Joy Spence, On Being the first female Master Blender

Joy Spence, has the distinction of being the first female Master Blender in the spirits industry.  2017 marks her 20th Anniversary as Master Blender and she has created a limited edition 25-year-old minimum aged rumAppleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend – to celebrate this special milestone. Joy shares her thoughts on her career, the rum industry and this very special rum.

Why is the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend significant and how is it made?

“2017 marks my 20th Anniversary as Appleton Estate’s Master Blender and I created the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend to celebrate this special milestone in my career.

“The Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend includes two rum marques which are of particular sentimental significance to me: The first of these marques was laid down to age in 1981 – which is the year I joined the Appleton Estate team, and the second is my favourite marque of pot still rum.  I love this particular pot still marque because it develops a unique fruity and spice note during ageing which I think is exceptional.

“These two rum marques are at the heart of the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend and are complemented by other marques that I have selected to create a 25-year-old minimum age rum that has a unique flavour profile.”

When did you first begin planning this rum?

“I have been thinking about this rum for a few years because I wanted to ensure it was unique and special. I landed on the final formula just over a year ago.”

What differentiates the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend from other rums in the Appleton Estate portfolio, and indeed, other rums within the premium rum category?

“The Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend is particularly special as it is the first 25-  year-old-minimum age rum created by Appleton Estate. It is comprised of a select blend of aged rums, each matured for a minimum of 25 years, with some aged up to 35 years.  Even though it has been aged a minimum of 25 years, the oak notes do not overpower the fruity and spice notes.  It is a worthy addition to our luxury portfolio, which also includes Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Jamaica Rum and Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum, which is recognized as the oldest bottled rum in the world.

“The Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend opens with a delicate top note of orange peel – a hallmark of our rums – intertwined with ginger and spice, finishing with warm vanilla, butterscotch, coffee and layers of almond and toasted oak. The palate is exceptionally smooth with a long, elegant brown sugar finish.’

How has the role of Master Blender evolved during your time at Appleton Estate? What does a typical day look like for you?

“Day to day, I am responsible for maintaining the consistency and quality of our existing blends, creating new rum blends and monitoring our inventory of rum currently aging in oak barrels.  Simply put, it is my job to ensure that each of our Appleton Estate rum blends meets the high standards our consumers have grown to love and expect.

“I can’t say the role of Master Blender has changed much since I first joined Appleton Estate 35 years ago. Of course, some of the technology that supports the chemistry of creating rum blends, such as gas chromatography, has advanced and we now use computers to track all of our ageing rum stocks rather than a ledger! Regardless of the advances in technology, the nose always overrules the chemistry when it comes to creating our blends.”

What do you enjoy most about your role as Master Blender? 

“I most enjoy travelling the globe and sharing the, excuse the pun, ‘joy’’ of Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum while recruiting new brand ambassadors and seeing Appleton Estate fly the Jamaica flag worldwide.  Creating new rum blends runs a very close second – the process in itself is very exciting, but since my first love has always been academia and my first job was in teaching, I do take real pleasure from spreading the ‘joy’ of rum to spirits enthusiasts.”

Where do you take your inspiration from?

“Primarily, I take inspiration from people – firstly, from my family. My husband, daughter and son are so supportive and give me great strength. I also couldn’t do this job without the wonderful people at Appleton Estate who support me each and every day – they offer so much encouragement and respect and I really value it. I also find the pride, passion and creativity of the Jamaican people a great source of inspiration.”

What is the most rewarding moment of your career so far at Appleton Estate?

“Receiving a national award for my contribution to industry from the Government of Jamaica in 2005.   It was also a great honour to receive honorary doctorate degrees in 2012 from my Alma Maters – the University of the West Indies, where I studied for my undergraduate degree, and Loughborough University, where I studied for my postgraduate degree.”

Who has had the biggest impact on your career?

“My chemistry teacher, Mrs. Mills, was my first mentor and she inspired my passion for chemistry and science. My second mentor was Owen Tulloch who was the Master Blender when I joined Appleton Estate. It was Owen who taught me the art of blending rum and led me on the journey to become the Master Blender I am today.  I would also like to mention William “Billy” McConnell and Anthony Bell who had the confidence in me and my abilities and appointed me Appleton Estate’s Master Blender in 1997.”

What advice do you have for a first-time rum drinker?

“When asked this question, I always ask the individual what spirits they currently drink and how they best enjoy them. For instance, if someone says they are a bourbon drinker then I recommend they try the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old in an old fashioned. If they enjoy single malts, I would recommend the Appleton Estate 21 Year Old, neat. If vodka is more their forte, I would point them in the direction of a simple but elevated rum cocktail such as an Appleton Estate Signature Blend Jamaican Mule, which is created with our rum, ginger beer, lime and a splash of bitters.”

How has the rum industry and the perception of rum changed during your 20 years as Master Blender?

“Consumers are now exploring premium aged rum and its popularity is growing.  When I first joined the industry, rum brands tended to create premium aged rum variants as limited-release offerings only.  I’m proud that Appleton Estate has helped to create and define the premium aged rum category with the release of what is today known as Appleton Estate Signature Blend. Today the Appleton Estate range comprises Appleton Estate Signature Blend, Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old and Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Jamaica Rum along with limited releases such as the Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum.”

What do you do outside of work and how do you like to relax?

“I relax by cooking and gardening. I like to sit in my garden and enjoy the ‘fruits’ of my labour. I have two gardens; the first of which is at my home and is brimming with flowers. I spend a lot of time tending them, talking to them and asking them to bloom! I also have a second small farm where I grow onions, sweet potatoes, peppers and black mint. It’s a little hobby that my husband and I share.  I also love to cook – especially Jamaican classics.  My specialties are oxtail and beans and gungo peas soup.

“I also enjoy spending time in Portland, which is my favourite part of Jamaica. Portland is still relatively untouched and boasts sandy beaches, rivers flowing to the sea and lush green vegetation set against a backdrop of the Blue Mountains on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other.  It leaves me in awe of the beauty of my island each time I visit.

“For me, rafting on the Rio Grande is the ultimate Jamaican experience – you float down the river on a bamboo raft taking in the natural beauty of the Rio Grande Valley for about seven miles before stopping to take a dip in the cool waters and enjoy a delicious Jamaican lunch prepared right on the river bank by a lovely lady named Belinda.  The pristine beauty and peace and relaxation is unlike anything else.”