Joy Spence joined Appleton Estate as Chief Chemist in 1981. In 1997 she gained the title of Master Blender. A luminary in the spirits industry, Joy is the first woman to hold the position of Master Blender in the industry and in 2018, she received the Jamaica Prime Minister Medal for Science and Technology. A true inspiration to the world of wine and spirits, this year she celebrates her 40th anniversary with Appleton Estate.
After graduating from the University of the West Indies with a Bachelor of Science Degree, First Class Honours, Joy spent some years teaching chemistry, before moving to England to pursue a Master of Science degree in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Loughborough, where she excelled and graduated with honours. Blending sensory analysis and chemistry together, coupled with a talented palate, Joy creates rum from cane to cup which is a true balance between art and science.
We sat down for an interview with Joy Spence, the very first female master blender of Appleton Estates
Rooted in Jamaican tradition, Appleton Estates is a Jamaican rum that seduces and inspires, it’s been a global sensation for years and it is because of Joy Spence that its quality and taste deliver time and time again in our glasses. To celebrate her 40 years, WanderEater sits down with her to learn more about her journey, her favourite way to sip Appleton Estates and her passion for the craft of blending rum.
How did you move from chief Chemist to Master Blender? What inspired the change and did you think you’d end up a Master Blender at some point?
When I joined Appleton Estate as Chief Chemist in 1981, I met former Appleton Estate, Master Blender Owen Tulloch and discovered the world of rum and the passion for rum. Before, I never thought I would appreciate rum as a complex, sophisticated spirit. My role at the time was to take the laboratory to first-world standards. I became totally fascinated by the world of rum and realized I could use my sensory skills while applying my strong chemistry background to create a new profession for myself. I was then appointed as Master Blender in 1997, and became the first female in the industry to hold the position.
What was the most challenging rum vintage, or a crazy distilling story you might have?
The most challenging rum vintage was the Appleton Estate 50 Year Old. Ensuring that evaporation loss was minimized and keeping the barrels in eyes-view- contact. These rums were placed in a special area in one of our ageing warehouses. Our warehousing manager actually chained them to the floor! I conducted extensive quality checks on each barrel of rum to ensure that it had achieved the smoothness, complexity and richness worthy of the Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum 50 Year Old.
Has your palate changed over the years and How does the power of taste affect your blending process?
The most amazing thing is that my palate has become much more acute over the years. It is your art of sensory analysis that is the baseline for becoming an excellent Blender.
How much of rum making & blending is science and how much is art?
Rum blending is truly a combination of art and science. It is not certain where one begins and the other ends. I fell in love with chemistry at age 13 and dreamed of becoming a scientist. I never imagined that I would apply my knowledge to blending rums as a career. While understanding the scientific aspects of making rum is crucial, there are sensory aspects that cannot be taught, some come with experience and some from intuition.
What is your favourite part of being a Master Blender?
I love to inspire and expand palates across the globe – there’s nothing more satisfying than introducing rums to a group of people and watching their fascination in the spirit grow.
Are there any innovation projects for the future you can share?
Creating new expressions of rum takes time and it’s a fluid process often taking you in directions you may not have intended. Currently, we have projects involving vintage rums and we’re also experimenting with different types of secondary aging. However, until we can confirm that we have an exceptional rum meeting our standards of excellence, we tend to avoid sharing or commenting on works-in-progress.
If anyone comes to Appleton Estates, what can they expect to experience?
The Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience takes guests through the Appleton Estate property in Nassau Valley for a multi-sensory experience centred on the Appleton Estate range. Guests journey through the history of Appleton Estate and the brand’s cane to cup rum-making process.
What is your favourite way to drink Appleton Rum?
A brown sugar daiquiri made with Appleton Estate 8YO Reserve. It’s a flavour explosion.
What hobbies do you have?
I like to garden and love my orchids and bougainvilleas. I also love cooking, watching doctor birds and enjoying my Jamaican sunsets.
Do you have any advice for women in spirits?
Don’t focus on your gender or anything you think may be holding you back – the love for the craft is what should drive you. Be passionate about what you’re doing, become a sponge for technical knowledge, and remain humble. Remember that success is a journey, not a destination.