Master Blender Joy Spence's guide to drinking rum like an expert

Of all the spirits available to the thirsty punter, the humble rum has the worst reputation.

This is probably because most Australians first experience the liquid in, shall we say, less than sophisticated circumstances. More often than not it's mixed with any number of soft drinks, squashing the potential flavour experience. But rum is undergoing a renaissance.

Sales in ultra-premium rums have seen a steady growth in recent years, partly due to a more informed consumer and new generations of aged spirit fans on the search for something new. Indeed, this rising interest in rum could be seen as a flow-on effect from whisky's current domination of the liquor scene.

As drinkers seek to reconnect with a drink that brings a strong sense of provenance or history, rum distilleries are taking the opportunity to teach people that rum has the same complexities and nuances you would expect to find in whiskies or even wine.

Rum's leading lady

One of the brightest champions of the rum revival is Joy Spence, the world's first female Master Blender and driving force behind Appleton Estate, Jamaica's oldest rum distillery in continuous operation and one of the world's top selling drops.

Recently celebrating her 20th anniversary in the role, Spence has been holding master classes around the world teaching people how to drink rum, and enjoy the delicate flavours that the pirate's dram can contain.

Speaking to 51698009 from St Elizabeth, the home of Appleton Estate, Spence is ardent that the time is right for rum to finally be given its due as a spirit.

"Rum is truly having a moment and genuine provenance is very important in promoting rums and Appleton has an amazing story," she says.

"We are rediscovering how to drink rum and this is why these master classes and educational classes that we are hosting globally are taking place to really show consumers the best way to appreciate rum."


Cascading flavours

It's easy to be caught up in Spence's passion for the both the Appleton brand and rum as a multi-sensory experience.

In her role has Master Blender, she has been responsible for maintaining and developing rums, ranging from cocktail-friendly drops like the Appleton Estate Reserve and Signature Blends to rums specifically crafted to be enjoyed neat, such as the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old and her own magnum opus, the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend – a 25-year-old minimum age rum with a wonderfully rich flavour profile made from two landmark rum marques.

"[During my career] I developed new blends that included my flair and my style ... I focused more in spicy and vanilla, coffee notes with less oak – some of the previous expressions, some of them were very oaky – and so I wanted to strike a balance where you have complexity, balance this with oak."

Correcting bad habits

But as far as a wrong way to have rum, Spence says the answer can be as complex as the drink itself.

"[How you drink it] really does depend on the rum and the occasion ... if you were drinking our Appleton Estate 21 year old you would never really want to have it with a cola drink for example – you would be totally destroying all those beautiful complexities.

"[The Anniversary Blend] has … a nice ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, coffee and cocoa notes and a beautiful warm brown sugar finish and the very special thing about this particular blend is that it was extremely versatile. This rum is perfect for persons who like to mix in an elevated cocktail and for persons who like to sip a rum and enjoy it straight up."

Refreshingly versatile

That's not to say that rum doesn't work well with a dash of your favourite soft drink.

One of the most popular ways of drinking rum in Jamaica is over ice mixed with Ting, a grapefruit-based soft drink. It's an absolute banger to have on a hot afternoon (here in Australia, the closest equivalent would be Capi's grapefruit variety).

For newcomers to the rum game, or those wary of the drink after their first run in, Spence simply recommends cocktails which rum's rich palate lends itself to perfectly.

"I like to have it in a very light cocktail...A brown sugar daiquiri with Apple Estate Reserve is absolutely delicious. It has a completely different flavour profile than regular daiquiris."

She even created her own signature recipe, known as the Joy cocktail.

"What I did was created a cocktail that people could just enjoy and one that you don't have to be an expert bartender to be able to make at home. You just need your rum, your orange, your bitters and ginger ale on ice and you're good to go."

The writer travelled to Jamaica with assistance from Appleton Estate.