Meet The World’s First Female Master Blender

March 7, 2022

Joy Spence from Appleton Rum is the first female Master Blender in the spirits industry—a true pioneer and celebrated trailblazer in a male-dominated field. With a 40-year career legacy, Joy is a champion for advancing women and dedicated to leading Appleton into the future supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives. (Fun fact: women can have genetically superior nosing and tasting skills—a well-known fact in the global spirits industry—yet women are still in the minority!) We had the extreme privilege or chatting with Joy about her work, her passion and her hopes for the future of the industry. —Noa Nichol

Hello Joy! Why and how did you become a master blender, and when did you join Appleton Rum?

My journey to becoming a master blender was unexpected. I didn’t plan for this career, I would say it chose me. After earning an MSc in analytical chemistry, I joined Appleton Estate as chief chemist in 1981. I met former Appleton Estate master bender Owen Tulloch and discovered the world of rum and the passion for rum. Before, I never thought I would appreciate rum as a complex, sophisticated spirit. My role at the time was to take the laboratory to first-world standards. I became totally fascinated by the world of rum and realized I could use my sensory skills while applying my strong chemistry background to create a new profession for myself. I was then appointed as master blender in 1997, becoming the first female in the industry to hold the position.

What does your day-to-day on the job look like?

Every day is different, to be honest. The core of my work revolves around developing new products and blends, as a brand ambassador. Educating the world on the premium quality of Jamaican rums is very important to me. Representing the brand as an official ambassador is probably one of my favourite roles; I love when I get to introduce rums to a group of people and watch as they become fascinated with the spirit. And it makes me so proud when different countries (new markets) appreciate rum more and more.

March 8 is International Women’s Day—a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In this context, when you hear the term “women in spirits” what does it mean to you?

The role of women in the spirits industry has changed greatly as more women are appointed master blenders, master distillers and COOs, and others have been given the opportunity to become mixologists. These changes have created an exciting balance in the spirits world, but there is still a significant opportunity to improve that balance, and for women to excel as leaders in this field.

Are there any special challenges, or benefits, to being a woman in a very male-dominated industry, like rum?

There were several challenges along the way, being a female in a male-dominated industry. But my approach to push forward was to not focus on the negativity, using each of those experiences as an opportunity to learn and grow. I’m also proud to have shared my learning experiences throughout my career help other women in the industry reach their full potential.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

I’ve maintained a work-life balance through the art of multi-tasking and support from my family. I was diligent in my efforts to ensure that I did not sacrifice quality time with my children while excelling at my job. Balance is not easy to achieve, but it is possible!

And how does it feel to be the very first female master blender in the spirits industry?

It’s an honour to hold this distinction and use it as platform to champion other women in the industry. The accomplishment as a master blender that I am most proud of is receiving a National Honour from the Jamaican Government for my contribution to the rum industry and Brand Jamaica. I think that many women don’t imagine that they can be in this field, and they absolutely can. The industry is male dominated, and I was able to open the doors for other females and we’re seeing positive change, But I think we could be louder about promoting the opportunities for women and really show how the doors are open for women in this field.

In your opinion, what is the perfect drink with which to raise a glass to women on March 8?

The Mai Tai is an elegant and important classic cocktail and, historically, a bartender’s darling. It’s having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, and I would love to raise a glass to salute women on this very important day with it.

Joy Spence’s International Women’s Day Mai Tai

2oz Appleton Estate 8YO Reserve
0.50 Fresh Lime Juice
0.50oz Orange Curacao
0.50oz Orgeat (Almond Syrup)
Garnish: 1 Lime Shell and Fresh Mint Sprig

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice (crushed and cubes). Shake until chilled and pour into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with lime shell and mint sprig.


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