Bushmills Irish Whiskey Master Blender Alex Thomas Discusses New Project Launch And Career So Far
Face2Face with Alex Thomas, Master Blender, Bushmills Irish Whiskey.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in October of 2022.
Tell us about your new project/ launch.
This July, we announced our highly anticipated 2022 Causeway Collection, a series of rare single malts from the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery, the Old Bushmills Distillery. This ground-breaking collection is a unique selection of rare cask-finished and full -malt whiskeys.
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This year’s collection is very close to my heart, as it is the first series I have curated and that bears my name on the bottles. Last week, I was very proud to announce the two expressions which will be available to purchase exclusively on the island of Ireland – the 2002 Vermouth Cask and the 2012 Pomerol Cask.
The 2002 Vermouth Cask is the world’s first-ever vermouth cask-finished Irish single-malt whiskey. Matured in oloroso sherry butts and bourbon barrels for over 18 years, this exciting one-time-release whiskey is then aged for nearly two years in unique Vermouth casks from the Piedmont region of Italy.
The second exclusive release for the Irish market is the 2012 Pomerol Cask. This special bottling was first aged in oloroso sherry butts and bourbon barrels before being finished in rare Pomerol wine casks for a further four years. The smallest of all the major Bordeaux wine appellations , Pomerol is home to some of the most expensive and sought-after red wines in the world.
Pomerol wine casks are rarely used in the aging process, which is one of the many reasons I feel this expression is so special. The stunning casks, with their hazelwood hoops, showcase the rich history of the Bordeaux region, and it was a pleasure to bring our two traditions together.
The Causeway Collection is truly a celebration of our passion for single malts, and these special single-malt whiskeys are our greatest treasures. Both the 2012 Pomerol Cask and the 2002 Vermouth Cask are remarkable whiskeys that have been available to purchase online and through specialist retailers across the island of Ireland on Friday 26 August 2022.
Why is now a good time to launch this?
The dynamic Irish whiskey industry continues to go from strength to strength, with many exciting and bold innovations released on the market in recent years.
At Bushmills, we have continued to innovate in the pursuit of perfection for over 400 years, and I am sure this year’s Causeway Collection, which includes a world-first Irish single malt finished in vermouth casks, will challenge consumers and exciting every w!
We know that Irish whiskey consumers are knowledgeable and want to experience something different and unique. Both the 2002 Vermouth Cask and 2012 Pomerol Cask are among the most interesting and daring expressions from this year’s Causeway Collection. they see Irish whiskey.
With the launch of these two stunning expressions, we aim to take the whiskey fan on a journey through cask-strength whiskey while staying true to our principles of offering challenging whiskey from signature casks – non-chill filtered – at cask strength, and full of unadulterated big, bold flavours.
Tell us about your career so far.
I was born in Ballymoney, just 15 minutes from the Old Bushmills Distillery. It was always a dream of mine to work at the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery that was almost on my doorstep.
I joined the Bushmills team in 2004, and since then have spent over 18 years honing my craft, fascinated by the maturation phase of the whiskey-making process. This is when the spirit goes through a complex interaction between the wood and the conditions outside the cask. As it breathes in and out – a process called oxidation – the spirit draws out the seasoned but also the mild oak notes, color and tannins of the wood, gradually taking on its color and flavour.
It was such a privilege to be appointed as Master Blender for Bushmills Irish Whiskey in 2021. The craftsmanship and passion that goes into Bushmills is something that has truly captured my imagination. Whiskey fans know Bushmills Irish Whiskey for the brand’s 40ste al year , and part of my job is ensuring that we continue to meet that high standard.
Your best professional decision?
My best professional decision to date has been to complete my qualifications to become a master blender. I would not be in the position I have today or have the wonderful experiences and opportunities I have had with Bushmills over the past number of years.
The Old Bushmills Distillery is a very special place, and every day I get to explore my passion to develop new whiskeys and experiment with different casks and flavours.
Your most challenging moment?
There have been many challenging moments throughout my career, however, over the years, the most challenging part of my role has undoubtedly been selecting new casks to marry the whiskey. There is always a fear that they will never turn out as expected, but I Also believe that perfection lies outside of our comfort zones!
For example, the 2002 Vermouth Cask, which has just launched as part of this year’s Causeway Collection, is a beautiful cask-strength and non-chill-filtered whiskey that embodies the spirit of Bushmills and how we have continued to innovate in the pursuit of perfection for over 400 years. Vermouth is extremely unique, unlike anything else we had tried before. This is the first-ever Irish single malt to go to market that has been matured in vermouth casks, and it’s a whiskey that will undoubtedly challenge consumers to experience Bushmills in a different light and will excite every whiskey fan.
For me, there’s nothing better than introducing a new Irish whiskey to the market, and demand continues to soar – especially for premium single malts – so here at the Old Bushmills Distillery we continue to innovate and create new expressions for whiskey drinkers around the world.
Your favorite pub?
The Railway Arms in Coleraine is a place very close to my heart. It is inviting, friendly, and run by a lovely lady – and, I should mention, a Liverpool bar, which keeps my hubby happy!
Your favorite drink?
I may be biased, but I have to say whiskey! I particularly love a 16-year-old single malt or a Black Bush old fashioned – Black fashioned, as we know it.
Favorite holiday destination?
Disney World Florida – I’m a big child at heart and love the excitement of a Disney holiday!
Your worst job?
There have been challenging jobs along the way, but none I would consider the worst. Challenges are a great opportunity to learn and grow, and there have been positive takeaways from all the positions I have held in the past.
If you could do any other job apart from the job that you are doing now, what would it be, and why?
I love the drinks industry, and I could never see myself straying from that. If I wasn’t in my role in Bushmills, I truly believe I would be involved in barrelling in some form, whether that be in a winery in France or a tequila distillery in Jalisco.
Any pet hates?
Not finishing a job that you started.
Your business motto?
Do the very best you can, no matter what the situation may be.
The best advice you ever received?
Never be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens, which is evident in this year’s Causeway Collection releases! Name one thing that you always have in your refrigerator. Strawberry jam.
Your recipe for a successful hotel restaurant?
I love to visit places with a friendly and inviting atmosphere, with quality food and a bartender who can make a good whiskey-based cocktail.
What does Irish hospitality do best?
It makes everyone feel at home, whether they are from five minutes down the road or the other side of the world.
Your death row meal?
A fillet steak with Bushmills-infused sauce and a glass of Bushmills 16-Year-Old Single Malt on the rocks.
The most enjoyable part of your career?
Getting the opportunity to see people enjoy what we have created here at Bushmills Irish Whiskey.
Complete this sentence: Nothing is more important than…?
Read more: Hospitality Ireland Autumn 2022: Read The Latest Issue Online!