Rum making with Appleton Estate’s master blender

Master Blender Joy Spence presents her Master Class at the Appleton Estate Rum Experience in Jamaica.
Photo by Kevin Williams

Some drinkers may say ‘All rum is rum’ but after taking Joy Spence’s Master Class at the Appleton Estate Rum Experience in Jamaica, one will quickly appreciate the efforts that go into making the world famous Appleton Rum so special.

This distillery located in St. Elizabeth is the oldest in Jamaica and one of the world’s oldest rum distilleries. The Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience was officially opened Jan. 18 this year. The Campari Group invested US$7.2 million in the renovation of the visitor center, which was renamed in honor of Appleton Estate’s Master Blender, Joy Spence. The Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience can accommodate more than 200,000 visitors per year and features a welcome center, theatre, nine interactive field stations, four tasting rooms, a restaurant and lounge and retail store.

Appleton Estate’s Master Blender, Joy Spence, has been recognised as being the first woman in the world to hold the position of master blender in the spirits industry.

In this role, Spence is responsible for ensuring the quality and consistency of existing blends, creating new rum blends and monitoring the company’s inventory of ageing rum stocks. Simply put, it is her job to ensure that all Appleton Estate rum blends meet the high standards that consumers have grown to love and expect.

She joined Appleton Estate as chief chemist in 1981 where her passion for the art of creating rum-blends was inspired by her predecessor and mentor at the company, then Master Blender, Owen Tulloch. When Owen retired Joy was appointed the master blender in 1997.

During Spence’s class for 16 journalist from the USA and Canada sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board, she spoke about the history and stages of rum making and the qualities of Jamaican rum, and later put the visitors to the test where they had to mix four blending rums to get an ideal mix. The top three winners were awarded special prizes but all participants were presented with Appleton Estate Rare Blend Aged 12 years Jamaica rum.

She described the development of a rum blend as a combination of art and science. “To create a new rum you first identify the style of rum you want. You then look at the stocks of rum that are available to you bearing in mind the compatibility of the different marques, how they’ll react when they’re blended together and the chemistry profile of the marques. Once you have done this, you decide on the best artistic combination of the marques.”

The master blender explained that for a rum to be desiginated a Jamaican product it had to meet some geographical indicators:

•The rum must be made with Jamaican limestone filtered water.

•Fermentation using molasses must be done in Jamaica.

•Distillation must be done in Jamaica.

At the Appleton Estate rums are aged according to marque. Spence explained that as ageing increases, the sharpness of the rum is minimized, the rum extracts colour from the wood, flavour development begins and mellowness increases.

Appleton Estate rums are aged in “Number One Select” 40-gallon white American oak barrels. These barrels are called “once used” barrels because they were previously used to age bourbon. The composition of the wood has a significant effect on the rum as it ages:

•Cellulose produces the sweetness in aging.

•Tannins give it the golden colour and woody notes.

•Flavonoids add notes such as vanilla, coffee, and cocoa.

Following the master class, the journalists were given a tour of the welcome center and the distillery where they were able to sample cane juice, molasses, and rum punch.

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