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The First Female Master Blender Is A Black Woman. Here’s Why She Values Impact Over Accolades

The First Female Master Blender Is A Black Woman. Here’s Why She Values Impact Over Accolades
Johnny Komodo

Trailblazing master blender Dr. Joy Spence recently joined the James Beard Foundation(JBF) in New York City for the return of the Appleton Estate Extraordinary Dinner Series.

Dr. Spence, Appleton Estate’s master blender and the first woman to hold the title of master blender in the spirits industry, has paved the way for many women in her more than four-decade-long career.

The intimate, invite-only dinner is meant to connect people through a fusion of food and rum by Appleton Estate Rum, one of Jamaica’s most recognizable spirits brands. From the sounds of reggae greats like Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, and Beres Hammond to a delicious meal of Appleton jerk glazed pork belly tostones, braised short ribs with cassava mash, and delectable bread pudding topped off with a tasting of the entire range of Appleton Estate rums, it did just that.

The return of the dinner series also marked two years of partnership between Appleton Estate and the Women’s Leadership Program at The JBF, which aims “to champion gender and racial equity by supporting women throughout the lifecycle of their careers.”

The First Female Master Blender Is A Black Woman. Here’s Why She Values Impact Over Accolades
Photo By: Johnny Komod

“James Beard Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate, support, and elevate the people behind America’s food culture and champion the standard of good food anchored in talent,” says Dr. Spence.

“The Women’s Leadership Program really aims to champion gender and racial equality by supporting women through their careers, and Appleton Estate is so excited to have partnered with them on this project because they do amazing work to ensure that there are more women in leadership across the industry in the US. And they share our vision and desire to celebrate people and perspectives, paving the way in the food and beverage industry, which is very, very important to us,” she tells ESSENCE.

As part of their partnership, Appleton and the James Beard Foundation hosted the panel “Fueling the Drive: How to Stay Successful and Fulfilled Long Term,” featuring Dr. Spence, celebrity chef and caterer Renee Blackman, Ellen Yin, Owner of High Street Hospitality and was moderated by JBF’s Vice President Of Programs, Anne E. McBride.

When asked what success means to her, Dr. Spence shared with ESSENCE that it goes beyond making history or receiving accolades; she says it’s about making an impact. “For me, success means being an agent of change for women in the spirit industry. Having been the first female master blender in the world, I’ve been able to open the doors and give opportunities to other women to become master blenders in the industry. So, for me, I became an agent of change. And I’m so proud of that and proud of the fact that so many women know have been appointed master blenders,” Dr. Spence shares.

The First Female Master Blender Is A Black Woman. Here’s Why She Values Impact Over Accolades
Appleton Estate Rum/ Johnny Komodo

The trailblazing master blender said one of the biggest things that women need to not only be successful but to remain that way is to have consistent support. “I think the most important thing is the fact that we are supporting the women’s leadership program with the James Beard Foundation and showing women in this industry we are here for them. At Appleton, we are very passionate about, you know, elevating women in the industry,” says Dr. Spence.

She shared that recently, some of her most rewarding work has been mentoring young women who want to pursue careers in STEM but may need more resources. “That’s just my dream to elevate as many young women as possible who want to pursue a career in STEM.

From her groundbreaking work in distilleries to her influence and encouragement of women in STEM careers worldwide, Dr. Spence says long-term success comes from learning to blend the things that make you unique and being “passionate about your craft” despite challenges.

“Focus on your craft, be passionate about your craft, always act as a sponge for knowledge, always willing to learn and explore new experiences and benchmark against your competition… Combine your chemistry, technology, or whatever it is with your unique artistry and take it to the next level,” says Dr. Spence.

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