, we’re here to talk about scotch. After spending years as an enthusiast and semi-official spokesman for Lagavulin—the whiskey distillery of choice for his Parks & Recreation character Ron Swanson—Offerman was finally invited to aid in the creation of a special "Offerman Edition" bottle of Lagavulin, with his face stamped onto every bottle.
And with the Offerman Edition hitting shelves, he took a little time off from his ongoing one-man show to talk about his unique history with scotch—as well as his best advice for enjoying it.
GQ: Of all the products an actor could be associated with in the popular consciousness, it must be nice that yours happens to be single-malt scotch. As an actual scotch enthusiast, what was it like to be asked to help craft a bottle to your personal taste and palate?
Nick Offerman: It’s as though my favorite hammer company said, "Hey, we want to make a signature model Nick Offerman hammer." It’s different than, you know, American Express approaching you or something, and saying, "We want to cash in on your cute cheekbones." I found it very moving and was, frankly, flabbergasted.
What role did you play in the crafting process for the scotch itself?
Colin, the caskmaster of Lagavulin, was on Skype. Fact-check that title. That may be my Hogwarts version. [Ed: Colin Gordon’s formal title is "manager."] He basically talked through all of the different expressions, and how far we could stretch the base material and still have it qualify as a single-malt with a Lagavulin profile.
It was fascinating. I love a good wine tasting, but I’ve never been at one where they’re actually allowing you to blend the varietal. We really did meticulous work. We attacked it with a lot of scrutiny, which was slightly dulled as the day wore on, because we were sipping scotch with regularity. When they actually bottled the whiskey and sent me some, I was very nervous. I thought, Jeez, what if we messed up? What if my senses had become too dulled that day? So I was quite thrilled when I poured out a dram, took a deep inhale, and realized I was just as fond of this as I was on that day.
What about putting the actual, physical bottle together? Did you have any role in that?
I was treated as though I was Benedict Cumberbatch or something. They put all the power of their fancy New York artistry behind the design. They sent me all these different choices and directions, and together, we decided on the wood-cut print portrait of me. They suggested a wood-grain box—and so I actually sent them a piece of California Claro Walnut from my shop.
California Claro Walnut?
It’s probably the most exquisitely colored wood that I’ve found grown domestically. This particular walnut species, which is indigenous to California, has the brown you expect of walnut. But it also has very visible purples and reds and greens in it. Just really pretty stuff.
This is an 11-year whiskey. What were you doing 11 years ago?
Gosh. 2008… Well, this is appropriate. My wife was finishing up a Broadway show called Young Frankenstein, and I was living with her in New York. I was just finishing my first cedar canoe, whose name is Huckleberry. Rather appropriately, that canoe became Ron Swanson’s canoe.
And I was just on the cusp of moving back to L.A. after a year and a half on the road with Megan. And unbeknownst to me, at that moment, I was about to go back to Los Angeles and begin auditioning for what would become Parks & Recreation. That hadn’t occurred to me. I appreciate a journalist’s head putting it together.
What’s the first time you really remember enjoying a whiskey?
I know it very succinctly. There wasn’t much to speak of through my 20s. I was a Chicago theater actor. And part of the job working on the Chicago stage is that you do the play, and then you go to the pub and drink three to four pints, depending on your body weight. And if it’s a special occasion, you would maybe have a couple shots of Jameson. It was sort of a bonus juice, but never something to be savored. Just when you want your vision to blur a little more quickly.
In my late 20s, I moved to L.A., and the first big film role I had was in a Sundance movie called Treasure Island—an ambitiously strange film that I’m still staunchly proud of. That film was making the rounds at the festivals, and the filmmaker, my friend Scott King—we were in Chicago, actually, at the Chicago Film Festival.
And when you make the rounds at the festivals, you’ve seen the film at least eight or 10 times already. So you go into the audience, and you introduce the film, and you say, "We hope you’ll sit through the whole thing, and if you do, we’ll be back to answer any questions you might have." And then you have 90 minutes or so to go sit in a bar somewhere.
So we did that. And Scott said, "You know, this is a special occasion. Let me buy you a good scotch. Because I know you have not had one." And he got me a glass of Lagavulin 16. So it was actually my first. And then, you know… it was such a powerful and unique flavor. I’ve always said it’s like a campfire in a glass. And it kind of ruined me. I said, "Holy cow. I see what all the fuss is about with nice scotch." And on subsequent occasions, I would try others. And you know, I’m not persnickety. If there’s a nice glass of whiskey, you won’t find me complaining. But when given my druthers, I would always ask for Lagavulin.
So was Ron Swanson’s affection for Lagavulin just a happy accident? Or was that a Nick Offerman trait that the show’s writers grafted onto Ron Swanson?
When Lagavulin first appeared in my desk drawer on the set, I said, "Wow, these prop people are so good that they somehow discerned my favorite obscure scotch." And I suffered under that misapprehension, for the whole first season. Until I found out that it was also the creator of the show Mike Schur’s favorite scotch. It had been his choice, completely unaware that it was also my favorite. There’s a lot of serendipity around Mike Schur. He’s a hell of a good guy to get into the orbit of. He’s something else.
It’s been nearly five years since Parks & Recreation went off the air, but Ron Swanson still retains a kind of cultural cachet—enough so that you wrote a whole song gently reminding people that you’re not Ron Swanson. Why do you think that character continues to resonate with people?
It’s tough, you know, when you ask the clown to explain why the children are crying. It’s hard to parse. I just put on my makeup, and here I am clowning. I think, in a nutshell, that besides it being a brilliantly written comedy character—which is a large percentage of the answer—I think Ron represents an economy of choice in an age when we are besotted with information, and with the choices available to us, especially as sheeplike consumers. For so many of us, our day has become, "What should I wear? What podcast should I listen to? What show should I watch?" We’ve been taught that shopping is now a pastime, as though it has some sort of resolution. Like it’s a hobby, or even a vocation. We’re completely agog at the world of choice we face.
And I think Ron represents a sort of throwback parental force that says, "Okay, kids. Dinnertime. Get to the table. Here’s what you’re eating. Here are the rules." That’s what I would guess people find appealing about him. That he brings that gentle-but-firm, self-sufficient tough love that allows us to feel the relief of having choices made for us.
So we covered your first whiskey memory. Do you have a best whiskey memory?
Oh, gosh. I come from very much a beer family, so it’s not really from my hometown or family experience. What springs to mind is when we took Parks & Recreation to the Lagavulin distillery. We shot a storyline where Leslie Knope sent Ron Swanson, who despised Europe, on a bit of a treasure hunt. And the treasure was the distillery.
You know, fans—when they see actors imbibing any sort of intoxicant, whether it’s smoking of a blunt or drinking scotch on screen—for some reason, they always want that to be real. They want to know that you were really pounding that martini. And I always let them down easy.
But the first time we shot in the basement of the distillery at Lagavulin, Ian—who we called 'Pinky,' and who was kind of the maitre’d at Lagavulin—poured me a tall glass, straight out of a cask, from 1964. It was like nine in the morning, and we’re shooting a story that’s just me. So we took a skeleton crew, and it’s not like I have any breaks. I have a 12-hour day in front of me.
At that point, I was 42 or 44 years old or something. And so I knew better. But at the same time… when is that ever going to happen again? So I took a fulsome taste. Just enough to get me to a 15-minute nap at lunch. And our wonderful producer, Doug Smith—we call him 'Catfish,' because whatever you don’t finish on your plate, he’ll take care of—he swooped in and polished off the rest of that glass. And we laughed long and hard.
It’s obviously not the same as actually drinking it—but can you describe what it’s like to experience a whiskey that rare and old?
It really goes down like the most exquisite gasoline ever concocted.
You’ll obviously be associated with whiskey for the rest of your life, but do you drink anything else?
I love beer. Ben Franklin and I would have gotten along famously. But because I am 49 years old, my waistline can no longer handle a regular beer habit. And to make matters worse, my younger brother has become a heroic brewer of craft beer in Illinois. So I try to save my beer experiences—rather than having a daily habit, I make those a treat. Just like a cheeseburger, or getting a pizza. Those are now special occasions when they used to be more regular.
When I want a taste of something, I’m more likely to have a neat glass of single malt. It’s efficacious. The per-calorie ratio works out better with a glass of whiskey than with a couple of pints of beer.
Let’s get granular about this, because I suspect anyone who tries this scotch will want to enjoy it the same way you enjoy it. Are you particular in any way about the type of glass, or whether water is added? Do you have a particular sniffing technique?
No. I mean… the answer, I think, to any question, is that I am an absolute simpleton. It’s the kind of thing that it never occurred to me would need any adjusting. So whether it’s a cairn glass or a rocks glass—I can appreciate the hedonism, whether it’s whiskey or wine. I love doing tastings. I love learning about smell and terroir and mouthfeel. It’s quite enjoyable.
But generally I like my whiskey like my bacon, and that is unadorned and straight-up. I don’t quibble about the glass. I don’t require ice. I appreciate when people have shown me that efficacy of a few drops of spring water that allows the whiskey to open up, as it were. And I can credit that and appreciate it. But it never sways me the next time. I will have a double neat, please, and I know just what to do with it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Originally Appeared on GQ