Joy Spence and Eddie Russell celebrate 35 years in spirits

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Gruppo Campari has got the bunting out to celebrate the 35th anniversary of both Joy Spence and Eddie Russell working in the spirits industry – and both have new limited-edition products coming out.

The master blender of Appleton Estate and master distiller of Wild Turkey came to the UK to mark the occasion, enjoying a special dinner at The Ivy in Covent Garden, and we managed to catch up with them both for a quick chat.

Fire and brimstone
Spence was the first ever female master blender in the spirits industry, and will actually also be celebrating 20 years at the helm of Appleton in 2017. During that time she’s been awarded the Order of Distinction by the Government of Jamaica, as well as two honorary doctorates from the University of Loughborough and the University of the West Indies.

She’s also managed to create a fair few rums, including the Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Jamaica Independence Reserve Rum and the Appleton Estate 250th Anniversary Blend.

Spence told the crowd gathered how she was hired by Wray & Nephew as a chemist early on in her career. ‘It was fire and brimstone with my dad,’ she said. ‘In those days in Jamaica, women didn’t drink rum. I’m so sorry that he’s not alive for him to see what I’ve accomplished.’

Keep an eye out for a limited-edition Appleton expression – a blend of rums aged at least 25 years – due to be released next year, coinciding with Spence’s 20th anniversary as master blender.

Hall of fame
Eddie Russell was appointed master distiller at Wild Turkey last year, and is the third-generation Russell to work at Wild Turkey. He was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2010.

He’ll be releasing his second limited-edition whiskey this year, called Wild Turkey Master’s Keep, observing his 35 years at the distillery. The liquid is a 17-year-old bourbon, which is ‘the oldest thing we’ve ever done before’, Russell said. Most of Wild Turkey’s warehouses are metal-clad, but this liquid has been sitting in brick warehouses, where temperatures are more regulated, so ageing of the liquid was slower than usual.

It’s perhaps unsurprisingly a really spicy and dry whiskey, with plenty of sweet and hot spice – cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla pod and white pepper – as well as some pine wood and green, sappy notes before a distinct sour cherry flavour comes in mid-palate and carries through to the end. ‘This was my baby for 17 years,’ said Russell before we all sat down to talk.

Imbibe: How does it feel to be celebrating 35 years in the industry?

Russell: It’s gone by so fast! It seems like I just started yesterday. To me, I am only just getting started.

Spence: I can’t believe I’ve spent so many years at Appleton! It’s a really magical moment, for me to be able to contribute so much to the rum industry.

Imbibe: If you could go back to visit yourselves when you were starting out in the industry 35 years ago, what advice would you give yourself? 

Russell: When you work for your own family, you never respect what they started. You think ‘change everything, do everything differently’. You want to make your own way. So what I’d say is: ‘What your dad has done is huge, so make your own way, but respect what was before you.’

Spence: I think I’d have started having children at an earlier age, so that I’d have had a better balance between family life and the hectic part of my job. My first child I had at age 33, and my second I had at 38 and although they were spaced out, it was quite hard balancing work and family. But I think I was quite successful at doing both.

Find out why Joy Spence is joyful like a dolphin in her The World According to… interview.

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Laura Foster

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