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Jamaican rum's master blender witnesses technology revolution during 35-year career

Published:  26 May, 2016

Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum, has seen rum production revolutionised over the course of three-and-a-half decades in her chosen field.

Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum, has seen rum production revolutionised over the course of three-and-a-half decades in her chosen field.

Originally a research chemist and university lecturer, she has moved away from the world of academia to become a highly respected blender during a new age of technological advancements in spirit production.

Spence was in London on Tuesday (May 24), where she celebrated 35 years with Appleton Estate - part of the Campari portfolio - along with Eddie Russell, master blender of Wild Turkey bourbon in his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, also for 35 years.

But while Russell took over the family business and grew up around bourdon producers, Spence came to the drinks trade later in life.

She said: "The laboratory has been upgraded significantly since I first started and there have been huge changes in things like changes in barrel handling. When I joined Appleton, I was the only person in the lab for three years - running around from A to B. But I like multitasking and I get bored easily so I was happy doing everything."

Throughout her career she has overseen environmental impacts, acted as chief chemist, worked in tech services as well as becoming a master blender.

In the early days she was tutored by former master blender at Appleton Estate, Owen Tulloch.

"I used to call him the god of rum," Spence said. "He wasn't a trained chemist but he knew everything about the science of making rum.

"The tear-jerking part when he stepped down was when he handed me all the formulas. They were all handwritten down back then - no computers. Things have changed so much."

Appleton EstateAppleton Estate

After graduating from the University of the West Indies with a Bachelor of Science degree, Spence joined the faculty of the College of Arts Science and Technology as a chemistry lecturer, and then continued to pursue a Master of Science degree in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Loughborough in London, England.

In 1981, Joy joined Appleton Estate as chief chemist and has helped to re-position Appleton as a premium product by creating a range of top-end spirits.

"It took a long time at first," Spence explained. "But we're there now. Premium is what's hot at the moment. Rum is a very relaxed drink. I think it's seen in a lot of areas as the next whiskey."

Although the UK is the fifth biggest market for Appleton globally, Spence believes UK bartenders are ahead of the global trend - and are key components of how consumers come to taste their rum worldwide.

"The UK's bartenders are very knowledgeable," she said. "New Zealand is our biggest export market. Only recently I met a British bartender in New Zealand who was travelling around and giving training. The UK it is ahead of the global trend when it comes to cocktails."