“I had to work twice as hard”: 5 questions with Joy Spence
Joy Spence is one of those rare people who has worked not only in the same industry, but also in the same company, for 40 years. She joined Appleton Estate as Chief Chemist in 1982 and has been the Master Blender since 1997.
During her career, chronicled at the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience, she has witnessed many modernizations in the rum industry, ranging from increased mechanization to tighter quality control. She has also seen greater visibility of women in the industry. In 2018, she received the Jamaican Prime Minister’s Medal for Science and Technology.
We spoke with Joy about her career and her ruby birthday.
How did you become interested in rum and what made you decide to pursue a professional career as a master blender?
I joined Tia Maria as a research chemist. I was bored and envious of the activities at Appleton Estate, so I submitted my resume. I met the Master Blender Owen Tulloch and discovered the world of rum and the passion for rum. Before, I never thought I would appreciate rum as a complex and sophisticated spirit.
It is commonly believed that the rum industry tends to be male dominated. How has this affected your experience in the industry? How, if at all, has this changed?
The rum industry is still very male dominated. I had to work twice as hard to prove that I was just as capable. I am now very happy that more women have been appointed master blenders. They worked in the background…but no one was bold enough to appoint them master blenders and so it’s an exciting time now for women.
How does it feel to be the first woman to become a master blender?
I was in total disbelief. In the rum industry, the title is achieved through years of training and evaluation. You are evaluated, not only on your technical abilities, but also on your sensory abilities and your creativity, year after year.
After working at Appleton Estates for 40 years, how has the business evolved?
I’ve seen a lot of technological developments… ISO certification is a completely different vision of the implementation of systems, specifications and compliance audits. Increased staff training, improved reward and referral programs. Every aspect of the business has changed.
We have also worked very hard for a long time to develop the geographical indicator [GI] for Jamaican rum. I was responsible for the technical part. A GI helps cement the perception of premium quality for the category outside of Jamaica, and there is no better way to honor and preserve the authenticity and legacy of high quality in our product – an authentic and differentiated identity that sets a standard for all products bearing the Jamaican Rum label. It honors and credits the knowledge of Jamaica’s finest rum producers and the exclusive traits of the land itself, while ensuring authenticity and premium quality.
The designation and symbol protect the traditions, cultures and resources of these communities and promote long-term economic and societal well-being, wealth and education for generations to come.
Any advice for someone wanting to get into the rum industry? What should they do if they want to become a master blender?
Get an in-depth understanding of the process, from sugar cane straight through to aging and blending. Understand not only fermentation and distillation, but also how rum changes during aging. Be a sensory expert with a good understanding of how to blend different styles of rums. Act like a sponge for knowledge. Try to learn as much as you can. Be passionate about your job and stay humble.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2022 issue of Passionate about wine magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Posted on August 8, 2022