Joy Spence: global rum standard ‘long way off’
The master blender of Jamaican brand Appleton Estate, Joy Spence, has called for a global standard for rum to “level the playing field”.
Spence, who became the first female master blender in the spirits sector, said one of the biggest challenges facing the rum industry is that “it’s not a level playing field” as there are no global standards for the category.
She explained: “Each country has their own laws. And so, I like to say we’re not singing from the same hymn sheet in comparison to say Scotch or Bourbon, where they all adhere to one particular law. So, when it comes to age statements, there are three different ways of classifying ages in the rum industry. Countries are also allowed to add additives. So the consumer to me is very consumed. A minimum aged five-year-old rum on the market can mean so many different things.”
Spence believes a global standard for rum is a “long way off”. Jamaican rum has had a geographical indication (GI) since November 2016, while Barbados is also in the process of establishing a GI for its rum.
Jamaican rum must be made using naturally filtered limestone water from the island, the wash must be fermented with saccharomyces-type yeasts and the liquid must be made in a copper pot or column still, without additional flavours added.
On what makes Jamaican rum different from other rum, Spence said: “The most important thing is the pot still production. The flavour profiles that are developed during the course of the production in Jamaica is completely different from rums in the Caribbean or globally. And we’re known for excellent quality and consistency.”
Spence said the pipeline of releases from the brand is planned for the next eight to nine years. “We do have a long pipeline of new releases based on our inventory and the markets that we want to target for these particular releases,” said Spence, who remained tight-lipped on future releases.
Spence noted that consumers are particularly excited about new releases from the distillery and are “really clamouring for the limited time offerings”.
“They’re very expensive and we’re not a rich country,” she said. “But believe it or not, people save up to purchase these releases. And they use the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Experience almost like mecca. They come here to see when the next release is available. They travel for three hours to come to buy these bottles.”
Spence’s typical day is spent working on new limited edition offerings and being a brand ambassador for the category and Appleton Estate, which sees her travel all over the world educating consumers, from the US and the UK to New Zealand and Canada.
Spence has also unveiled two new releases to Appleton Estate’s Hearts Collection, a series of rare limited edition rums created in partnership with rum expert Luca Gargano.
The Hearts Collection comprises the 1994, 1995, 1999, 1983 and 2006 vintage rums, which were each distilled in a Forsyths pot still.
The latest additions to the range, 1993 and 2002, came from just 13 and 20 barrels respectively. Spence chose the barrels from a selection of nearly 200,000 barrels ageing in Appleton Estate’s warehouses.
The 1993 vintage was aged for 29 years, while the 2002 expression was aged for 20 years.
Spence, who celebrated 40 years in the rum industry in 2021, had the honour of the distillery visitor centre in Nassau Valley being named after her in 2018 following a major upgrade by parent company Campari Group. The Italian firm purchased the brand in 2012.
“I’ve always had a dream for the visitor centre,” she said on the future of the visitor centre. “They think that I’m crazy but I’d love to see if we could have an aerial experience of the terrain. Like a cable car.”
April 2020 also saw Appleton Estate undergo a brand redesign to show its commitment to high-quality rum production.
Spence called the move a “major step” as the brand looked to have a more “premium outlook”.
As for what else she’d like to achieve in the industry, Spence said: “My biggest wish is to see Appleton Estate become the leader in the premium-aged rum category, and that consumers can say that their first rum of choice is Appleton Estate.”