Interview: At The Sexton Irish Whiskey A Female Master Blender Runs The Show

At the helm of The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey, Master Blender Alex Thomas is one of the world’s few female whiskey blenders, and has spent more than 13 years honing her craft.

Along the way, her fascination for the maturation phase of the whiskey-making process led her to source the ideal Sherry casks for the liquid and create The Sexton, an Irish single malt clad in a hexagonal black bottle, disguising the sherry-tone liquid that lies within.

Making her way in a predominantly male industry, Thomas said in a recent interview with us there have been ups and downs, “however I have been blessed to be welcomed into this amazing industry. The Irish whiskey network operates more as a family and opens its door for everyone. We all want to see the Irish whiskey category grow and the love of the products we create be enjoyed all over the world.”

She said that as the whiskey industry grows, women are undoubtedly becoming more involved and forging careers that they may have never chosen in the past.

Master Blender Alex Thomas

Master Blender Alex Thomas of The Sexton (image via Proximo Spirits)

“Nothing is more empowering than doing what you love and having the freedom to share that experience and knowledge,” Thomas explained. “It’s an honor to be part of the group of females increasing awareness and I hope we can all normalize the female presence in this industry.”

Bringing The Sexton Single Malt to life has been one of her proudest accomplishments, she said. “I hope no matter the industry, females go after their dreams and do not let their gender defy them.”

Thomas grew up as one of five daughters and soon became known as the adventurous one. She was always out exploring and was never discouraged from trying anything.

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Growing up on the North Coast of Ireland, she said the knowledge of the world’s oldest distillery, right on her doorstep, was well known. “And to work in the industry is a dream come true for many of us.”

She was initially drawn to the world of Irish whiskey at a young age by hearing stories from her grandfather about how a hot whiskey cured any ailment.

“So I was always fascinated about the magical liquid and only dreamt that one day I could be involved in its production,” she said. “When an opportunity came up to work at a distillery, I jumped at the chance. I have spent years honing my craft with guidance from Colum Egan, one of Ireland’s most revered distillers and with my husband being in a similar line of work, he also provided me with inspiration and support.”

During this time in her life, she became interested in the maturation phase of the whiskey-making process, fascinated at the point in which the spirit gains its changing characteristic and flavor.

“This is what I would say inspired me to pursue my dreams and take the proper steps to become able to create my own product,” she said.

In 2012, Thomas received her distilling diploma and officially became master blender of The Sexton Single Malt.

Prior to taking the helm at The Sexton, Thomas was a local timber merchant. “That’s where my appreciation for high quality craftsmanship and excellence was born. My time working in the timber industry taught me that each tree is as unique as you and I. As such, it will bring its own character out in whatever it is used for.”

She said the stunning grain running through each piece used to create furniture or a building is a beauty to behold. “For whiskey, this same grain brings rich flavors that interact with the spirit laid to rest inside the beautifully constructed casks.”

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Working with both softwoods and hardwoods allowed her to gain an understanding of how each of the different woods were structured.

Most softwoods will be almost perfectly smooth with no grain indentations, while many common hardwoods have an open pore structure, such as the oak they use to construct casks for whiskey maturation.

It’s this open pore structure in the European oak that she chose for The Sexton Single Malt casks, which she said allows the gentle interaction to occur between spirit and wood as the casks breathe.

“It’s not surprising I quickly grew fond of the wood seasoning and aging process when I worked under the careful hand of Colum Egan, which I feel is the most exciting time in the whiskey making process,” she said. “It was through extensive experimentation, that The Sexton Single Malt was born.”

The term “Sexton” is derived from the Medieval Latin word, sacristanus, meaning custodian of sacred objects and is used to describe the man who prepared the grave, the last man to witness the body before being laid to rest.

Crafted from 100 percent malted barley that’s triple distilled in copper pots, The Sexton is then aged in first, second and third fill Oloroso Sherry casks. The whiskey is intentionally laid to rest for four years resulting in a smooth, light and fruit-forward spirit.

If Thomas had to sum up Irish whiskey in one sentence? “Whiskey is made all around the world, but Irish Whiskey came first and has been the cornerstone of all other whiskeys,” she said.

What inspires her at her work is also what she said sets The Sexton apart from the pack.

“When creating The Sexton Single Malt, I wanted to create a whiskey that everyone would enjoy and that paid homage to those who came before us. I wanted it to be approachable for those who thought whiskey was not for them and memorable enough for the whiskey connoisseur to enjoy the experience. Most importantly, as the Irish Whiskey category continues to rise, I wanted to introduce a liquid that could represent the changing face of Ireland – capturing the heritage and provenance of the past and the optimism and creativity of the future.”

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Their initial aim was to create a premium single malt without a steep price point. At $29, she said the consumer doesn’t have to sacrifice quality for approachability.

“The liquid itself is triple distilled and aged in hand-selected sherry casks which creates a smoothness that is incredibly rare for a single malt. As you can see by the striking hexagonal shaped bottle, we are not your traditional Irish whiskey and we like to encourage our consumers to live life to the fullest, to indulge and enjoy everyday. This year alone has proved that we must savor the moments we have and here at The Sexton Single Malt our mantra is, ‘we have a single life, so let’s drink a single malt’.”

What does the future hold for Thomas’ master distilling education, assuming it’s a craft where one is always learning and always evolving?

“Exactly, yes! As the world evolves, so will the industry. We are always looking to better our craft and that applies to myself too. I learn from my peers, my husband, and other master distillers who all share the same passions as I do. My dream now is to one day have ‘The Sexton family’ and with hard work, an open mind and a love of the industry, I strive to make that dream come true.”