While many rums embrace the pervasive idea that rum is a mixer to be poured with cola or blended with coconut water and never taken alone, others are fighting against the collegiate stereotype and attempting to establish the category as one equal in sophistication to whiskey or brandy. Zaya is one of the latter.
Zaya Gran Reserva is a rum constructed of other rums. It is a private label rum, meaning that the rum is purchased from various sources and then blended to create the final spirit that rests in a very nicely-crafted bottle.
In Zaya’s case, the rums are sourced and blended in Trinidad and Tobago in the Southern Caribbean. The rums in question have been aged a minimum of 12 years in used bourbon barrels before being blended together by the Master Blender. Once the blend is complete, the rum is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv) and shipped to liquor stores and bars near you.
In the bottle, as well as in the glass, Zaya has a deep, rich mahogany color with just a tinge of honey gold on the edges when it rests in the glass. The rum has almost a velvety appearance all on its own.
A sniff of the rum reveals vanilla and caramel immediately and in a dominant fashion. There is a strong, sweet smell as the two scents give way to notes of cocoa and banana. After a little more searching you’ll find a hint of orange peel at the very back of the nose, but vanilla and caramel continue to dominate throughout the nose.
The character of the nose is rich and sweet.
Rich and luxuriant vanilla and caramel great your palate on the entry, just as they did on the nose. Notes of cocoa persist throughout the experience while underneath the heavy and sweet flavors you’ll find hints of apples and bananas before the finish arrives with a strong showing of cherry accompanied with the ever present vanilla.
The body of the rum is heavy and oily, giving an almost velvety feeling on the tongue. In the throat it leaves almost no burn whatsoever. This is a rum that announces its presence to all of your senses. The richness of flavor make this a good candidate to sip while enjoying a cigar.
Some people may find the richness and sweetness of Zaya to be a bit overwhelming for a sipper. When it comes to personal taste, that’s just how these things go. Personally I prefer Zaya as the centerpiece in a cocktail or if I do sip it, I do so in conjunction with a cigar or appropriate food pairing (something savory and salty). My partner/editor especially enjoys the heavy sweetness of Zaya along with its almost complete lack of any heat in the finish.
Zaya is marketed as a sipping rum and if your taste runs more towards the sweet and rich side of the spectrum you’ll find yourself in complete agreement. Whichever direction your palate swings, though, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a reason to keep Zaya out of your mixing glass or shaker.
Those same strong qualities of flavor and texture that make Zaya an excellent mate to a cigar make it a great centerpiece in a cocktail. Zaya will not lay down in a drink, but plays well with other strong flavors. One of my favorite ways to use Zaya is with ginger beer in a Dark’n’Stormy Jamaican Mule or Añejo Daiquiri. It also makes a pretty fantastic Sweet Palmetto.
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time at 320 Main in Seal Beach, California (for various reasons) where owner/head bartender Jason Schiffer has a drink that actually combines Zaya with the incredibly flavorful amaro, Fernet Branca.
The Devil’s Own
by Jason Schiffer @ 320 Main
1.5 oz Zaya
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.25 oz Gran Gala
1 tsp Vanilla Syrup
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe that has been rinsed with absinthe. Add a twist of lemon and discard the peel (no garnish).
The Long & The Short Of It
Zaya is a rum designed around the idea of a luxuriant sipper. That it works so well in a cocktail is a very pleasant bonus. Its intense vanilla and caramel flavors can be either very welcome or entirely off-putting depending on your palate, and a poll of rum or any other spirits connoisseurs will likely find the group fairly evenly split on where Zaya ranks compared to other premium rums. In the end, Zaya is a rum I have a hard time picturing being absent from my bar.
Dood’s Rating: 3 Bottles of Rum Out of 5
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Fantastic stuff… the first cigar I ever had was actually accompanied by a glass. And it’s one of the (very) few good rums I can get here in the sticks.
Its almost complete lack of heat scares me a little, though; it’s a little dangerous. 🙂 (similar to the Zacapa 23, which I finally got a bottle of when I went to the city this weekend)
Nice review and beautiful pics.
I’ve been meaning to try 320 Main for a while now. Does the cocktail menu in person offer house specialties in addition to the classics listed on their website? I seem to recall browsing their site a few months ago and seeing quite a few originals amongst classics.
Eric: They do, indeed, serve specialty cocktails as well as the classics. Jason has a number of great original cocktails on his full menu, as well as a terrific collection of classics available.
Capn Jimbo's Rum Project
At The Rum Project (link above), Zaya is one of the great flavored rums we’ve reviewed and one of my favorites among the 120 or so rums we own.
Dood, a great rum – but only if you understand that the term “rum” is not really well understood. In truth, “rum” refers to spirits distilled from sugar cane juice and/or molasses gained from the making of cane sugar.
Add flavorings, spiced and adulterants and you have a “flavored/spiced rum”. Truth in advertising/marketing demands that distillers honestly label a rum as “flavored” if, in fact it is.
Zaya – among many other “rums” – is indeed flavored or altered and clearly so. But Zaya – and these many others – do NOT label their rums as flavored. And silly us, we refer to Zaya as “a great rum”, when it really is “a great flavored rum”.
The unadmitted use of flavors (mostly artificial), sugar, caramel and adulterants is so widespread that many consumers have no idea what a real – unmodified – pure rum tastes like. We have been reduced to comparing the flavoring of rum rather than the underlying rum itself.
One exception: Richard Seale. His rums are all magnificent, and pure – like a good single malt whiskey. Example: Seales Ten Year or Doorly’s XO.
Don’t get me wrong – I simply love Zaya and in our review (link below) stated that “Zaya is in a class of its own”. But make no mistake – it is flavored, but beautifully so.
Link to Zaya review:
How does the current Zaya compare to the previous version, which was produced in Guatemala?
I am currently barrel aging a liter of Devil’s Own cocktails. The barrel was previously a rum barrel so ill let you know how well it turns out. What do you think? a month good enough?
Hohenheim: The new Zaya (Trinidad) is very different from the old Zaya (Guatemala). Even the company representatives themselves will tell you that the flavor is very different. Different production methods, different stocks of rum from different sources, there was pretty much no way it was going to escape unchanged.
I think the Guatemala Zaya was smokier and drier than the Trinidad Zaya is. The Trinidad definitely has a much more dominant vanilla note, as well as a more pronounced caramel flavor.
I’m often asked which is better, but that really comes down to your personal tastes. I preferred the old recipe as a sipper but prefer the new one as a mixer.
Colin: I would think that you should check it after a month and see what you think! That sounds super-exciting.
Im pretty excited too, i made one after reading the recipe here, and had just emptied my little barrel. so we’ll see!
Zaya is definitely one of my favorites. The great thing as you speak of mixing is that no matter what you mix it with the flavor shines through so intensely that the whole purpose ofthe “mixer” is voided. So I have found that the classic “el ritual” is the best way to consume this lovely tipple. Enjoy
Well I ran into this by chance in a tiny liquor store on Kauai of all places. After tasting I had to do some research, including finding out if I can get this in W. Canada (I can). Great rum.
would anyone know if I can purchase Zaya Gran Reserve in Hilton Head, S.C. or in Buffalo?
I was linking to this website as a lover of the Zaya (and other rums), and my step-brother just called to say that he was given a remaining bottle of the Guatemalan!
I can hardly wait to slurp. I think that a side-by-side is in order!
BTW Colin, you must have paid a pretty penny in Kauai, because I made the financial sacrifice on Maui for my favorite taste, too!
My “co-pirate” PowderKeg James is holding on to an old bottle of the Guatemalan Zaya. I wonder what it’s worth… Zaya was once our favorite coke mixer as well as neat. The Trinidad Zaya is good, but a bit too sweet with an overpowering vanilla flavor for me. Vizcaya VXOP seems to be a close match to the Guatemalan Zaya.
What a fantastic rum. One of my favorites to pair with a cigar. I also adore Ron Zacapa and Zafra. Have you ever thought about doing a cigar review on this site?
I’ve considered doing a cigar/rum pairing experiment on the site. I know that Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen in Laguna Beach has done some really well-received rum & cigar pairing events. Perhaps a joint effort is called for. 😉
where can you buy it in Belgium?
henk, daddy of zaya
Thanks for taking the time to review, I enjoy all your reviews. I don’t understand how you give it 3 bottles with so much positive feedback in your review. I enjoy it, although am dissapointed it is a flavored rum. Much cleaner and purer tasting than the Captain or SJ. Look forward to more reviews from you.
Best sipping rum there is !
Zaya is an unforgettable taste. Once I tried it, I had to get a bottle. My liquer store never heard of it. Unreal! This is by far my favorite!
Why only 3 bottles?