Rum Connoisseur interview of the week:
Long time spirits industry professional and the founder Denizen Rum!
1) Who is Nicholas Pelis?
I am a New York native with 18 years experience in the spirits industry, having worked for leading suppliers such as Diageo, Skyy Spirits, and William Grant & Sons. Wanting to enhance the quality of innovation in the rum category, I conceived Denizen with the mission of elevating rum to its rightful position atop the pantheon of spirits and cocktails. The brand represents my contribution to the emerging rum mixology movement and a stake in the ground for everyone who believes their rum drink should have integrity, character, and soul.
2) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
My introduction to a classic daiquiri at Enrico’s in San Francisco back in 2006. I was working for Skyy Spirits at the time, which is now Campari America, and I was used to bars looking a certain way with the same mainstream products on the back bar and uninteresting drinks on the cocktail menu. To my surprise, when I walked into Enrico’s I didn’t recognize many of the products they were using at that time and all the cocktails consisted of fresh ingredients, which was a relatively new concept back then. I was struck by how elegant a rum cocktail could be with three simple ingredients that are of the highest quality prepared by conscientious bartenders that are striving to achieve the perfect balance of flavors.
3) The biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the rum industry.
I take pride in the fact that Denizen is helping to change the perception of the rum category with the trade and consumers in the US. I can’t tell you how often I hear from bartenders and retailers that they don’t sell a lot of rum. Similarly, most spirits consumers I speak with telling me they aren’t rum drinkers. However, after enjoying their first sip of Denizen products neat or in cocktails they all begin to realize that well-crafted rums have the versatility and complex flavors to rival world-class spirits in other categories. Slowly but surely, better quality rums will become more readily available in the US and I feel like Denizen has played a role in making this happen. I also take very seriously Denizen’s responsibility to properly highlight the bold flavored rum styles produced by distilleries in Trinidad, Jamaica, and Martinique. The unfortunate reality is that many rum distilleries in the Caribbean are struggling to stay in business because they can’t compete with the low price of rum coming from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. This stems from the rum cover over tax subsidies provided to producers on these islands. I made the conscious decision during the development process of our products to make sure all the styles of rum in our blends are sourced from distilleries that don’t receive these tax subsidies. Even though Denizen is still a relatively small rum brand, I do feel like we are doing our part to make sure these rums can continue to be enjoyed by rum consumers in the future.
4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?
It’s been such a grind working our tails off to run a boutique brand like Denizen in a declining category dominated by big spending suppliers with some of the largest and most recognizable brands in the world. I feel absolutely privileged to have weathered the storm in the early days and to have gotten the brand to a point where our rums are coveted by the trade and consumers across the US and beyond. I’m sure many other start-up brands in the category have gone through difficult patches like us and we owe it to ourselves to see the fruits of our labor. We have been hearing that rum is the next big thing in spirits but it’s only because of the seeds that have been planted over the past several years by the hard working and passionate distillers and brand owners who have sacrificed so much. It’s an exciting time for the category and for the industry.
5) Favorite Drink + Recipe
Any booze forward cocktail with a bold flavored funky high ester Jamaican pot still rum as its base. Obviously, I am very biased towards Merchant’s Reserve, so I am going to shamelessly plug our Merchant’s Mai Tai.
2 oz Denizen Merchant’s Reserve
1 oz fresh lime juice
½ oz orange curacao
¼ oz rich simple syrup (2:1 sugar and water)
¼ oz orgeat syrup
Combine all ingredients into a shaker, add 2 cups of crushed ice, and shake for 10 seconds. Pour unstrained into a double rocks glass. Garnish with spent lime shell and mint.
6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?
I sincerely hope the rum industry in the US will eventually experience organic growth driven by consumer pull as opposed to the current wave of supplier push we are experiencing today. In my opinion, increased product composition transparency from suppliers, a more structured category classification system that can be implemented commercially in a practical manner, and better consumer education led by passionate brand owners at the point of purchase will ultimately allow rum to realize its true potential.
7) Share some of your mentors and how they have helped you.
Gerry Ruvo, who is currently the Chairman of Campari America and Tony Foglio, currently one of the owners of Anchor Distilling Company are the two people who I admire the most in the spirits industry. I worked for both when I was with Skyy Spirits and I learned how important it is to build a strong route to a market platform that is compelling for distributor partners and most importantly, managed by the right people to maximize the value of brands. They are also two of the sincerest and most humble industry veterans you will ever meet.
8) What 3-5 things do you have on your bucket list for the next 12 month?
I would like to spend time drinking rum and meeting industry professionals in western and southern European countries like France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Greece, where r(h)um consumption per capita appears to be higher than the US. Learning how to speak the language conversationally in these countries would also seem to make sense. In addition, I would like to continue engaging fellow spirit brand owners to exchange ideas, best practices, and build relationships similar to what Gerry Ruvo and Tony Foglio have done throughout their careers. You never know when the opportunity to work together may arise.
9) Any last words?
I have the sincerest gratitude to our loyal customers and consumers around the country who have continued to support Denizen since we first launched. Your business means so much to the Denizen family and inspires us to keep pushing forward to serve you better every day.
10) How can people learn more about you? Website? Social Media Page?