Joy Spence has come a long way in the world of spirits. Not only is she Appleton Estate’s master blender for the last 20 years, she’s also the first female in the spirits industry to hold the position. She had intended to be a scientist, but her life took a turn when she landed a job as chief chemist at J. Wray and Nephew Limited, a spirits company in Jamaica.
She worked closely with then master blender Owen Tulloch, who discovered her ability to detect, identify and differentiate aromas. He helped hone her skills and in 1997, upon his retirement, she took over his position.
Since then, she's been busy creating new blends and travelling the world to educate people about the intricacies of rum. She recently visited Singapore to introduce The Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend, a minimum-aged 25-year-old rum that also celebrates her two decades in the industry.
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We chat with her about her love for rum and why it could just be the next drink of the generation.
How does one become a master blender?
Joy Spence (JS) You should have a minimum degree in chemistry or biochemistry, trained in sensory analysis, and have a deep understanding of the rum manufacturing process. It would also help if you’ve got good PR skills.
What do master blenders do?
JS My responsibilities include creating new blends, as well as maintaining the quality of the blends and spirits. I also travel the world to promote the Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum.
Why do you like rum?
JS It’s the most versatile spirit, capable of infinite variation in terms of style, age and complex flavours. It’s suitable for any occasion, from big parties to small gatherings.
Where are some of your favourite places to enjoy a tipple?
JS I’ve visited a lot of good places such as Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, Trailer Happiness in London, Mahiki in London, Cienfuegos in New York, and Regency in Jamaica.
Is rum the next “it” drink?
JS Rum is predicted to be the next whisky, and we’re looking forward to riding the wave. The premium aged category is growing, with more consumers appreciating aged rums in elegant and elevated cocktails, or enjoying them neat to taste the complex flavours.
How do you create new blends?
JS Creating a new blend is a science and an art. I begin with an overall vision of what I want to do. It starts with the kind of rum I want to make; is it for making cocktails or sipping? Then I decide on the flavour profile, whether it will have oaky or spicy notes.
I experiment with different rums of varying styles and ages, check how the different marques interact and influence each other, and how they affect the overall profile. When I get the combinations right and the blend is what I envisioned, then my work is done.
What’s the best way to enjoy rum?
JS Premium aged rums are best enjoyed in sophisticated cocktails or simply neat.
Photos: Appleton Estate