What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai

Updated Aug. 27, 2019

What could possibly be better than an Appleton Estate rum tasting at The Mai-Kai? How about the first-ever such event at the historic Polynesian palace hosted by Joy Spence, the longtime master blender for the venerable Jamaican brand synonymous with pure premium rum.

Quick links below
* 5 things you might not know about Joy Spence
* 12 things we learned about how Appleton rum is made
* How Joy Spence wants you to experience Appleton Estate rums
Recipe: Joy Spence’s favorite rum cocktail
* Event preview, Joy Spence biography and Appleton rum overview

Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence speaks to an enthusiastic group of rum enthusiasts at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14, 2019
Appleton Estate master blender Joy Spence speaks to an enthusiastic group of rum enthusiasts at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The 50 or so enthusiasts who were lucky enough to score a ticket to the sold-out presentation on Aug. 14 were in for a treat. In addition to four delicious Appleton rums, we enjoyed a complimentary Mai Tai and happy-hour prices on The Mai-Kai’s extensive cocktail and pupu menus.

But the most valuable take-away was undoubtedly the fascinating first-hand information provided by the world’s first female master blender. Her articulate and straightforward delivery, sprinkled with entertaining and whimsical anecdotes, made the rum-tasting experience a true Joy.

Here are some of the many insights we learned from Spence during her hour-long appearance in the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s Tahiti dining room:

5 things you might not know about Joy Spence

* In her youth, she went to an all-girls catholic school and originally wanted to become a nun. “But I’m an only child, and when I told my mother I wanted to become a nun she marched down to the school and told the principal that she needs grandchildren.” Luckily for Appleton Estate and Jamaican rum devotees worldwide, she never joined the convent.

Joy Spence talks about and her early career and her 38 years at Appleton Estate during a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019
Joy Spence talks about and her early career and her 38 years at Appleton Estate during a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Spence went to college to become a doctor, but she ended up concentrating on her passion for chemistry. When it came time to get some industry experience, she joined Tia Maria as a research chemist. At this time, the company that makes the dark Jamaican liqueur was located right next to J. Wray & Nephew, which makes Appleton Rum.

* She was bored at Tia Maria and always noticed the action at the “happening place” across the road, so in 1981 she sent a resume and set up an interview. “They told me right up front that there were no vacancies,” she said, but two weeks later they offered her a new position as chief chemist because they were so impressed with her resume. Despite the salary being less than her current job, she left Tia Maria and the rest is rum history.

* As chief chemist, Spence worked closely with the master blender, Owen Tulloch. “I became very fascinated with what he was doing in his private room,” she said, and her curiosity led her to knock on his door and find out. Spence recalled: “He started to test me and said ‘you have amazing sensory skills. You’ll become an excellent blender one day.’ So he took me under his wing and I studied with him for 17 years. When he retired, my bosses took a very bold move to appoint me as the master blender. No other woman had ever been given that position in the entire spirits industry. They actually got a lot of flack for it, but they knew what they were doing. My whole life changed after that.”

* The first rum she oversaw as master blender was the Appleton Estate 250th Anniversary release in 1999. She said her knees where shaking during the process. She wasn’t sure how it would be received, “but I got an excellent reaction” and “that gave me the strength and courage to continue and make the other blends that we now have in our portfolio.”

12 things we learned about how Appleton Estate rum is made

The full range of Appleton Estate rums were featured at a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019
The full range of Appleton Estate rums were featured at a special rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* Appleton Estate, est. 1749, is located in the lush and tropical Nassau Valley. “Believe it or not, it rains every day at 2 p.m., so we don’t have to worry about irrigation,” Spence said. This rainfall feeds the limestone springs beneath the ground, as well as the robust sugar cane crop.

* The estate grows 10 varieties of sugar cane year-round. The crop is harvested between January and May and crushed to yield juice. The juice is then boiled, resulting in crystals of sugar suspended in molasses. A massive centrifuge separates the two. The sugar is sold, and the leftover molasses is pumped over to the distillery, becoming the starting material for the rum.

* The limestone springs – which produce a distinctive turquoise blue water with “a nice soft, sweet taste” – are Spence’s favorite part of the estate. “When I’m feeling depressed and down, I take a glass of Appleton Estate Reserve, drive over to the water source, sit on a rock, and enjoy the beauty of the springs. I sip the Reserve, and by the time my glass is finished, all my troubles have been washed away and I’m ready to go back and face the problems of the distillery.” This unique spring water is added to the molasses.

Continue reading “What we learned at Appleton master blender Joy Spence’s rum tasting at The Mai-Kai”

The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau 2019

Manager Bob Van Dorpe (left) and head bartender Mariano Licudine (right) show off The Mai-Kai’s rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests.

Updated July 6

NEW: 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

Full recap coming soon!
NEW: Get detailed reports and photos on Tiki Central
The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau
COMING SOON: Exclusive news on a new replacement for Kohala Bay rum at The Mai-Kai, plus more!
More on the rums of The Mai-Kai
NEW: See exclusive info and photos on Tiki Central

The Mai-Kai's original mixologist, Mariano Licudine (right), with his rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests. At The Hukilau 2019, we'll take a peek behind the scenes
Manager Bob Van Dorpe (left) and head bartender Mariano Licudine (right) show off The Mai-Kai’s rum collection in 1962. Many of those rare and original bottles can still be found in the secluded back service bar (photo from 2017 at right), unseen by guests. At The Hukilau 2019, we’ll take a peek behind the scenes.

Event preview:

Established in 1956, The Mai-Kai is a national historic landmark with many iconic features that guests see every time they visit, from the Polynesian Islander Revue, to the distinctive design and decor, to the gracious staff.

But there’s one key element to the experience that you rarely ever see, but almost always taste: The rums of The Mai-Kai. Using tropical drink recipes that can be traced directly back to Don the Beachcomber’s 1930s-era classics, the behind-the-scenes bartenders follow generations-old methods of mixing rum cocktails.

The Rums of The Mai-Kai, presented by The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019
Click here for tickets and more info on The Hukilau 2019

Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog will take guests of The Hukilau 2019 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. This includes an intimate class for bartenders and enthusiasts at the Pier Sixty-Six hotel, and an interactive symposium on stage at the Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale.

Here are the details on both events:

The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Classic Tiki Template
Saturday, June 8, at Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina
Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class in the Commodore Room, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Stephen Remsberg is famous for his private collection of thousands of bottles of rum. (Image by Annene Kaye)
Stephen Remsberg is famous for his private collection of thousands of bottles of rum. (Image by Annene Kaye)

Don the Beachcomber’s groundbreaking use of multiple rums in a single cocktail is crucial to the style that came to be known as Tiki. Nearly 90 years later, that exact same blending of spirits is still practiced today at The Mai-Kai. Hurricane Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog will guide hands-on lessons on how the flavors from different Caribbean islands are used in concert to create some of the world’s most famous rum rhapsodies. Put these practices to use to make your home bar sing. Special guest “professor” Stephen Remsberg, famed rum historian and collector, will share his knowledge and a few treats from his collection.

Another special treat: Students will shake up cocktails using sponsor rums and actual Mai-Kai ingredients. The restaurant will provide us with ample quantities of several classic drinks, sans rums, for our mixing pleasure. Also, there will be raffles held throughout the class with an assortment of door prizes, including signed books and barware from Cocktail Kingdom’s Beachbum Berry Collection.

All class members are also invited to The Mai-Kai on Sunday for special events that include rare “lost cocktails” from The Mai-Kai’s 1956 menu, plus reserved seats for an on-stage rum presentation by Hurricane Hayward and Matt Pietrek, aka Cocktail Wonk. Select students will participate in the symposium while a group of others will receive an exclusive, private tour of The Mai-Kai’s back bar and historic rum collection. Free shuttle will run betwen The Hukilau hotels and The Mai-Kai from 11:30 a.m. until around 5 p.m.

BUY TICKETS: Class sizes are limited, so act now before this sells out. Tickets for all Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes cost $49 plus fee, and include a special series of barware (rum sippers, spoons, muddlers, strainers, and a flask) created especially for students by Tiki Diablo. Participants get one item per class, plus the many rum samples, cocktails, and door prizes mentioned above.

The Mai-Kai's vintage rum collection attracts industry VIPs from around the world. Joy Spence, master blender of Appleton Rum, paid a visit in November 2018 and found some rare bottles from Jamaica. Alexandre Gabriel, owner of Maison Ferrand and Plantation Rum, tasted a few vintage bottles during a tour after his symposium at The Hukilau 2018 last June. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mai-Kai’s vintage rum collection attracts industry VIPs from around the world. Joy Spence, master blender of Appleton Rum, paid a visit in November 2018 and found some rare bottles from Jamaica. Alexandre Gabriel, owner of Maison Ferrand and Plantation Rum, tasted a few vintage bottles during a tour after his symposium at The Hukilau 2018 last June. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The Rums of The Mai-Kai: From the Back Bar to Your Glass
Sunday, June 9, at The Mai-Kai
The Mai-Kai Grand Finale, noon to 4 p.m., featuring live music in The Molokai bar by Skinny Jimmy Stingray. Symposium in the main dining room at 1:30 p.m.

Take a deep dive into the historic rum collection of the legendary Polynesian restaurant with Jim “Hurricane” Hayward of The Atomic Grog blog and special guest Matt Pietrek, rum expert and author of the award-winning Cocktail Wonk blog. Discover new information on The Mai-Kai’s connection to Tiki cocktail forefather Don the Beachcomber through the rums they have in common. Includes an interactive, multimedia presentation and rare “lost cocktails” from the archives, as we enjoy The Mai-Kai before it opens to the public.

Continue reading “The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Atomic Grog presents new class and symposium at The Hukilau 2019”