Ron Zacapa Centenario

by Matt Robold on October 22, 2007

When most people think of rum, they think of the islands of the Caribbean.  The images of Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba, and Puerto Rico all swirl about in the mind’s eye.  The average imbiber probably immediately thinks of names like “Bacardi”, “Captain Morgan’s”, and “Meyer’s”…possibly even “Mt. Gay”.  If you asked the run-of-the-mill drinker what the best rum on the market was, they’d probably say something like “Bacardi!” simply because they know the name, and no rum distiller has done a greater job at mass-marketing than has the company with the bat for a logo.

I started out as such a person – although Bacardi was never a rum I rated very highly.  Personally, I was always something of a Captain Morgan’s fan, myself…and while I always fancied myself a “top-shelf only” drinker because I insisted on drinking Tanqueray Ten or Grey Goose, I consistently would order “Captain and Coke” when I felt myself in the rummy mood.

In the past 2 years, mine eyes have seen the glory of the aging of the rum, and the “Captain and Coke” man has died and been replaced with someone my brother likes to call, “The Rum Snob”.

Bacardi may be the most famous maker of rum in the world, but it isn’t the highest rated.  The islands in the Caribbean may be the first thing that pop to mind when you think of rum, but one of the most decorated and appreciated rums in the world isn’t from an island at all…it’s from Guatemala: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Anos.

Background

Unlike most rums one will find on store shelves these days, Ron Zacapa is not made in the Caribbean.  Instead it is made near the Pacific coast of Guatemala.  Zacapa is actually NOT a molasses-based rum, and is instead made from the “pure sugar cane honey,” which is the juices of freshly pressed sugar cane that are then boiled and allowed to thicken.  This “honey” is distilled into a fantastic rum which is aged in a variety of wood casks high in the Guatemalan mountains in the region of Quetzaltenango (say that 3 times fast).  During the rum’s 23 year tenure in the cellars, every facet of their environment is monitored, including the temperature, humidity, light, and even sound levels (according to the Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala website).

The rum is aged using the solera method.  This is the same method used to create sherry, and involves replacing any of the rum that is lost to evaporation over the course of a single year in one cask with rum that was casked the year following that (e.g. rum that was casked in 2000 will be replenished with rum that was casked in 2001 and so on).

The unique combination of this process, combined with the also rather unique locale high up in the mountains, further combined with trade secrets that competitors have been desperately attempting to divine for years, gives Ron Zacapa a profile that is truly incomparable.

Appearances

The Ron Zacapa is a darker rum.  Rather than a typical amber color, this rum is a deep, rich brown (rich is a word that will continually be used in describing aspects of this rum).  A quick swirl in the glass creates a very thin ring of much stronger legs than one would expect based on the slightness of the ring.  As you watch, the ring grows thicker and the legs of the spirit make their way down to the body very slowly, belying the texture of the drink for one with the patience to let the glass breath for a moment or two.

Nose

The nose of the Ron Zacapa is not aggressive.  It’s much slighter than one would expect from such a highly rated drink, but as you get closer to the spirit, the richness of the rum start to slowly stir the senses.  There’s the expected scent of molasses, followed by notes of cocoa and a hint of orange.  It seems as though ever time I sit down with a glass of Zacapa I find something new in it, and this most recent tasting has been no exception.  There’s actually something of a cherry finish to the nose that I’ve noticed tonight, although I may be guilty of having let the glass breathe too long while I took down my notes.

Character & Palate

The Zacapa is sweet.  There’s no way to argue otherwise.  Your tongue is instantly enveloped in flavors of molasses, cocoa, and honey, with a slight woodiness to the finish.  There is very little burn, and this is easily one of the smoothest rums I have ever sampled, possibly only outdone in its smoothness by Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva and Temptryst Cherrywood.

This is a complex rum with a lot of flavors at play at the same time.  As I mentioned in the section on the nose, tonight was the first time that I had noticed cherry in the nose, and the taste is revealing the same notes that I had somehow missed.  As the rum moves towards the back of your throat, other flavors continue to appear almost as pictures.  You find yourself thinking of leather saddles and tobacco plantations instead of pictures of pirates or island shirted tourists drinking in a deck chair on the beach (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

One of the things that is most interesting about this rum is its texture.  The rum has a unique viscosity to it that makes it seem almost like a rum liqueur rather than a pure rum.  The texture adds to the experience of drinking the rum, as your senses of smell, taste, and even touch are all awakened by it.

The Long & The Short Of It

There is a reason that this rum has been essentially ruled out of tasting competitions: it’s just too good.  Each glass of Ron Zacapa Centenario is what modern American marketeers would probably call a “complete spirit experience”, with every aspect of your senses being consumed by the rum.  While it may prove too sweet or too viscous for some, for those who find it as appealing as I did, you’ll never run out of occasions for drinking it.  It is an excellent evening cocktail, and it’s almost-liqueur qualities make it a perfect after-dinner drink.  If you’re looking for a fantastic rum that you can buy today, this is a must-have for your tasting shelf.

Dood’s Rating: 5 Bottles of Rum Out of 5

More Rum Reviews

For another perspective on Ron Zacapa 23, be sure to check out Silvio’s review at Refined Vices

{ 76 comments }

michael May 2, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Not to take away from Zacapa cos it is a good rum (however too sweet for my liking) but it was at the Chcago Beverage Testing Institute that the El Dorado 21 (21 years is the “youngest” rum in the barrel) was rated the highest score a rum has ever been given – 98 points out of a possible 100 – Zacapa Centenario 23 was rated 95 points – please feel free to look at the link below from the Chicago Beverage Testing Institue.

http://www.tastings.com/search_spirits.lasso?se=k&sb=All&ca=Rum%20Aged&sf=ScoreForSort

Matt Robold May 2, 2010 at 8:55 pm

The 1000th comment on my blog is a correction! I love it!

Looking at the Tasting’s site, you’re correct. It’s been a few years since I wrote that review, so I’m going to say that when I looked it up, that’s what I saw, but my contention is obviously incorrect.

This marks the oldest mistake corrected on my site.

Tom September 28, 2010 at 12:51 am

Just been having a family aroma/taste comparison, with Zacapa 23, a Scotch, and a Cognac.
Everyone should try Z23. Excellent. (worth a revisit)
Highly recommended.

Nuno September 29, 2010 at 9:39 am

Where can I find the Zacappa 23 Anos for sale in europe – online?
Thank you!

Stefan October 12, 2010 at 3:43 am

Nuno- It costs 45€ here http://www.vinsajten.com/SE/Catalog/Spirit_drinks/Rum/73343.html. it’s a german site selling to swedes.

Andys Liquor October 15, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Hello,
Zacapa makes great rum but it isn’t 23 years old. It’s blended with 6 to 23 year old rums. I realize the solera technique which is also used in other applications. Please try Pyrat Cask 1623 if you want to try another awesome rum. It’s a must. Keep on drinking the kill devil.
Cheers.
Mike

Edwin December 29, 2010 at 9:50 am

I do agree it is amazing but there is a correction that needs to be made. My family is from Zacapa and to be perfectly honest Zacapa is not near the pacific infact it is north east of the city on the road headed towards the caribean coast of Guatemala. Ive been on that road many times.

Nuno December 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Can you tell me the difference between the 23 años and the solera n.23?
thank you!!!

Jeff January 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm

My first experience with Ron Zacapa was while leaving Aruba, I asked the gentleman at the duty free shop if he had any 15 year old Bacardi, a rum I enjoyed while in Puerto Rico. He asked me if it had to be Bacardi, and I said “no, I am just looking for well aged rum, and that was the only one I knew of”. He suggested that I try Ron Zacapa, he told me his name and that this is the best tasting rum in the world and when I go home and taste this rum, I will remember his name. Well one year has passed and every time I enjoy my glass of rum, I think of returning to Aruba and thanking Alphonse in person.

FRF January 13, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Fifteen years ago, Ron Zacapa was indeed an excellent rum. It did not have different denominations (8 , 15, 23 years and so on….), it was only one Zacapa Centenario, but it was among the best rums that you could try. Its flavor resembled Pmapero Aniversario or the Appleton State Rum (the aged one).

I tried last week the 23-year Zacapa, and I was DEEPLY dissapointed with it. Now, in the marketing era of mass production, they hae sacrificied taste and quality for quantity that I assume they want to sell. It they have kept the same quality and increased its price I bet people who value quality would pay for it, but this 23-year rum is a flop. Try some other better rum than this, for half its price !!!

Ian June 12, 2011 at 7:41 am

a superb rum for sure

JAC June 25, 2011 at 11:01 am

I would like to know if you have tried a rum called Zaya Gran Reserva from Trinidad, a sipping rum that is the best i have ever had. Sounds the same as far as the description you had of the Zacapa. I found this one at a sams club liquor store while in Denver on a recent trip. I bought a bottle of the Ron Zacapa today in south florida and will hope it is as good or better than the Zacapa brand you reviewed!!
JC

Greg August 13, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Usually a Captain Morgen Private Stock kind of guy, a bartender at a chain restuarant gave me two rums that they just got in (this was over a year ago). One was Pyrat and the other, Ron Zacapa.

I liked reading how it was made from pressed sugar cane, aged in barrels that aged wines and sherrys, and kept high in the mountains. . .

Whether its rum, vodka, or sour mash whiskey, I like the taste of the drink itself. I want to savor the flavors that I can pick up from the liquid. Once in a while, I will add an ice cube to my drink.

Ron Zacapa is a rum you drink without anything because there’s more flavors coming alive than you can imagine.

This is my drink of choice.

diego October 14, 2011 at 6:16 am

I am guatemalan and we use to drink a lot of different rums (even the caribeans), and I never tasted something like zacapa rum (may be there are better rums),but its personal if you like it or not. For the guy from Zacapa, that its just a name, its not produced in that town, is produced in the pacific coast (where the sugar cain is produced) and olded in the mountains.
Zacapa Rum won 5 times in a row the price of Best rum in the world, that’s why you can’t find it in the list of the first comment (rum zacapa inaugurated the rum hall of fame, does not participates anymore in that kind of contests).
If you want more info about it
http://www.ronesdeguatemala.com/eng/index.php

sergio October 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm

cant wait till i turn 18 to drink this lol. Hey diego the rum is from zacapa but they dont make it there, but its originally from there. viva zacapa

Bobo Bergstrom November 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Hi All,

Z 23 is a great rum, no doubt, it is fantastic.
But there is one that strike all above mentioned rum La Favotite La Flibuste, 33yrs ! This is the most complete rum I ever tasted. If you try it it will stick to your Flavor- brain for life.
I have a restaurant wit over 90 rum and I have gone through a few!
La Flibuste is so complex you are floored about the aroma, taste and after taste. It is, like most Martinique rum’s not over sweet. I read El Dorado 21 got top score in chicago, I would say how on earth would that happen! Was it the last run tasted and not all was spitted in the bucket??? El Dorado is a typical molasses rum, too sweet to score full balance. I would never score it above a Zacapa 23 or a Clement Homere XO.

La Flibuste of Martinique (Yes the Caribbean) is made of fresh pressed cane juice and barreled in Burboun barrels. Bering minimum 31 years when hitting the shelves it is the oldest commercially sold rum in the Caribbean (and I think the world). They now have a special edition, 50 years old that I like to lay my hands on and taste, I will get back with my experience. You can not buy La Flibust many places except the destillery at Le Lamentin (tel 05 96 50 47 32)

With all respect for your preference of flavor, taste La Favorite La Flibuste, then we can talk rum!!
Bobo

Jim February 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I discovered Ron Zacapa while on vacation in Antigua, While it is a little sweet I find it very flavorful and the best sipping rum I have ever tasted.
If you are ever on the Island of Antigua locate and try “Papa Zooks Rum and Fish” restaurant. Not sure if I would recommend mixing with anything stronger than soda water and lime.
Thanks.

Anthony P. Maingot March 7, 2012 at 11:10 am

I totally agree with Bobo Bergstrom that Martinique’s “La Favorite” rum is the best there is. He knows because he has 90 varieties in his restaurant and I know because I have 310 varieties in my own collection. If you will Google me you will find what I have written about rums. And, before the leave the subject, I serve Zacapa at home after dinner. It is for the money, simply unbeatable. Boire a bonne sante!

Chef Bobo March 20, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Hi all rum snobs, I am a proud one. I do like my Chairman’s and coke but sipping rum is the best. I agree Z23 is very very good but I wish you all could lay your hand on a bottle of Le Favourite, La Flibuste 30 yr old. That is a rare rum that surpass any thing I tasted in sophisticated rum, even asome noches better than Z23. Why El Dorado rate so high is beyonned my understanding. It is too sweet and flavoured and coloured with molasses. Perhaps the tasters never tasted really good rum like Z23 or Le Favourite.
And last but not least, you must try Ron Barrilito *** from Puerto Rico!!! I have heard about a Barrilito ***** and would love to taste a bottle.

Nikolas April 29, 2012 at 9:52 am

I would like your opinion:

1. Ron Zacapa 23 centenario or Appleton Estate 12 years old?
2. Served ONLY with ice OR as a coctail?
3. If coctail, what are the best ingredients to use?

Thanks!!

Matt Robold April 29, 2012 at 10:08 am

That’s a tough one. They’re both so good.

These days I tend to favor Appleton Estate 12 over Zacapa. Not that there’s anything wrong with Zacapa, but my palate has just shifted toward the drier and the funkier flavors that you find in the Jamaican rums.

Also Appleton 12 makes a slammin’ Mai Tai or a great sipper.

Valerio June 18, 2012 at 8:26 am

Hi, I’m choosing Zacapa for my wedding dinner after reading you review on it and after some “hot” suggestions from a friend of mine, however, may I know if it’s the 15 years aged Centenario or the 23? I’ve some cuban cigars to taste with…

Matt Robold June 18, 2012 at 8:47 am

This review is for the 23. The 15 is also very, very good. A bit drier, but also hard to come by in the States.

CaptainStabby July 23, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I actually prefer the 15 to the 23 myself, for awhile it was all they had at duty free here in Wellington, but that was a good 2 yrs ago. I did recently find 2 bottles of the 15 at one of the local bottle stores here last weekend and they are now mine, mine all mine!!!

Karen Nash August 26, 2012 at 8:14 am

Back in the late ’80s or early ’90s, I was heading home after a business trip to Guatemala. My colleague told me about an amazing 26-year-old rum that came in a bottle covered with woven palm leaves. It was available only at the airport, cost $8 a bottle, and I wasn’t allowed to carry it out of the terminal – it was brought to me on the tarmac after I’d cleared the security checkpoint. Yes, it was Ron Zacapa Centenario, but unlike Z23, it was a golden straw color. The taste was smooth, delicately complex, sweetly aromatic, more like the breath of angels than a liquid. When I discovered the palm-covered bottles stateside years later, I grabbed one – Z23, as it turned out. I was surprised and disappointed that it was so different from that glorious rum I remembered, but, well – I adjusted. I guess I was privileged to enjoy the last of an era.

Chrism76 September 22, 2012 at 7:29 am

I kept hearing/reading about Zacapa 23 which wasn’t available in Canada other than the duty free store when crossing to the States.

It is now available in some LCBOs which are Ontario’s provincial Liquor stores and I purchased one at a hefty $80.

I wanted to see what the top notch sipper rum was and if that disatisfied me, I would end my search for a sippable rum as is.

Z23 is the best I have tasted and I love it, it’s what I was looking for, but not the price.

Can any of you suggest any other sippable that may come close to Z23 with a lower price tag?

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