Recently I was with Cathy Mutis (@cathymutis - Brand ambassador for Sexton) in a dark bar on a Parisian street for an 'Own The Night' party.
She was making me a Resurrection cocktail of which she has the secret. She had just slipped cucumber slices, mint leaves and aloe vera juice into the shaker. She then added a dollop of Sexton Irish single malt.
As she was about to launch into an energetic shake, she asked me if I knew the extraordinary history of this whiskey from Northern Ireland?
Always one for adventure, I was eager to know.
She gave me her big smile and explained that if I wanted to find out, I had to go to County Antrim in Northern Ireland and follow in the footsteps of the giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his Giant's Causeway which once linked Northern Ireland to the Isle of Mull in Scotland.
You know that it takes less than that to launch me into an adventure.
I still took the time to savour its delicious green cocktail.
As I was leaving, she told me to go to Old Bushmills, as there is a close link between the Northern Irish distillery and this single malt (it comes out of their stills!).
So here I am, heading to Ulster in my brave Bradpeat.
While the car radio was blaring "The songs remains the same" from the album House of the holy by "Ledzep" to get me in condition (not that the band is Irish but simply because it is the Giant's Causeway that is chosen as a frame for the cover), I arrived in the town of Bushmills in front of the distillery of the same name.
It was hard to miss it because it was written in big letters on the roof : "OLD BUSHMILL'S" DISTILLERY !
I've had many great evenings with my departed brothers (Titi and Steph) discussing black bush, but I've never had the opportunity to offer you a taste of this old Irish wine (but I think I'll be able to remedy that soon).
Today I came for the Sexton.
In the distillery yard, I meet a young woman and I explain her the reasons of my coming (Cathy, Sexton, the road ...).
She smiles and tells me I'm in the right place because her name is Alex Thomas (@bushmillssextonalex), the great mistress of taste of the distillery (and the creator of Sexton) for many years now.
I apologised for not recognising her. She is one of those women who are kicking the whiskey (and whisky) world off with original creations. For her part, I will only talk here about her latest creations offering a triple distilled Irish juice (as always) but slipped for the Causeway range into Vermouth or Pomerol casks for example.
She explains that for her creation, the Sexton, she decided to slip a BUSHMILL distillate made from 100% Irish barley (from the south-east of the country in Wexford and Tipperary), for 4 years, into European oak barrels from France.
But of course not just any casks. They were seasoned for 2 years in Spain with Oloroso Sherry by the Antonio Paez Lobato family, and then brought back to Irish soil to host the first BUSHMILL distillates. Then, having worked well (in second and third fillings for more oloroso sweetness), they welcomed the one that would fill the black bottles.
She told me that the best place to taste it was a few miles north of the distillery, on the coast. This place was at the foot of what was once (according to legend) one of the bases of the bridge that linked the Irish island to its Scottish sister: the Giant's Causeway. Here we are!
Driving me to the scene in the van, as night began to fall on the north Irish coast, she told me that this was the best time to enjoy it here, on the basaltic chimneys of the Giant's Causeway.
She took out the black hexagonal bottle and placed it on one of them. Logically, it blended in easily with the phantasmagorical decor of the place, as if it had, itself, come from a basaltic melt.
She also decided to tell me the genesis of her whiskey.
Mrs Thomas wanted to propose a whisky different from what the 400 year old distillery does (which makes it the oldest in the world) and to pay tribute to the passage between life and death and to the last character in charge of the preparation of this moment: the sexton or SEXTON (you know the old time gravedigger with his top hat and his smile...absent) in charge of the graveyard located along the Bush river.
She wanted it like the bottle that the old Irish used to keep in the back of the cupboard and that they only took out when one of them passed to the other world!
As we were finally about to taste it (I know you can't take it anymore), she told me the story I had come here for.
The (aborted) battle between Fionn Mac Cumhaill (the Irishman) and Benandonner (the Scotsman). I already had the opportunity to talk about the latter during the tasting of Arran Machrie Moor (here).
Beware of a deliberate digression during the tasting:
I'll make it short, but as for the battle of the creation of whisky or whiskey, the 2 giants maintained a boundless rivalry, and threw many insults at each other (which I'll keep quiet here but certainly linked to the paternity of whisky) and looked for lice.
One day, the Scottish giant went too far: he insulted Finn MacCool's wife. The latter decides to build a bridge between the two islands to fight it out (the famous causeway).
But he didn't count on the fact that he wanted to explain to her from afar how to talk to his wife, but that once he had crossed, he realised that the Scotsman was really twice as crazy as he was.
Brave, but not foolhardy, he returned home and told his wife.
The problem was that he had warmed up to the Scotsman a bit and now he was the one who was going to come and explain his vision to her (via the famous causeway!).
Fin's wife was cunning and disguised her husband as an infant. When Benandonner arrived at their house and saw the "baby", he became afraid. He thought that if the child was that big, he'd rather not meet the father, and he went back home..... as they say!
He returned to Scotland but took care to destroy the roadway to prevent the baby's father () from coming to see him (to force him to drink whiskey or to beat him up we don't know for sure as the legend is vague on this level!)
Well, that's not all, but you have to taste this SEXTON whiskey.
Although the evening is setting in, there is still enough light to see that the liquid flowing in my glass is of an amber brown colour almost mahogany, showing that even after several passages a cask of xeres oloroso continues to darken the distillate.
The first nose is that of a whiskey without being too much mistaken with orange fragrances. However, as the nose goes deeper, it turns out to be sweeter on the sultana and especially spicier.
The spices are even more pronounced on the second pass with aromas that warm up and make you forget the "only" 40% alcohol. As the air on the north Irish coast tends to cool, the warm atmosphere of the glass will bring in smells of chocolate and vanilla.
Paradoxically, as if letting go of the sea air of the Giant's Causeway, the third passage becomes more minty and fresh. It nevertheless retains the spices that gave rhythm to the tasting.
Could this freshness be a sign of the arrival of the Sexton in the area? I don't know, but one thing is certain: it gives the go-ahead for the tasting and the passage in the mouth.
Very sweet at the beginning (a syrup), it will then take on woody notes (slightly astringent) and more and more spicy notes.
However, the peppery notes remain fairly limited and tend to be forgotten. A hint of red fruits linked to the sherry can be noted.
On the other hand, at the end it becomes biscuity and honeyed and above all it recovers its Irish nature.
The finish is very fruity with exotic notes. It starts with mango and pineapple and even coconut.
The empty glass gives off aromas of chocolate and a hint of barley in the background.
Once the tasting is over, it's time to continue my journey towards new adventures. Fortunately, there is no trace of a skeleton in a top hat or of a giant dressed as a baby (I'm not doing too badly).
If you want to try SEXTON plain or in its cocktail versions, I advise you to visit the Cocktail Street of Whisky Live in Paris, I am sure you will recognize Cathy and enjoy her cocktails!