Close Menu

Meet The Maker: Joy Spence

Appleton Estate has released a UK allocation of 180 bottles from a total of 1,500 worldwide of its 17-Year-Old Legend. This is billed by the brand as “a faithful recreation of the original 17-Year-Old rum crafted by J. Wray & Nephew on the Estate in the 1940s which inspired the Mai Tai cocktail…” Douglas Blyde hears more about the “funky”, “complex”, taste of “history” from its boundary-breaking maker, Joy Spence – who is herself arguably a legend, too…

What does the 17-Year-Old Legend taste like?

Aromas of funky cinnamon and nutmeg lead to rich caramelised pear and banana, mingled with warm nutty oak and floral herbs. On the palate, rich molasses, with a finish of delicately smooth warm oak. The full bodied crescendo culminates in a lingering, silky-smooth finish bearing no added flavours: it’s a complex sipping experience, like no other.

How did you ensure it approximated the 1940s original?

I started working on the re-creation in 2015 using archival manuscripts and the original formulation from the last batch ever produced in 1981 – the year, incidentally, which I joined the company. After years of experimentation, we selected four very rare distillates, which never before appeared in any other Appleton Estate rums and will not appear again, were set aside to rest on the Estate. Having been produced at the oldest continuously operating rum distillery in Jamaica and bottled in 2022 after ageing for a minimum of 17 tropical years in Jamaica, it represents over 40 years of equivalent ageing in a temperate climate.

The original 17-Year-Old was known around the world as the storied inspiration for the creation of the Mai Tai cocktail. What does this cocktail mean for you?

The Mai Tai is the perfect complement to Jamaican rum, its tropical flavours beautifully pairing with the rum’s top notes transporting the drinker to Caribbean shores. It is at the heart of our cocktail history and shows how to use ingredients to complement and not mask the complex flavours of a beautifully aged rum.

Have you tried Erik Lorincz’s take on the drink at the newly opened Kwānt Bar on Stratton Street?

Of course! It is a faithful recreation of Trader Vic’s first ever Mai Tai – a fantastic tribute to the heritage of the cocktail craft. While 17-Year-Old Legend can be enjoyed neat, it should be celebrated in this Tiki cocktail as it was lovingly crafted with this classic cocktail at the heart. Some may question if a 17-Year-Old rum is too rare or too special to use in a cocktail, but this is an important part of cocktail history.

What did it mean to become the first female master blender in the spirits industry?

It took 16 years to gain the title of Master Blender. I was filled with emotion when I was appointed because I never dreamed that this would be my career path, and then when I found out I was the first female in the role, that was just an unforgettable experience.

If not a Master Blender, what would you have done?

I probably would have worked as a lecturer or scientist. And, I almost became a nun…

Is it true you gained your master’s degree in analytical chemistry in England?

Yes, after my undergraduate at the University of West Indies, I moved to England to pursue a Master of Science degree in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Loughborough graduating with the highest marks ever achieved by a student.

How did you set about achieving a geographical indication for Jamaican rum?

The rum industry lacked regulation, so it was important to me to drive forward this change to protect Jamaican rum. In November 2016, I chaired the Technical Committee for the Geographic Indicator to define what classifies a Jamaican rum including fermentation, minimum age system, and of course, no additives. Now only products that adhere to these key characteristics can claim to be a Jamaican rum, which establishes more credibility within the category.

You have been described as “the most influential woman in the cocktail and spirits industry” by Tales of the Cocktail who bestowed upon you the Grand Dame Award, while the Distilled Spirits Council States awarded you their Lifetime Achievement Award. What do these accolades mean for you?

As a woman, I have had to work twice as hard as my male counterparts to succeed in this industry, so it is truly an honour to receive so much recognition for the work I do. I’m excited to see more women as Master Blenders and Distillers in the industry…


17-Year-Old Legend is available via The Whisky Exchange, Harvey Nichols, Milroy’s and Royal Mile Whiskies. RRP £500.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No