“Sexton works best in the dark” – The Sexton Marketing Team
So tonight we attended a very special launch; the EU launch of Bushmills; The Sexton, an NAS Whiskey matured in second/third fill olorosso sherry casks blended by Alex Thomas, master blender and whiskey extraordinaire. As for the whiskey itself, here’s the run down; single malt, triple distilled in Bushmills distillery Northern Ireland. Aged for what I am told is a minimum of 5 – 6 years, matured in the second and third fill olorosso casks, with the intention of letting the whiskey shine through as it takes influence from the oak more than the sherry. The whiskey itself pays homage to the older style of whiskies, and the peculiar shape owes its design to The Giants Causeway close by Bushmills distillery. Alex mentioned that when she was young she saw whiskey as an old man’s drink, so being able to create something that both paid homage to the older whiskies while being a step forward for Irish whiskies was a big decision. Speaking with some of the older folk and people about the crowd, they were emphatic when telling me that years and years ago, whiskey was aged in all manner of casks, whereas nowadays you tend to have simply one style; American ex-bourbon, with the Sexton being a good change from the norm. Indeed, I saw many a face being taken away to somewhere familiar yet different, faces on people both young and old, although personally I can see this being used often as a cocktail whiskey, the flavours lending themselves better to creation than straight drinking.
Now the Launch was something else; walking in there was a central bar serving The Sexton, neat, on ice and in several different cocktails (pictured below), a band playing Hozier covers, a full spread of meats and cheeses on one side and every table was adorned with candles, empty bottles and wooden branches. It felt more like the most hipster funeral in history, but it did work with the imagery and marketing of the whiskey. I got into the swing of things right away, as soon as one of the bartenders poured me a generous measure. Cheers mate. And at the back of the launch, there was the dark room. Filing in in groups, we were sat down as the lights dimmed, we donned some head phones, and The Sexton told us of the story behind The Sexton Whiskey. At least, that’s what I think he did. Someone had the bright idea to play the howling of gale force winds behind his voice at the start, and it was more similar to trying to carry a conversation on the London Tube as it screeches past Kings Cross more than anything else. Still, the whiskey was there, and we even got a brief Q&A session with Alex at the end. Over all, I can see what they’re going for; a different kind of launch for a different kind of tasting. And while I might bitch and moan, I dug it. It really did feel different.
Now you may have noticed that earlier I stated this is the EU launch of The Sexton. Well, it is. The Sexton was launched in the US at the end of 2017, and I was curious about this, asking many a person. I received many a marketing answer, mainly that this was to gauge the response from the wider market. Simply put, a whiskey released in Ireland, the EU and the UK may garner only limited attention. How often are whiskies released here? Blink an eye and you’ll find five more, but a release in the US first? Now there is a market crying for more, specifically Irish Whiskey. I did ask a question that was on more than just my mind however, especially when seeing the logo. Now we were told that Sexton comes from the medieval word ‘sacristanus’, the fella who prepares the grave and witnesses the body being laid to rest. So, given that undertakers in Ireland and the world over used to appear like this, the logo bears that grinning skeleton in the top hat. Personally, I quite like it. It’s a bit cool, a bit funky, and I can see the appeal, but also I realise who owns Bushmills. And how this logo has similarities to many a tequila label, although when I asked the question I was told that Día de Muertos (day of the dead) had no influence on the design. Despite the fact that I never mentioned Día de Muertos. And despite the fact that the Latin American market for Whiskey is wide open. Marketing is marketing. In the end though, the whiskey came home to Ireland. Let’s have a look.
The nose is a bit clean, in a rustic sort of way. Think old cake, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, Chinese 5 spice and cumin running away with the butterscotch that was left carelessly in the open. It goes through to dark chocolate, butter and honey, buttered toast and candle wax. Good. Not great, though certainly sticking out to me. As we let it develop we saw more marzipan comes through, though it was never too broad, or imposing. The whiskey waited for you to come to it, and I though I expected leather from the sherry I found it delightfully clean and free from sulphur. Alex knows what she’s doing.
On the palate, it’s honey and dried fruits; prunes, nectarines, apricots, grapefruit and orange rind, wood and some more honey. That spice comes back though lazily, and greets some tired raisins and sultanas at the door. While the nose was waiting back and wanted you to take a step forward, on the palate the whiskey never quite seems to arrive.
Did I like the whiskey? Yeah, I thought it was good. I thought the cocktails were nice, the launch was good, it was different and a great chance to try whiskey in an environment that was more about the whiskey than anything else, and I loved that. But did I think it was a good whiskey? Depends. It’s a Glenfarclas 12. A Glendronach 15. A particularly wild Clynelish. But it didn’t feel to be the different, new and exciting whiskey that we were told about, more Black Bush left to mature for a bit longer. And while I love Black Bush, I’ve two bottles on my shelf. And I don’t really need another.