Joy Spence recieves Outstanding Contribution award

Wray & Nephew master blender, Joy Spence, recieved the Outstanding Contribution award at the ISC 2014. Hamish Smith got her reaction.

Did you have any inkling last night that you might scoop the Outstanding Contribution award? I didn’t know – my team told me that I was coming to London for a video shoot. I was getting annoyed because they hadn’t given me the details – and I’m a detail person. [On stage] when they said it was going to a female rum blender, I still didn’t think [it would be me]. Then they said a Jamaican female rum blender [and it dawned on me].

Why do you think you were recognised by your industry? I have always been a trendsetter in aged rum. I released a 30 year old rum – the oldest at the time – and a 50 year old, which is currently the oldest commercial rum. I have been able to produce these rums that have exceptional quality – and I have been in the industry for a very long time. I have been the master blender for 17 years and at Wray & Nephew for 33 years.

How has the rum industry changed in the last 30 years? I could write a book about that. The processes at the distillery were mostly manual [30 years ago]. It was difficult for some [of the staff] to move from manual to automated. When I arrived they would stir one vat with a paddle. When I came I said ‘out with the paddle’, and put it the rubbish heap.  We are more computerised and efficient now but what we make hasn’t changed – it’s still handcrafted, particularly the blending, which is where I come in. In the beginning you only had to be a blender but now you have to be a blender and an ambassador, so there is a much wider job description.

Now that Campari is at the reigns, will you be travelling more as new markets open? This October I’m touring Europe - Germany, Austria…. The brand was available in many of these markets before but in very small quantities. Campari has strong distribution in Europe.

Rum is premiumising as a category but how far does it have to go? Premium rum is fascinating. It’s so complex - we’re trying to make people see that it is as complex and sophisticated as single malt scotch. People are realising this through exposure to rum – by experiencing it and tasting it. We are growing up but we still have a long way to grow.

What else would you like to achieve? I would like to see Appleton explode in the US. It is currently our third largest market, behind Canada and Mexico, but there’s so much potential. If we could just penetrate that market I would be happy.

Do you have any plans to retire? It’s been a fascinating journey and I’m blessed. I have no plans to leave. 

Joy Spence, a biograhpy

By Jaq Balyes

The world’s first female rum master blender, Joy Spence has had a remarkable career, a highlight being the 2012 launch of another world first – a 50-year-old rum.

Spence cites the release of Appleton Estate’s Jamaica Independence Reserve as a career highlight – along with having been awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in 2005 for her services to industry. Further accolades abound.

In September 2012 she received an honorary Doctorate of Science degree from the University of Loughborough in recognition of her contribution to the distilled spirits industry and the advancement of women in the field.

In November 2012 Spence also received an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from the University of the West Indies. Spence started her career as a science teacher in 1972 before joining J Wray & Nephew as chief chemist in 1981. 

Working with the then master blender, Owen Tulloch, sparked a passion for the art of creating rum and, under his guidance, Spence extended her knowledge of the science of rum-making to include the artistic side as well. She made history on being appointed master blender in 1997.

Since then she has created many rums, spirits and liqueurs for the company, including Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaica Rum and Appleton Estate Extra 12 Year Old.

When she’s not making rum Spence is something of a philanthropist, committed to promoting the sciences in schools and frequently giving motivational speeches at high schools, colleges and universities
across Jamaica.

An architect of change for the rum industry, Spence is innovative, artistic and effervescent – a tireless worker with boundless ideas and energy. She is a fine ambassador both for the Appleton brand and for rum as a whole and thoroughly deserving of this accolade.