Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Joy Spence, Appleton's Master Blender, is an inspirational person. You can feel the respect people have for her, everywhere she goes. When she walks into a room to do a presentation, everyone shuts up and listens, while having a smile on their faces. She has an aura of respect, warmth and strength. It's a real privilege to have been able to interview her!
Can you briefly tell us about your history in rum and how you became Appleton’s master blender?
I fell in love with chemistry at age 13 and dreamed of becoming a scientist. After high school I attended the University of the West Indies and graduated in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry with First Class Honours.
I then spent a few years teaching chemistry before moving to England to pursue a Master of Science degree in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Loughborough, I graduated with the highest ever achieved by a student at Loughborough.
After graduating from Loughborough, I returned to Jamaica and to teaching. In 1979 I left academia for the private sector and two years later joined Appleton Estate as Chief Chemist. As the Chief Chemist I worked closely with Master Blender, Owen Tulloch, and this sparked a passion for the art of creating rum.
Owen soon discovered that I had considerable organoleptic talent – the ability to detect, identify and differentiate between aromas. Over the next 16 years, under his expert guidance, I extended my knowledge of the science of the rum-making process to include the artistic side as well, honing my sensory skills and developing an unrivaled mastery of flavours and aromas. Then, in 1997 I made history when I smashed the spirit industry’s glass ceiling and was appointed the world’s first female master blender.
Creating rum provides me with the perfect balance of art and science. In rum-making, they are so intricately intertwined that it is difficult to pinpoint where the science stops, and art begins.
You’ve been working in the rum world for nearly 40 years. What are some of the most important changes you’ve seen happening in all those years?
I have seen many changes having worked for almost 40 years in the rum industry:
1. The significant growth of the Premium aged rum category.
2. Introduction of LTO’s (Limited Time Offers) focusing on small batch ultra-premium rums
3. Modernization of blending and bottling operations to gain more efficiencies
4. Greater consumer engagement and education
5. The engagement of Master Blenders as Ambassadors, creating a wider platform for technical information