Alex Thomas, The Sexton master blender, is one of the few female master blenders in the Irish whiskey industry. In this issue she talks about her desire to explore San Francisco, love of classic whiskey cocktails, and why she now only ever books aisle seats.
What have been some of the most memorable and interesting countries that your work has taken you to?
Spain has to be the most memorable and interesting. It was on one of these trips that I discovered the amazing oloroso sherry that we use to season each cask of The Sexton. Jerez, a beautiful part of Spain, is steeped in history and is well renowned for producing famous sherry. I have also managed to visit a few cities in America such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco, but only for short periods of time, so I haven’t had the opportunity to explore. The people I have had the pleasure of meeting during these short trips made it extremely rewarding and have instilled the desire in me to return.
What whiskies and other spirits do you like to buy in duty free when travelling overseas?
I love to buy other single malt whiskies when travelling. The best way to learn what you like is to experiment and for me experimenting and training my palate helps improve my creativity as a master blender.
What’s the most memorable dram that you’ve had on your travels?
Whilst there have been many, one that has always stayed with me is Bodegas Tradición VOS 20 Years Old Pedro Ximénez Sherry. It truly was delicious and provided the perfect end to a wonderful meal with new friends.
You must spend a lot of time on the road. What travel tips do you want to pass on to our readers?
Research where you are going and importantly, what the weather is going to be like so you can pack accordingly. The wind chill in Chicago is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Also, don’t be afraid to go off the traditional tourist routes – you will find many hidden treasures, meeting the real people of the city and country, helping to understand the culture of the area and try the local cuisine and spirits.
If your flight was delayed, who would you most like to share a dram with in an airport bar?
I would love to share a dram with Michelle Obama. She is an inspirational woman who has helped so many and achieved so much.
If you had a spare 24 hours, which city would you most like to explore?
San Francisco. I would love to visit Alcatraz Island and stroll along the Golden Gate Bridge, and, of course, visit the Napa and Sonoma wine areas.
We have a long 12-hour flight ahead. What book would you recommend we read to while away the time?
I always love to pick up a light-hearted, fictional book at the airport ahead of any flight. Recently I hastily picked up a copy of ‘The Christmas Secret’ on the way to the gate. I love Christmas and, captivated by its cover and the review that described it as “a gripping story filled with emotion”, I bought it. I was amused to find out that the story is about a girl called Alex who worked in a distillery on Islay.
Brand loyalty aside, what are your top whiskies and whisky cocktails?
It really is hard to beat a good Irish whiskey, but I do like a number of different whiskies including Bushmills 16 Years Old single malt, Redbreast 12 Years Old single pot still and I’m also partial to a Stranahan’s Sherry Cask. When it comes to cocktails, it really is hard to beat a classic whiskey sour, Old Fashioned or a whiskey cobbler.
Tell us about a funny event that happened to you on your travels.
During my first trip to America to launch The Sexton I found myself sitting in the window seat beside an American gentleman. It was a night flight so the cabin lights were lowered with many settling down for few hours’ shut-eye. I was so excited for the launch that I couldn’t possibly sleep. However, the gentleman beside me clearly had no such problem and began to snore. Midway through the flight I decided to visit the bathroom, but trapped against the window my only way out was to climb over the unconscious gentleman. I made my attempt and just as I thought I was about to make it my trailing foot caught a glass of wine on his table. Its contents subsequently found themselves in his lap. The shock led to this guy jumping from his seat in surprise waking up half of the plane. I now ensure I only book aisle seats.
You’ve been shipwrecked on a desert island. Which whisky would you like to find washed up on the shore?
I have to be biased here and say The Sexton. It was created and influenced by our individual life stories. The single malt challenges us to make choices every day that will contribute to a life story worth telling. I can think of no better company on a desert island.