DIVINE X Appleton Estate
It is never easy being a pioneer, but that is exactly what Appleton Estate’s Master Blender, Joy Spence is. Today, it is still unusual for a woman to become a Master Blender in the spirits’ world, but back in 1997, Joy was the first to do this. That is why she is DIVINE’s latest person to be featured in #WomenInspiringWomen.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of the West Indies and with a Master of Science in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Loughborough. This was a rarity for women in her native Jamaica. Spence’s major task at Appleton Estate is to develop new blends and monitor the company’s stores of aging rum stocks. She has received many honours over the years from honorary doctorates to industry awards and the “Order of Distinction” from the Government of Jamaica.
We had the chance to sit down with her when she was in town to celebrate Appleton Estate’s global relaunch. The relaunch includes newly designed packaging, including a reimagined bottle and label, and the release of a new premium aged blend – the 8-Year Old Reserve. When you meet her, she immediately puts you at ease with her warm smile, hearty laugh and humour. She told us what it was like being a pioneer, how she stays passionate about her role and gives advice to young women just getting their start.
You became Appleton Estate’s Master Blender in 1997. You were not only Appleton’s first female Master Blender, but the first in the history of the spirits industry. How does it feel to be a pioneer?
It was really tear-jerking because when we found out that this simple Jamaican woman achieved this, it was just mind blowing. I felt so proud that I was able to break the glass ceiling to allow other females to be appointed Master Blenders. It was a totally male dominated industry. Since I became the Master Blender, a lot of women have been given the opportunity and I am very happy about that.
What challenges did you have to face initially as the first female Master Blender in a male dominated industry?
You have challenges and resistance in certain quarters, but I didn’t let it deter me. I knew that I had the skills and craftsmanship to do the job. I said to myself that I am going to show the world how good I am and rise above it!
You have said to be a good blender you must be a sensory expert, have an artistic and creative flair, have a good understanding of the chemistry of the process, and have a passion for the art and pay attention to the details. Describe how you became a Master Blender and how you retain such a passion for it?
I joined Appleton Estate as a Chief Chemist. The Chief Chemist works very closely with the Master Blender and at the time it was Owen Tulloch. I was totally fascinated by the art of sensory analysis and how he could combine so many styles of rum to create different flavour profiles. He did this all by sensory, he did not even look at the chemistry. Tulloch said that I had an excellent nose and that he was going to train me, because I had significant potential to become a good blender. I tutored with him for seventeen years and when he retired, I was appointed the Master Blender.
How has the spirits industry evolved as more women have found themselves as Master Blenders?
Yes, I have seen people become much more accepting of females in the industry. Now that other women have been given the opportunity, companies now see that they are good craftsmen. Women were always doing the work in the background, and spirits’ companies were fearful of making that next step to appoint a female – they thought that they would have a lot of objections. It is unusual to still be talking about this in 2020 when it should be the norm. The spirit industry is still male dominated.
What was the process behind developing Appleton Estate’s 8-Year Old Reserve?
When we had our 250th anniversary for Appleton Estate in 1999, I had to develop an anniversary blend. The 8-Year Old Reserve was one of the blends that I developed for the celebration. I wanted to create a rum that was extremely versatile, one that you could have neat, or with elevated cocktails. I created rums that were blended together to create beautiful spicy notes. These include ginger, nutmeg, warm vanilla, warm oak and our distinctive orange peel top note. It is exceptionally smooth and a great value for your money.
The elevated cocktail that we are really promoting for our Reserve 8-Year-Old is the Brown Sugar Daiquiri. It’s absolutely delicious!
You have been honoured with so many awards and honorary doctors. How does it feel to be acknowledged for your achievements?
I was very surprised the first time that the Government of Jamaica gave me a national honour. When got the notice in the mail that I was going to receive the honour, I said are you sure that you have the right person [laughs]? After that, I started receiving award after award from all sectors of society and all over the world. I just found out for International Women’s Day that I am going to receive the Pioneer Award in Jamaica.
If you were to give advice to a woman just starting out in any industry, what would that be?
I do a lot of motivational speeches, especially to young girls in high school who are about to go on in their education. I always say to follow your passion. Whatever it is that you are passionate about, go for it. That is how you are going to be successful. Make sure that you give OVER 100%, be dedicated and be skilled in what you are doing. Always aim for perfection, and you will be a true success.
You have been an inspiration and mentor to many young women. Who inspired you? Who were your mentors?
Owen Tulloch, the Master Blender that I tutored under for years, was my main mentor. My high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Eldora Mills, encouraged me to study chemistry was also a mentor. She helped me develop a passion for the science. We became very close – she was like my second mother. I would stay back in the evening and help her prepare the lab specimens for the upper classes. Then, she left to have a baby and she died in childbirth. It was the most traumatic experience for me. I made a vow to be the best chemist to make her proud of me and to leave behind a legacy.
What is your next goal?
My next goal is to see Appleton Estate become the number one premium aged rum in the world. I think it’s achievable.
With you at the helm Joy, so do we!