The brand Sheep Dip has a great little story behind its origins, which, despite being a blend of malt scotch whiskies, originally started in Gloucestershire in 1974. In the beginning, the whisky was packaged as ‘The Original Oldbury Sheep Dip‘, named after the pub that it was crafted in, in Oldbury-on-Severn, as an 8-year old blend of 16 different single malt whiskies. The brand and recipe had then managed to spread by word of mouth before being snapped up by a distillery group, which eventually became owned by whisky giant Whyte & Mackay. Despite the ownership, the brand started to lose favour but in 2005, COO Alex Nicol took the brand with him as part of his severance from W&M, and with the assistance of industry stalwart Richard “The Nose” Paterson, managed to re-craft the recipe and re-release Sheep Dip via Nicol’s own Spencerfield Spirits Co. and that is the whisky that we are getting to grips with here (now sold via Ian Macleod Distillers).
The blended malt scotch whisky now available clings to its heritage by containing a medley of “up to 16 single malts” from Highlands, Speyside and Islay regions of Scotland, reportedly ranging between 8 to 12 years old in age, and is nicely presented at 40% ABV.
For a blend of 16 different malts it’s not surprising to find that this has a very, very malty character about it. More like a malted milk biscuit or a really good malty British ale or table beer. There’s a good dose of caramel to it too, and seemingly more so with time. There’s a distinct barley sugar sweetness there too and the essential blended scotch hint of smoke. Maybe even a little bit heathery.
There’s more of the same here on the palate. Loads of sweet, malty, biscuity goodness. Really sweet and caramel-like actually. The whisky has a silky caramel kinda texture to it too, along with some good orange fruity flavours and, again, a delicate touch of smoke as punctuation.
For a blend of “up to” 16 malts, there’s certainly a lot of the individual components fighting for your attention. That might be a polite way of saying this hasn’t got the smoothest of finishes. Which itself is a polite way of saying it’s punchy. A very warming finish with that whiff of smoke about it. The lingering aftertaste is a combination of sweet malt, caramel and smoke.
This is certainly a box checker for malt whisky flavours. It is also a whisky that, when you drink it, you know that you’ve had a whisky. In fact it tastes like exactly what I think the uninitiated think that whisky tastes like, and for that, I love it. I’m also a bit of a sucker for a story behind my whiskies, and this bountiful blend is no exception as the name Sheep Dip harkens back to the illicit distillers of yore, who used to store their homemade whisky in barrels marked “Sheep Dip”. The theory behind this was that the excisemen would not dare to investigate or sample the contents of these barrels on the farms, for fear of drinking the almost bleach-like disinfectant used to kill off any parasites living within their sheep’s fleece. Or at least, that’s what the marketing says, and who am I to challenge that? Like I say, I do like hearing or reading a good whisky tale or two, and why not have it on a bottle whilst enjoying the whisky at the same time? Also, it is a story about whisky and its lore, rather than any fictitious provenance or the like. Certainly an icebreaker. As an added bonus, it also sits within Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die. I’d also be keen now to try their Islay-only variation too, and do a side-by-side comparison, and see how much the strongly peated smoky flavours can up this blend. Reflecting on this original Sheep Dip however, I’ve been thinking about keeping a place in the whisky cabinet for a regular go-to “blended whisky” whisky, and this might just be the one for now: story, flavours and all.