World Whiskey Day: Why more women should become Master Blenders, according to an expert

18th May 19 | Lifestyle

Alex Thomas of The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey tells Sam Wylie-Harris how women can get a foot in the door of this male dominated industry.

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Growing up, Alex Thomas’grandad and father both enjoyed drinking whiskey. There was always a bottle of single malt brought out to celebrate special occasions, or to commemorate the life of a friend or family member that had passed.

“My grandad always said a hot whiskey could cure any ailment, so I was always fascinated about the magical liquid and dreamt that one day I could be involved in its production,” says Thomas, who is now one of the world’s few female whiskey blenders with her own single malt: “He would be a very proud man to see and taste The Sexton.”

The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey
(The Sexton/PA)

Made from 100% Irish malted barley, The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey (£30.75, 70cl, Master of Malt) is triple distilled for smoothness in copper pot stills, and aged exclusively in oloroso sherry butts. The result is a rich, smooth whiskey, perfect for cocktail experimentalists, or those wanting to put a modern twist on a classic serve.

In honour of World Whiskey Day, and with there being a wider range of roles available than ever before in the industry, Thomas hopes more women will follow her nose…

How get did you get a foot in the door?

“Back then, positions didn’t come up that often, but I kept my ear to the ground for opportunities. My husband Steven works as a senior operative at the Bushmills Distillery, and in 2004 encouraged me to apply for a new opening. I jumped at the chance.”

Which part of the whiskey making process do you enjoy most?

The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey
(The Sexton/PA)

“I quickly grew fond of the wood seasoning and ageing process – for me, maturation is the most exciting time in the whiskey making process. As my love for the craft became stronger, I began to fantasise about creating my own whiskey.

“I received my distilling diploma in 2012 and started to experiment in both the distillation process and the wood and seasoning process. It was through this intense experimentation that The Sexton was born.”

Which route should women consider taking to get into whiskey?

“For me, working in the whiskey industry is one of the most rewarding career experiences someone can have. Anyone who wants to follow my path should look on the Institute of Brewing and Distilling website, and start by completing the General Certificate in Distilling.

“This will let them experience a general overview of the world of whiskey production. If you get the bug like me, you can then go on to complete the three-year Diploma.”

What do you need to know if you want to be a part of the industry?

“To be a master distiller/blender you need two key things: A good nose and patience. You need a desire to experiment and be creative. Every day you will learn something new as you engage with the wood and the spirit – interacting as they sleep in the warehouses, patiently waiting for the day they are released to be enjoyed.”

How do you think women can stand out in the world of whiskey?

“As the whiskey industry grows, women are becoming more involved and forging careers that they may not have chosen in the past. My advice to anyone is to dare to dream, and do whatever it takes to make that dream come true. The Sexton is the result of my dream.”

Do you think there’s been a shift in the amount of women getting into whiskey?

“With more opportunities to join the industry as new distilleries continue to open, more women are certainly becoming attracted to it – there are positions available that both men and women can fulfil.

“For me, it’s about wanting to be part of creating something. Seeing all your hard work being enjoyed by people all over the world, and knowing you played a part in making something unique, is a very special feeling.”

© Press Association 2019

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