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An Interview with Appleton Estate’s Joy Spence

Interview by Chip Dykstra
Published July 5, 2012

I would like to welcome Joy Spence, the current Master Blender for Appleton Estate Rum to my website.

I was granted a rare chance to interview Ms. Spence via email in early June just before the launch announcement of Appleton Estate’s brand new and very rare Limited Edition Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum – Jamaica Independence Reserve. Ms. Spence speaks clearly about her job as Appleton Estate Rum’s – Master Blender; the incredible heritage of Appleton Estate Rum; and the unique Terrior that is the Nassau Valley where all the sugarcane for Apple Estate Rum is grown. We also discuss the aforementioned Limited Edition Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum – Jamaica Independence Reserve as well as my current favourite Appleton Rum the Appleton Estate Master Blenders’ Legacy. We even have some fun learning which rum Ms. Spence would prefer to drink in the Canadian Arctic, and which would be her favourite if she were stranded on a tropical island. Finally Joy Spence surprises even me by revealing her favourite rum cocktail, and for a guy like me who loves to mix great rum with soda, it is a sure-fire winner!

Joy Spence Evaluating Rum

Here is my interview with Joy Spence….

  1. You are the current Master Blender for Appleton Estate Rum. I’ll be honest here and say that from the outside looking in, I think you have one of the very best jobs in the entire world. Tell me if you could, what is your job like? Could you walk me through an average day as the Appleton Estate Master Blender?

My many daily duties include:

  • Performing quality checks and certifying all rums and other spirits that the Company will bottle on a given day. 
  • Performing quality checks on all the rums that have been distilled at the Estate on a given day.  
  • Monitoring and performing quality checks on the rums ageing in the warehouse.
  • Reviewing new products that the Company is testing.
  • Running audits of the Company’s distilleries.
  • Liquid process review.
  • Approving the blends of rum that are being pulled together on a given day. 
  • Communicating with International customers on Technical specifications
  • Conducting educational seminars.
  • Implementing and reviewing environmental initiatives at our Estates as well as our production facility.
  1. Appleton Estate has been making rum for a long time, 260 years, I believe. As the Master Blender responsible for the current Appleton Estate Rum portfolio, it must be quite a balancing act to maintain a link to this rich history in the taste and character of your rums, and yet to also look forward to bring new taste and new character to them. How important is it to maintain the correct balance between history and progress?   

I  believe that the taste profiles of the rums that we produce on the Appleton Estate are timeless and will stand the test of time. Our history and heritage is extremely important to us and we are always striving to achieve the right balance between maintaining the time-honoured traditions that are our legacy and ensuring that we introduce new technology that allows us to produce rum efficiently with environmentally sound practices.

For instance, in our fermentation process we use a special natural culture of yeast that was propogated on the Appleton Estate and had been passed down through generations. We distill using the traditional pot still distillation method that had been handed down since the inception of rum making in Jamaica. Our environmental initiatives include the “Vinasse Project”‘ and the installation of a new boiler in our sugar factory which is ash-free and only emits water vapour into the atmosphere.  

Vinasse, which is commonly referred to in the industry as “dunder,” is a by-product of the distillation process. After distillation, the dunder from our distillery, which is high in potassium and other nutrients, is now pumped to special holding ponds where it is aerated and later used to fertilize and irrigate the sugar cane fields.

  1. Is it correct that Appleton Estate Jamaica Rums are produced almost entirely from sugar cane grown in the Nassau Valley? How important is this unique terroir to the taste and character of Appleton Estate rums?

The Beautiful Nassau Valley

The unique character of Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum is the result of several elements working together:

  • The environmental factors or “Terroir”
    • Climate
    • Soil
    • Topography
  • The variety of sugar cane
  • The fermentation process
  • The distillation process
  • The ageing and blending processes

All Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum is produced on a single estate in a small circumscribed geographic area and as a result, Appleton is one of the few rums in the world to claim a “terroir” that is as unique as the Nassau Valley and possesses these characteristics:

Geographic demarcation

  • 400 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains 2,000 feet above sea level.

Soil demarcation

  • Soil is very fertile and rich in nutrients.

Weather demarcation

  • Unique Microclimate

The Appleton Estate is located in Nassau Valley in St. Elizabeth which is part of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country.  The Cockpit Country is a karst formation which was formed over millions of years. Karst is a generic name given to limestone that has been eroded by the chemical action of rain.  There are three cockpit karst formations in the world: Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia), China and Jamaica.

Poljes are valleys formed within a cockpit karst and the Nassau Valley is a polje.  Poljes are formed in cockpit karst formations where a river floods, recedes and then forms a flat valley after millions of years. The soil in the poljes is very fertile and rich in nutrients because of the sediments left behind after the river had receded. The Appleton Estate is the only sugar estate in the world that is located within a cockpit karst formation.

Sunset in the Nassau Valley

  1. My personal favourite Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum is the Master Blenders’ Legacy. It seems to have an elegance that is unmatched. I believe that you had more than just a hand in its creation. What can you tell me about the Master Blender’s Legacy and what inspired its creation?

Appleton Estate Master Blenders’ Legacy is a tribute to the art of blending Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum.  Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum is acknowledged all over the world for exceptional quality and the Appleton Estate Master Blenders’ Legacy was created to celebrate and pay tribute to the creativity and skill of the company’s blenders.

It is a luxury sipping rum that was created using Appleton Estate’s rarest stocks of aged rums, at the heart of which lies the most exquisite 30 year old rum.  As these rums aged to perfection, they were nurtured by three generations of blenders – myself, our previous Master Blender and my mentor, Owen Tulloch, and our Senior Blender, David Morrison.

  1. You have been instrumental in bringing two extremely well aged rums to the table in recent years – the Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Rum and the Appleton Estate 30 Year Old Rum. Are there plans in the works to go even further, say perhaps a 40 Year Old rum or a 50 Year Old rum? What would be the greatest difficulty in creating such a spirit in the warm Caribbean climate?

Jamaica Independence Reserve

On June 7th, 2012, we held the global launch in Jamaica of the very rare limited edition Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum – Jamaica Independence Reserve.

Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum – Jamaica Independence Reserve is comprised of  rums that have been aged for a minimum of 50 years in hand-selected, oak barrels and it is believed to be the oldest rum available for sale in the world.   Only 800 bottles of this very rare, limited edition bottling will be made available for sale around the world at a target retail price of $5,000 USD per 750ml bottle and it will be sold on allocation globally. 

 The rums that make Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum were specially set down over 50 years ago to create a very special rum to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Jamaica’s Independence.  These rums were very carefully managed over time to create this minimum aged 50 Year Old Rum.

 Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum – Jamaica Independence Reserve is packaged in a bespoke hand crafted, crystal decanter whose design and shape was inspired by Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum’s iconic bottle.  The etchings and gold screen printing on the bottle take their cue from Jamaica’s national symbols and it is finished with a gold finished brass and cork stopper. It is presented in a black lacquered gift box with gold finished brass hinges and includes a commemorative booklet that outlines Jamaica’s march to independence and the journey of the Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum. 

  1. If you were stranded in the remote Canadian Arctic and happened upon one bottle of rum lying in the snow, which bottle of rum would you like it to be? Would your answer change if it was a tropical Island in the Caribbean and you found the rum in the warm sand?

If I were stranded in the remote Canadian Arctic I would like to see a bottle of Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Rum – Jamaica Independence Reserve.  Having been bottled at 45% alc/vol and possessing phenomenal complexity and richness, it would warm me up and I would be able to sip and savour it for a long time. 

If it were a tropical island I would like to see Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaica Rum, as I could drink it with coconut water and any fruit juice that was available on the island.

  1. Do you have a favourite cocktail that you enjoy with Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum? Could you share it with us?

My favourite cocktail is very simple:

The Joy Spence Cocktail

 Muddle one slice of orange with one drop of Angostura Bitters in a rocks glass, add two ounces of Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaica Rum and top up with ginger ale and ice.

The Joy Spence Cocktail

Ingredients

2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve
1 orange slice
1 drop Angostura bitters
Ice
Ginger ale

Preparation

Muddle 1 slice of orange with 1 drop of Angostura Bitters in a rocks glass
Add 2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaica Rum
Top up with ginger ale and ice

  1. Is there anything new on the horizon that you can let my readers know about? Is there anything you would like to add?

The secret cannot be disclosed

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Note: An astute person may discover that this posting has been changed slightly from it original form published on July 5, 2012. That is because a few days later on July 9, I received an apologetic email the Appleton Estate Rum’s public relations firm indicating that I had been sent a draft copy of Joy Spence’s responses by mistake. They wished for me replace the draft with the edited final version which contained grammatical corrections. I verified that no substantive changes had occurred, and then I replaced the draft with the grammatically edited Version.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

4 Responses to “An Interview with Appleton Estate’s Joy Spence”

  1. Mitch said

    I love visiting Jamaica and Appleton is one if my favorite brands of rum. Appleton v/x and ginger ale is always a favorite when in Negril and at home.

  2. Nice interview Chip. Thanks for sharing Joy’s comments.

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