Appleton master blender Joy Spence to host rare rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

Joy Spence, the master blender of Appleton Estate in Jamaica, will lead an exclusive tasting of her acclaimed rums at The Mai-Kai on Wednesday, Aug. 14. The sold-out event is the first-ever official appearance at the historic Fort Lauderdale restaurant by the pioneering Spence, the first woman to hold the position of master blender in the spirits industry.

When Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence visited The Mai-Kai in November 2018, she found some historic rums from her distillery's past. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

When Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence visited The Mai-Kai in November 2018, she found some historic rums from her distillery’s past. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

“It is Joy’s job to ensure that all Appleton Estate rum blends meet the high standards that consumers have grown to love and expect,” according to her company bio. Appleton is owned by J. Wray & Nephew, the oldest company in Jamaica and the island’s dominant rum producer. J. Wray & Nephew falls under the corporate umbrella of Italy’s Campari, one of the world’s largest spirits and beverage companies.

Over the past 22 years, Spence has helped create some of the most highly regarded rums in the world, including Appleton Estate’s popular Reserve Blend and 12-year-old Rare Blend.

Rare Blend is a crucial component in some of The Mai-Kai’s most acclaimed cocktails, including the Mai Tai, Shark Bite and Special Reserve Daiquiri.
More: Appleton rums at The Mai-Kai

Spence has also created an impressive array of limited-edition premium rums, including:

In honor of her 20 years as a master blender, Joy Spence created Appleton Estate Joy in 2017. (J. Wray & Nephew official photo)

In honor of her 20 years as a master blender, Joy Spence created Appleton Estate Joy in 2017. (J. Wray & Nephew official photo)

* Appleton Estate 30, released in 2008 and again in 2018 due to popular demand. It contains liquid aged for at least 30 years along with 50-year-old rum. The latest bottling was limited to 4,000 worldwide. Just 900, priced at $495 each, were made available in the United States. Spence calls Appleton Estate 30 one of her favorite releases “because it celebrates years of fine, handcrafted rums in the Nassau Valley of Jamaica.”

* Appleton Estate Joy, released in 2017 to honor the master blender’s 20th year at the distillery. It’s a 25-year-old minimum aged rum that also includes rums that have been aged up to 35 years. “For my anniversary blend, I simply set out to create the rum that I’d like to sip while watching the colors of my garden change in the warm glow of the Jamaican sunset,” Spence said. “The final blend is a wonderful rum that I hope will be become a cornerstone of my legacy.”

* Appleton Estate 50, released in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. It is comprised of rums aged for a minimum of 50 years and was limited to just 800 bottles, selling for around $5,000 each. The original barrels for this rum were laid down for this specific purpose by Spence’s predecessor and mentor, Owen Tulloch.

Hurricane Hayward meets Joy Spence, the legendary master blender at Jamaica's Appleton Estate, during her first visit to The Mai-Kai in November 2018. (Atomic Grog photo)

Hurricane Hayward meets Joy Spence, the legendary master blender at Jamaica’s Appleton Estate, during her first visit to The Mai-Kai in November 2018. (Atomic Grog photo)

Spence graduated from the University of the West Indies in Kingston with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and Loughborough University in London with a master’s degree in analytical chemistry. She joined Appleton Estate in 1981 as chief chemist. Over the next 16 years, she studied under the guidance of master blender Tulloch.

She succeeded Tulloch when he retired in 1997, becoming the world’s first female master blender. After 20 years in that prestigious position, she was honored when the Appleton visitor center in Jamaica was named the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience following a $7.2 million renovation. Up to 200,000 guests a year can enjoy guided tastings and complementary cocktails, an interactive guided tour of the estate’s history, a state-of-the-art cinema, a restaurant and lounge, a retail store, plus more.

Appleton Estate is the oldest sugar estate and distillery in Jamaica in continuous production, dating back more than 265 years. Much of its success and longevity can be attributed to its location in the lush and fertile Nassau Valley, which gives the end product a distinctive terroir. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a master blender like Joy Spence at the helm.

The Mai-Kai's manager, Kern Mattei, gives Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence a tour of the busy back service bar and its collection of vintage rums, many dating back to the 1950s and beyond. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2018)

The Mai-Kai’s manager, Kern Mattei, gives Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence a tour of the busy back service bar and its collection of vintage rums, many dating back to the 1950s and beyond. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, November 2018)

The Aug. 14 tasting, set for 6 p.m. in the Tahiti dining room, is not Spence’s first time at The Mai-Kai, a national historic landmark and arguably one of the country’s largest purchasers of Jamaican rum over the past 62 years. She spent an evening there in November 2018 with husband Emile, area Campari rep Charlie Kleinicke, plus some lucky guests (including myself).

It was an honor to be part of her first visit, share a cocktail and chat during happy hour. Before enjoying dinner and the Polynesian Islander Revue, Spence received a tour of the famous back bar and its collection of rare and historic rums (see photos above).

Spence’s visit this month comes almost exactly a year after a rum tasting hosted by David Morrison, an Appleton senior blender and heir apparent to Spence. He led guests through a sampling of four Appleton Estate rums as he shared his passion for blending and the inner workings of the distillery.

We look forward to learning even more about Appleton Estate and its rums from the master herself.

Recent media coverage
* Five minutes with Joy Spence from Appleton Estate
* Rum making with Appleton Estate’s master blender
* Meet the woman changing the face of Jamaican rum

Official sites
* Appleton Estate | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
* J. Wray & Nephew | Campari Group

The Mai-Kai is at 3599 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on the west side between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Call (954) 563-3272 for more information or to make dinner reservations. Valet and paid self-parking.
* Official site | Trading Post | Twitter
* Facebook: Official page | Friends of The Mai-Kai group
* Instagram: Restaurant | The Molokai bar | Trading Post
* Mai-Kai history: Book and official website | Facebook page
* Google Maps: Explore The Mai-Kai in 3-D

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More on The Mai-Kai’s rums and cocktails
* Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica
* The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide: Okole Maluna Society
* Full list of 100+ cocktail recipes
* The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail
* Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai
* Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen (with photos)

Hear The Rums of The Mai-Kai symposium on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
Mahalo to Adrian Eustaquio and Inside the Desert Oasis Room for documenting the June 9 presentation featuring Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek of Cocktail Wonk live on stage at The Mai-Kai during the closing festivities of The Hukilau 2019.
Click here to listen now or subscribe on iTunes and other podcast platforms

The Rums of The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau 2019
The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog took guests on an virtual journey to the Caribbean to learn about the key rums and styles that have dominated The Mai-Kai’s acclaimed cocktails for more than 60 years. He was joined by rum expert Stephen Remsberg for an Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class at Pier Sixty-Six hotel on June 8, and by Cocktail Wonk writer Matt Pietrek for an on-stage symposium at The Mai-Kai Grand Finale on June 9.
See the event preview | Full recap coming soon!
* Get detailed reports and photos on Tiki Central

‘Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon’
Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai's Secret Weapon on Jan. 19, 2019, at The Mai-Kai The Atomic Grog was pleased to present a special happy-hour talk during The Mai-Kai Takeover event on Jan. 19, presented by the Magical Tiki Meet-Up and Retro Rekindled. Click here to check out our full event recap, including photos and highlights of our Demerara rum discussion.

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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