Joy Spence

Master Blender: Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum

Joy Spence

Joy Spence graduated from Loughborough University with a Masters’ degree in Analytical Chemistry in 1978. She became the world’s first female Master Blender, working for Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum. Here you can find out about her achievements, her career in the spirits industry and her passion for Chemistry.

Joy Spence became the first female blender in 1997 whilst working for Appleton Estate Rum, where she was inspired and mentored by previous Master Blender, Owen Tulloch. She has worked at Appleton Estate since 1981, joining as a Chief Chemist and later becoming the General Manager, Technical and Quality Services in 1996. Joy still holds this position alongside her role as Master Blender.

Every barrel of rum used in the blends is personally selected by Master Blender Joy Spence and her team. Joy has the distinction of being the first woman to hold this position in the spirits industry, and has more than thirty illustrious years of history at Appleton Estate.

Joy was the first, and today remains only one of three women Master Blenders in the world.

She is responsible for overseeing Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum’s ageing process in addition to her primary role of blending compatible marques of rum, ultimately creating the finest premium rums.

Joy fell in love with chemistry at age 13 and dreamed of becoming a scientist. After high school she attended the University of the West Indies and graduated in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry with First Class Honours.

Joy then spent a few years teaching chemistry before moving to England to pursue a Master of Science degree in Analytical Chemistry at Loughborough University. Joy graduated with the highest the exam score and following this, she returned to Jamaica and to teaching. In 1979 she left academia for the private sector and two years later joined Appleton Estate as Chief Chemist. 

Why did you choose to study for an MSc in Analytical Chemistry at Loughborough University?

I wanted to pursue my Graduate studies at a renowned International University where I would acquire knowledge in various fields of Applied Chemistry. In addition, The OAS offered me a full scholarship to attend the Loughborough University. I could not resist this golden opportunity.

How has Loughborough University inspired you and helped you to progress in your career?

The wealth of knowledge that I gained at Loughborough University gave me the competitive edge in my original role as The Chief Chemist at the Appleton Estate.

This allowed me to have a better grasp of the manufacturing process for rums and have a better appreciation of the complex aging process.

Would there be one piece of advice that you would give to current or prospective students looking to study the same course that you did?

My advice to students pursuing the course in Analytical Chemistry is to garner the experience gained and use it as an opportunity to enter into a non-traditional career.

Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities during your studies? If so, how did this impact upon your Loughborough experience?

I had no time to participate in extra-curricular activities but found free moments to watch Lord Coe train on the athletic track which was an unforgettable experience.

Can you tell us more about working for the Appleton Estate as a chief chemist and then becoming a master blender?

“I joined Appleton Estate as Chief Chemist in 1981 where my passion for the art of creating rum-blends was inspired by my predecessor and mentor at the Company, then Master Blender, Owen Tulloch.  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 unrivalled 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 Joy with the perfect balance of art and science. She says that in rum-making, they are so intricately intertwined that it is difficult to pinpoint where the science stops and the art begins.

How have the two roles at Appleton Estate differed?

The role of Chief Chemist is a purely technical one where I would perform routine Quality Assurance functions including using complex Instruments.

The Role of Master Blender allows me to utilize my sensory skills along with applying my creativity. It also provides me with the opportunity to promote the Appleton Estate Range in the International Markets.

Can you tell us about your favourite rum and the new anniversary rum that is now available?

My favourite rum is now the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend.

This 25-year-old minimum aged rum, which also includes rums that have been aged up to 35 years, is a reflection of the passion and love that I have for the Appleton Estate Brand.

For my anniversary blend, I simply set out to create the rum that I’d like to sip while watching the colours of my garden change in the warm glow of the Jamaican sunset. It 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. The final blend is a wonderful rum that I hope will become a cornerstone of my legacy. This beautifully complex and elegant limited edition is the culmination of my pioneering spirit, inventive mind, and dedication to her craft. Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend opens with a delicate orange peel top note, a hallmark of Appleton Estate rums, intertwined with ginger and spice and finishes with warm vanilla, butterscotch, coffee and layers of almond and toasted oak. The palate is exceptionally smooth with an elegant finish of brown sugar.

What process do you work through to blend your rum?

To create a new rum you first identify the style of rum you want. You then look at the stocks of rum that are available to you, bearing in mind the compatibility of the different marques, the effects of ageing, and the chemistry profile. Once you have done this, you decide on the best artistic combination of the marques.

Joy has created a family of rums for the Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum collection. Produced ‘from cane to cup’ the team harvests Estate-grown sugar cane, sources water from Estate-owned limestone spring, and meticulously manages the ownership of each step in the fermentation, distillation, blending and ageing processes. Each rum in the Appleton Estate family is hand-selected and each blend has its own formula, which is a closely guarded secret.

The Master Blender first selects the barrels of rums that will be used in a particular blend based on the age, type and style of rum that it contains and then each barrel undergoes extensive quality checks.

The different rums of varying styles and ages are blended together, with each one adding a distinctive layer to the blend, which contributes to the complexity and richness of the rum. After the rums are blended together extensive quality checks are again carried out to ensure that the blend meets the high quality standards of the Estate.

After the rums have been blended together and the quality checks are complete, the blend is left to rest for an extensive period of time to allow the different rums in the blend to "marry." The marrying process allows the character, flavor and bouquet of the rums to fuse together, and this results in a fuller and more rounded product. Once the marrying period is complete, extensive quality checks are once again carried out on the blend.

Joy, what is your favourite role at Appleton Estate?

The brand ambassador is one of my favourite roles. I love it when I introduce rums to a group of people and watch as they become fascinated with the spirit. It makes me so proud when different countries (new markets) appreciate rum more and more.

I enjoying visiting the various markets and seeing consumers appreciating the joy of the Appleton Estate range.

Where did Joy’s passion for Chemistry originate?

Joy credits her passion for science and maths to her chemistry teacher, Miss Eldora Mills, who helped her develop and hone her passion. The premature passing of Miss Mills left a lasting impression on Joy:

“The sudden death of my High School Chemistry Teacher had a profound effect on my life. She was my mentor, friend and second mother. I made a pledge on her death that I would be one of the greatest chemists. She made me develop my passion and the determination to succeed while overcoming hurdles”. 

What is it like to be one of few women working in this industry?

“Most women do not imagine that they can be in this field. The Industry should promote that there are no gender barriers in the world of blending and universities could do more to encourage more women into the field.”

How has Joy been recognized for her work as the first female Master Blender?

Among the numerous awards presented to Joy, the most notable include the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer, (OD) by the government of Jamaica for her service and contributions to the spirits industry in 2005 and “Outstanding Contribution” at the International Spirits Challenge in 2014. Joy was also given an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies.

Joy notes the proudest moments of her career as:

  • Being awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government
  • Being awarded Honorary Doctorates from Loughborough University and the University of the West Indies.

Find out more about Joy’s work for Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum online and follow them on Twitter