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Rum Review: Denizen Merchant’s Reserve

Denizen Merchant’s Reserve Rum Review

Denizen Merchant's Reserve 8-Year Rum

As you may remember from reading my article on aging Jamaican white rum at home, the purpose of that exercise was to try and create something similar to the Jamaican rum Trader Vic used in his original Mai Tai: a 17 year-old Wray & Nephew rum. Vic switched to a blend of aged rums from Jamaica and Martinique once the 17-year was no longer available, and Beachbum Berry suggested we use Appleton 12-Year and Clement VSOP to approximate Vic’s fallback position.

As for the 17-Year Wray & Nephew, it’s the ultimate white whale of rums. There’s only one bottle known to exist, and it belongs to Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. Unfortunately for us he’s not sharing, but I can’t say I blame him!

So why all the background on Trader Vic’s Mai Tai for a review of a rum blended in Holland? Because Nick Pelis of Citizen Spirits created Denizen Merchant’s Reserve specifically for the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. Just let that sink in for a moment. Awesome, right?

Nick had already created a wonderfully flavorful aged white rum–a hit among bartenders and rum nerds for its blend of smooth column-stilled rum from Trinidad and several high ester Jamaican rums. Now he was applying the mantra of “free the flavor” to an even bolder aged rum.

Nick reached out to Martin Cate and other rum experts in the course of developing his new blend, and he learned that the Martinique component in Vic’s Mai Tai was not an agricole, but an arome–a molasses-based rum born of the French style. (Rhum agricole production only took off after the sugar market bottomed out.) Nick was able to secure rhum arome from Le Galion distillery Martinique, and then added rums from four different Jamaican distilleries: Worthy Park, Hampden, New Yarmouth, and Clarendon.  The result is Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, which is  bottled at 43% ABV and retails for $30. I was fortunate enough to receive a sample of this exciting rum—let’s take a closer look.

The Denizen bottle is a straightforward affair: upright clear glass with a metal screw cap closure. The bottle feels good in the hand and pours easily. The front label evokes feelings of a bygone era where traders plied the Caribbean waters bartering European finished goods for barrels of rum. The rear label tells the story of the liquid and provides some tasting notes.

In the glass, the rum presents as a deep copper with bright golden highlights. A swirl of the snifter produces a ring atop the glass from which legs quickly form. As I move in for a nosing, there is a bit of astringency above the glass, so I let the rum sit for a minute, after which it’s mostly dissipated.

Moving back in, there are a host of aromas fighting for my attention. The dominant feature is a set of fruity esters represented by pineapple, green apple, orange and lemon. Grounding the bright aromas of fresh fruit is the earthy funk from the Jamaican pot still rum. Bridging the gap between the fruit and the funk is a hefty dose of caramel and vanilla. Let’s taste…

As the rum washes over the palate, the dunderous funk keeps competing flavors at bay, but soon gives way to a big dose of black pepper. The mouthfeel is sharp and round at the same time; it’s not as oily as the aromas or legs would suggest. The second sip reveals some of the fruit: green apple and pineapple, primarily. Digging deeper, the caramel returns, bringing with it a bit of toffee. On the long finish, the funk and black pepper dominate along with a hint of leather.

For a rum nut like me, Denizen Merchant’s Reserve is a *very* welcome addition to the bar that can be enjoyed neat or in mixed drinks. It is unapologetically funky, but the bold flavors manage to work in both classic cocktails and tiki drinks.  And while Denizen Merchant’s Reserve can definitely stand on its own, it absolutely sings in a Mai Tai. Well done, Nick.

Denizen Merchant's Reserve Mai Tai

Denizen Merchant’s Reserve Mai Tai at The Prizefighter Bar in Emeryville, CA

On to the scores:

  • Appearance: 1/1
  • Nose: 2/2
  • Mouth feel: 1/1
  • Taste: 3.25/4
  • Aftertaste: 2/2
  • Total Score: 9.25/10

Buy Denizen Merchant’s Reserve Online

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Tiare permalink
    September 5, 2014 2:45 pm

    As far as i have heard, Ian Burrell also have a bottle of the 17 yo JWray.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      September 5, 2014 3:41 pm

      Oh yeah? Lucky guy…

  2. September 6, 2014 9:24 am

    It’s not news that bottlers are always creating “new” products that are sourced and often sold via clever marketing. They need a story to hang their brand on. In this case it’s “Trader Vic’s Mai Tai”.

    Josh, as you correctly mentioned the inimitable Beachbum Berry stated that since even Vic ran out of his 17yo Wray & Nephews Jamaican rum, that Vic’s own replacement – per Berry – is best represented by a combination of Appleton Extra 12yo – a modestly high ester molasses rum – plus the flavors unique to cane juice rhums, in this case Clement VSOP.

    Now along comes this new rum which is alleged to be a blend of four Jamaican Plummer quality (average ester) rums, which is then diluted with some new make molasses based rum from Martinique. The point: all the rums are molasses-based, and do not offer the cane juice profile recommended by Berry.

    The basis? Bottler Nick “learned that the Martinique component in Vic’s Mai Tai was not an agricole, but an arome–a molasses-based rum born of the French style”. Is this correct?

    Not according to Berry (with whom I’ve communicated in the past about this very issue). Berry – whom I consider by far the most informed source about things Mai Tai – made clear that Mai Tai as made by Vic himself did not use a molasses-based arome, but absolutely used a cane juice rhum, specifically St. James rhum agricole.

    In sum, while I have no doubt that this 8 year old Jamaican blend is a good one, it is more than a reach to suggest that it replaces Vic’s Martiniqean component. This is not to say it won’t contribute to an interesting and enjoyable Mai Tai.

    It just won’t be Vic’s.

    • October 25, 2014 2:56 pm

      I think you are missing the fact that this rum approximates the rum used in mai tai adjusted recipe #2 not the original 17 y/o.

  3. John Monroe Rum connoisseur permalink
    September 6, 2014 9:28 am

    The Denizens touts being what rum used to taste like full of flavor. I loved the aged white rum, a complex flavor profile, all for 14.00. How the rum is that cheap.. I don’t know but who cares its so damned flavorful and I drank the entire bottle straight. Its a bottle those in the know would only choose most people probably would not look twice at it on the shelve.

    After loving the white, I did get the 8 year when it came to Astor on NYC. A great rum all around that is smooth but smacks you in the face with flavor a real rum it is. While twice as much as the aged white its worth trying as the finish does last longer on this one.

    My favorite part about these Denizen rums which I would refer to as a full flavored rum, is the distinct hit a fruit thru the intense spice. A real steal at these price points.

  4. Paul permalink
    October 12, 2015 12:44 pm

    If you can’t get Denizen 8 Y O do you think Coruba 12 YO or perhaps Lemonhart Original would work as well in a mixed drink ?

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      October 22, 2015 7:05 pm

      They’re pretty different, Paul. I might go for something like an Appleton Extra instead.

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