HP or Tomato Ketchup?

I was having a breakfast meeting with my good friend Tony Reeman-Clark, ‘distiller extraordinaire’ last week.  Coffee and maple smoked bacon rolls (not just any bacon rolls but M&S maple smoked bacon rolls!). Tony asked me, “HP or Ketchup?”  “Ketchup I said”. “Wrong answer”, said Tony.  “HP sauces is the distiller’s sauce of choice”.  At this point the conversation moved away from the formula to calculate how much water to add to alcohol to ‘cut’ the abv, to why this was the case. “Okay, so why is that?” I said, expecting some detailed sensory experience explanation.  “Quite simple” said Tony, “Because the bottle fits through the bung on a cask of whisky, have you ever heard of a Copper Dog?”.

Now the history of distilling, especially whisky is Scotland, is surrounded by many wonderful stories and tales of illicit stills, the use of different ways to smuggle whisky, Sheep Dip as an example, gained its name from the barrels it was smuggled in. All to avoid the dreaded Exciseman and his thirst to collect the taxes due.

In times gone by when there were some ‘colourful’ characters working in distilleries, they used to fashion pipes into small containers for liberating the sleeping whisky from its cask.  The pipes would be made from scrap metal lying around the distilleries, have a coin attached to the one end, to seal it, and a cork in the other.  They would be carried inside the leg of their trousers with a chain round to the top attached to the carrier’s belt or braces to make sure the ‘Copper Dog Dipper Flask’ would stay in place.  So why a copper dog and not a cat I hear you ask?  Is a dog not a man’s best friend?

In the days of the home-made copper dogs, you may be surprised to read that HP sauce hadn’t reached the popularity that it has today. The square base, long rectangular body and thread on the top, which a piece of string could be attached to, made this the perfect modern-day vessel for ‘dipping’ so it has replaced the copper dog.  Now I’m not suggesting for a minute that they are still be used today, but just say they were, what do you find in most workplace cafeterias? Brown sauce!

Tony is from Newcastle and does have a furtive imagination.  Combine that with working in an atmosphere where alcohol vapours may exist and I do sometimes think that he likes to catch me out with his stories, but the next time you visit a distillery ask them about the ‘Copper Dog’ and then ask them if they have ever found empty bottles of HP sauce in a cask when it has been disgorged for bottling.  If they look at you with a quizzical eye and ask how you know that, then think of this story and my bacon roll with Tony. Perhaps someone was caught in the act and the ‘copper dog’ was dropped into the barrel rather than down a trouser leg?

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