The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey hit the shelves in the US in November to rave reviews. The Men’s Journal loves the sherry influence in the whiskey, and praised Thomas: “She gets it—really, really gets it.”
Distilled in County Antrim, the name “Sexton” comes from the Latin sacristanus, meaning “custodian of sacred objects” and refers to the person who prepared graves and was traditionally the last person to see a body before a person was laid to rest. “The Sexton Single Malt challenges those to make choices every day that will add up to a life story worth telling,” claims the brand.
I recently spoke with Sexton master blender Alex Thomas about her experience developing the new spirit.
Whereabouts in Ireland are you from?
I am from a small seaside town on the North Coast of Ireland called Castlerock. It is a picturesque setting with golden sand and views of Donegal.
What did you do before you got into distilling? Were you especially interested in spirits growing up? Do you have a family connection to the business?
I began my career in a local timber and builders merchant as a stock controller. It was here my appreciation for high quality craftsmanship and excellence was born.
Growing up my grandad and father both enjoyed drinking whiskey. My grandad always said a hot whiskey could cure any ailment so I was always fascinated about the magical liquid and only dreamt that one day I could be involved in its production. He would be a very proud man to see and taste The Sexton.
Growing up on the North Coast of Ireland the knowledge of the world’s oldest distillery on our doorstep is well known, and to work in the industry is a dream come true for many of us.
How did you first get involved in the distilling business?
In 2004, I joined the team at The Old Bushmills Distillery where I had the opportunity to work alongside Colum Egan, one of Ireland’s most revered distillers. I quickly grew fond of the wood seasoning and aging process, which for me is the most exciting time in the whiskey making process. My love for the craft became stronger and I received my distilling diploma in 2012 and there has been no looking back.
What is it like to be one of the only female master blenders in the world? Are there any others in Ireland?
To be a Master Blender is a dream come true. I get to go to work every day to do a job I love. I am a caretaker of a precious spirit which is enjoyed by many people and love nothing more than wondering around the warehouse drawing samples from casks. To watch the transformation of something raw into something so delicate and rich is amazing. Getting to create something that can be enjoyed worldwide by people is my legacy and is part of my life story which will still being enjoyed long after I’ve gone.
There are only few other female Master Blenders in Ireland but as the industry grows hopefully more will follow into a career that I can only describe as rewarding and more of a passion than a job.
Was it difficult to make your way in this historically male dominated field?
I was fortunate to have an amazing mentor who like me wants to produce a fantastic product to be enjoyed by everyone. I thrived under his watchful eye and it was his confidence in my ability that allowed me the freedom to succeed. After four year of study I received my distilling diploma in 2012 and would encourage everyone to consider distilling as a career.
What sets Sexton apart from other Irish whiskeys on the market? Why the sherry casks?
Unlike the majority of other Irish whiskeys, The Sexton is crafted using 100% Irish malted barley, a process which helps produce a supremely smooth single malt. Our barrels are hand-selected from European oak, first air dried for a minimum of 16 months then toasted from the inside to a medium-high level and seasoned with Oloroso Sherry for two years before being shipped to the north coast of Ireland. We consciously lay our liquid to rest for four years to achieve a fresh, unexpected single malt that is deep and memorable in character.
Growing up I spent time as a church warden where I grew to love the sweet Sherry taste of wine. The marriage of sherry and spirit in a quality cask, for me, results in a deep and memorable whiskey. The Sexton is the result of the delightful union and once you taste it I am confident you will agree that it is one you will want to experience time and time again.
Selecting the right cask can make the difference in a superior whiskey The Sexton and a mediocre whiskey. The barrels I have selected for The Sexton come from a bodega in Jerez in Southern Spain and are made from European oak.
Where in County Antrim is the distillery?
The Sexton Single Malt is matured in The Sexton barrelhouse, located on The Old Bushmills Distillery property. The liquid is the product of the long tradition of Irish Whiskey making in the area and the confidence of a new generation of Irish Whiskey makers. We are planning to build a new distillery adjacent to the River Bush to exclusively house The Sexton.
How do you prefer to drink Sexton?
I love to enjoy the Sexton neat or over a little ice. This allows you to savor the clean and mellow honey malt flavor followed by the complexity of spices, nuts and sweet oils.
Are there any other Irish distilleries—whiskey or otherwise—doing exciting things?
This is an exciting time for the Irish Whiskey Market with new distilleries opening. The birth of the Sexton has been possible due to the increased enthusiasm for Irish Whiskey and we can but watch this space to see what other exciting products will appear.
Do you have a favorite pub? If so, what makes it stand out?
For me a great pub is somewhere you can go where you feel you are amongst friends whither it’s your first visit or your hundredth visit. The Railway Arms near where I live is this place. The friendly staff and family atmosphere just makes you feel at home.
Join Kate and brand reps for two Sexton bar crawls in Brooklyn on February 15th and the 28th. Details here.
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