By Richard Thomas
Vatted scotch, or all-malt whiskey blended scotch, is all the rage these days, but the concept is nothing new. The Sheep Dip label is testament to this example of how all things new are really old, as it was the best-selling whiskey on the shelves of Harrod’s in the 1980s.
The modern Sheep Dip is a product of those crafty folks at Spencerfield Spirits, makers of Pig’s Nose scotch. The essence of that company is to produce first rate scotch whiskey at very reasonable prices. Sheep Dip is a case in point.
As the story goes, Sheep Dip is named for a West Country expression meant to keep homemade spirits away from the taxman. Farmers would refer to what was essentially British moonshine as “Sheep Dip,” the same term used to describe delousing agents used on sheep, and keep it in barrels labeled SD. The only part of that story that leaves me scratching my head is that the West Country is in southwestern England (Cornwall, Devon, Bristol, etc.), not Scotland, so what’s Sheep Dip really got to do with scotch in the first place?
My terminological nit-picking aside, Sheep Dip is bottled at 40% abv. It’s a marriage of 16 different single malts, aged between 8 and 20 years, and all matured in first-fill oak.
The look of Sheep Dip is certainly suggestive of a full-bodied whiskey. It has a light amber appearance, like gold with a bit of copper stirred in, a coloring that has more depth than the usual paleness common to most scotch.
The nose is soft and creamy, with a fragrant pear-and-melon-honeyed sweetness, a touch of toffee, and a faint trace of wood. The flavor continues in the soft, understated, malty vein. There is a little wood and a little toffee, and at the end a dash of pepper. The finish is a pleasant one, of nice length and understated character, with just a little warmth and a modestly peppered afterglow.
Sheep’s Dip retails on the Spencerfield Spirits website for £27 (about $41). The good news for American drinkers is that the price hasn’t gone up astronomically, a common problem for these more artisinal whiskeys when they are imported. I’ve seen Sheep’s Dip listed with online retailers for $40 or less.
Sheep Dip won the Le Concours Mondial Spirits Award and a “Great Taste” Gold in 2009. In 2003 and 2005, it carried golds at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.