11 August 2023

Rum Insiders Interview - Dr Joy Spence

Appleton Estate Rum
Master Blender

How long have you been working in the rum industry?
After graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in Chemistry, I joined the Appleton Estate distillery in 1981 - as the chief chemist, working under Master Blender at the time, Owen Tulloch.
Studying under his pupillage played a major role in my journey at Appleton Estate, but as a woman I knew I had to work twice as hard in a heavily male dominated space.
In 1997 I was extremely proud to be appointed the very first female Master Blender. Now having been there over 25 years, it’s become part of my identity. I’ve worked at the Estate for over forty years, staying true to the balance that exists between chemistry and rum that helps to create the fantastic liquids for all the ages.
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
I’ve had so many! From creating award-winning bottlings including the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old, the limited-edition Appleton Estate 50 Year Old and of course the Hearts Collection vintages: 1993, 1994, 1995,1999 and 2002. In 2017, I marked my 20th anniversary as Master Blender, by creating The Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend, and in 2021, Appleton Estate launched a special Ruby Anniversary Edition, in celebration of my forty years at The Estate – something I’m extremely proud of. 
I have also worked diligently over the years to help develop the Geographic Indicator (GI) for Jamaica rum, which has since gained the approval from the Jamaica Intellectual Property Organization. The Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience, named in my honour, is also a favourite achievement of mine because, these honours usually happen after a person passes away. People never name a building or a facility in your honour while you’re still alive!
However, my proudest career moment to date, was my role in recreating the 17 Year Old Legend. This project has been many years in the making and definitely one of the most challenging and rewarding of my career.
Can you remember your first rum, and indeed what it was?
Before joining Appleton Estate, I had never drunk even a drop of rum, as in those days, it was unheard of to go out and be drinking rum as a woman. The first time I tasted rum was at the distillery in the 1980’s and it would have been the aged statements of the time. I remember it tasting crisp, with notes of vanilla, unsweetened chocolate, coffee, bananas, burnt sugar, and candied orange. All the notes of the fantastic liquids produced at Appleton Estate.
What does rum mean to you?
Appleton Estate is a distillery that shows Jamaican excellence in the rum we produce, and this is very important to me. It ensures that I’m promoting and amplifying Jamaica and my heritage, which will always be part of my career and life.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
Hopefully still at the distillery creating some amazing rum. But also, hoping to put more time towards my passions in encouraging women to pursue a career in STEM. I want to carry on with leading motivational talks with young girls making their career choices, and to help them see that there’s a whole world out there with many wonderful opportunities!
What was your last rum?
The last rum I had was the 17 Year Old Legend, with some friends - tasting it both neat and in the original Mai Tai. It’s always nice to taste a creation of my own and tasting the notes we tried so hard to replicate and stay to true to the original. The Legend has rich, caramelized pear notes which I especially enjoy, banana, warm, nutty, oak, and floral herbal notes. It has a silky-smooth finish so it’s hard to put down!
Do you have a favourite rum and food pairing combination?
I think some foods can often alter the taste and balance of rum taste notes, and I have a very sensitive palette. However, if I were to choose it would be Appleton Estate 8 Year Old neat with jerked lobster topped with pineapple. Rum also always goes nicely with fruits and dark chocolate which really brings out key tasting notes of specific liquids.
What’s your favourite rum-based cocktail?
The Appleton 17 Year Old Legend Mai Tai is definitely one of my current favourites - it pays homage to the heritage and history to the original cocktail and spotlights liquid we’ve work tirelessly to recreate. When tasting it, it’s a true expression of our hard work and tastes all that much sweeter.
What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the rum horizon?
We have so much in the pipeline. One of the major things Appleton Estate is focussed on is premium aged innovation. This is a really great way to educate and engage on the premium rum category. Appleton Estate has one of the largest collections of aging stock in the world, so this is where we get to showcase some of our best work.
What’s the one rum you couldn’t live without?
Choosing a rum I couldn’t live without is extremely difficult, as we have a rum for any occasion in the Appleton Estate range. If I am pressured to answer it would be the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary blend!
Many thanks to Joy Spence. Who will be our next Rum Insider? Click back soon to find out!