Too often while writing reviews I find myself disassociated from the aroma or flavor notes that I’m trying to convert into words. I haven’t literally put my nose into a honeysuckle blossom in probably twenty years, and yet when that honey-sweet floral nectar-y note appears in something, I find myself typing the words. Some aroma memories are powerful like that, but others are more ethereal. I probably couldn’t really tell you the difference between toffee, caramel, and nougat, and I don’t really have an intensely strong sense-memory of those things. Mostly they smell like cooked sugar, I guess.
And then along comes a sense memory that is so powerful it snaps you back in time. I grew up in semi-rural New Hampshire and one of the highlights of the year was the county fair. This event was complete with a horse pull competition (or “hawse pull”, in the local patois), rickety carnival rides, and awards for 4H presentations. I never participated in 4H, but our family was acquainted with at least one family that owned sheep, and I can recall being near the creatures on more than one occasion. Despite their fluffy white appearance, I can tell you one thing: sheep don’t smell great. My memory of the aroma, if I try to put it into words, is a combination of rancid lanolin, must, manure, and flatulence. The dip itself (used to inoculate the sheep against pests and fungal infections) smells like concentrated bugspray.
I think you can see where this is going.
Sheep Dip – the whisky – by Spencerfield Spirits (now owned by Ian Macleod Distillers Limited) is a blend of 16 single malt whiskies purportedly between the ages of 8 and 20 (although there is no “8” on the bottle) all aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks. Famed blender Richard “The Nose” Paterson is said to be behind or involved in the blending. It’s bottled at 40% ABV and retails on the low end of the market for malts, around $35 – $40 US. The name is actually related to actual sheep dip, and refers to a moonshining practice in England whereby illicit distillers would disguise barrels of unreported whisky as barrels of sheep dip. The company also sells a blended scotch named – appropriately enough – Pig’s Nose, and another blended malt called The Feathery.
My first thought upon seeing the name was how common it seems to be to draw associations between whisky and animals, but I’m a fan of Monkey Shoulder which sounds even weirder so… why not?
Nose: Astringent note of lemon furniture polish assaults the nose first, with a musty overtone. By God this actually smells like sheep dip (or more likely sheep as my memories of sheep-related smells are in the distant past). No, that’s not a good thing. Lanolin (another sheep-related smell) and dry fungal – almost sulfury – malt arrive next. A rest in the glass dissipates these, leaving some pretty standard ex-bourbon notes of light caramel, nougat, honey, and vanilla.
Palate: Thin-bodied. Sweet malty notes of caramel and toffee join black licorice and root beer after a short tongue burn.
Finish: Short. Licorice again, and a fading bitterness, including some oaky mouth-drying tannins. Fades without much else.
With Water: A few drops of water make the licorice/anise note more piercing, now smelling more like cardamom. Other than that, no change except for a slightly sweeter root beer note on the finish. I don’t see a reason to bother with water for this dram.
Overall: Boy howdy, those are some awful notes fresh out of the bottle. I highly recommend letting this one sit for a bit before getting it anywhere near your olfactory senses. Once you do though, you risk being thoroughly bored by this mediocre-at-best assortment of ex-bourbon malts. I can find nothing to recommend this particular blended malt, and the sheep association in the name does it no favors, monkeys, grouse, turkeys, dogs, and foxes notwithstanding.