Rum Review: Denizen Merchant’s Reserve
Denizen Merchant’s Reserve Rum Review
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.
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