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Joy Spence – 40 Years Of Rum Passion & Leadership (FR-CA)

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

6. The establishment of educational tours at production facilities

Many people look up to you. Who are the people you look up to, who’ve helped and inspired you in your career?

There have been so many persons who have inspired me in my career. They are:

1. Owen Tulloch , the previous Master Blender who took me under his wings and taught me the craft

2. William McConnell and Anthony Bell who took the bold move to appoint me as Master Blender

3. Bob Kunze -Concewitz (Campari Group CEO) who has recognized my talent in so many ways, including renaming the Appleton Estate rum experience in my honour

4. My J. Wray and Nephew family and the people of Jamaica for their unwavering support

5. My family who have been my greatest cheer leaders

In the past you’ve mentioned really liking the Appleton Reserve. Are you sad to see it replaced by the 8?

I really enjoyed the Appleton Reserve but as part of our strategy to become the leader in the Premium aged rum category, age statements are important and the Reserve 8 YO is truly exceptional.

During the 40 years you’ve worked in rum, you’ve created many different expressions. Looking back, if you could pick one of your past creations for you and your lovely husband to sip while relaxing in your backyard on a warm romantic Jamaican night….which would it be?

I would select the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend to sip and enjoy on a warm romantic Jamaican night in my garden. The blend oozes with passion.

Let’s end with a non-rum question. I believe one of your passions is dancing, right?! What is some of your favourite music to dance to?

I love all genre of music but 60/70 soul, contemporary reggae and Latino music get me rocking!

Thank you very much Joy! Please keep inspiring us all!

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