Whisky and Words Number 102: The Sexton Irish Single Malt

A sturdy bottle with a strange story but good whisky.

There is always a story, some better than others. This one is prosaic enough: someone bought The Sexton for my wife, as they heard she liked Irish whisky. (Long ago I’d introduced the good wife to Bushmills, which I had become attached to after reading The Eagle has Landed even longer ago. In that book, the Irish protagonist, Devlin, favored that whisky.) We usually have Bushmills in house so I’ll use that as the comparison dram.

I had not heard about the Sexton before but it is available here in Oregon for $31 a bottle. Comparing to Bushmills white at $26, a modest upcharge. Let’s see what it brings to the table. First, the elephant in the room: that squat, thick, hexagonal bottle. It stands out and is attractive, but it takes care to pour with control — the heavy lip tends to ‘attach’ the flow, sending it down the side of the bottle and thence to your table or desk in my case.

The Sexton does have a nice nose, whether it’s in your glass on on your desk, so there’s that! Also the bottle talks about sextons digging graves (see photo at bottom) and the story goes that if you show up at the graveyard in the morning you can “smell oak from a breathing cask”? It’s an odd juxtaposition as I don’t think of nice smells emanating from a graveyard. On the other side of the bottle it says if you go through a locked door in the crypt you’ll come across the casks aging. I think that’s just a story (again, I don’t think of nice smells in a crypt, but hey…). But on the Sexton web site they claim only that they age four years in sherry casks. That I can believe.

Note, The Sexton is imported by Proximo, the folks that bring you Jose Cuervo tequila. I was thinking, as there are not many Irish distilleries, one can assume they have a deal with one of the big Irish firms to produce the spirit. Turns out, they own Bushmills, so there’s your source.

So, pour some, and what do you get? Malt syrup, spicy (cinnamon, nutmeg) oak, freshly toasted bread, no peat of course, and a background tone of sherry that is quite subtle. A sip spreads a very even, smooth, understated cereal sweetness across the tongue — think liquid cornflakes (no milk). The sweetness is balanced by similarly understated bitters from the oak tannins and that enduring sherry undertone for a well balanced finish with a little bit of that dry sherry pucker. Considering its four years in sherry, we don’t have a sherry monster on our hands but there is enough to broaden the flavor profile in a nice way.

Let’s compare to good old Bushmills White, which is not a single malt and aged only 3 years (and no sherry there). The White is smooth as well with some odd grassiness on the nose, similarly understated malt sweetness and a bit of fruit on the palate and a quick unremarkable finish.

The Sexton single malt Irish whisky, 40% ABV

Nose: Malt syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, oak; background of freshly toasted bread and subtle touch of sherry.
Palate: Smooth. Cornflakes well balanced with mild oak tannins.
Finish: The sherry fruit undertone continues for a well balanced finish with the oak and a little bit of dry sherry astringency.

Bottom Line: There is more going on with the Sexton than the blends and well it should. As such, it is a good step up from blended whiskies like Bushmills White, and it is not much more expensive. For an extra $4 you can’t go wrong. If it were easier to pour I’d probably keep some around for those odd nights I want something comfortingly mellow.

OK, so why is there a ‘breathing’ cask in a graveyard? Something is amiss in their dunnage, methinks.

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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