Ron Zacapa 23 vs Zaya Gran Reserva

I have tried several times now to determine whether Ron Zacapa 23-year-old is better than the Zaya Gran Reserva. My friend Phil has helped also. No matter what we do, no matter how many times we try, they are equally fantastic.

But, of course, they’re slightly different. The Ron Zacapa is sweeter, smoother, and slightly more complex with different flavors. The Zaya is richer, more on the full-bodied side, better balanced with similar flavors, and has a fantastic spicy finish.

The winner could change from day to day, so it all depends on the mood you’re in. For me, this generally depends on whether I’m in the mood for a sweet rum or not. I almost always prefer a sweet rum, so chances are very good that I’m going to reach for the Ron Zacapa. But there will be some days where I want a more full-bodied rum, and on those days I would tend to reach for the Zaya.

In the end, I would have to give the title to the Ron Zacapa, as I am more often in the mood for a sweet rums with many tastes.

But it’s very, very close.

Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-Year-Old

Ah, the Zacapa 23. Nectar. Sweet Gautemalen nectar. Man, I love this stuff. So I figured that it was finally time for a review.

Actually what recently made me decide to do a full review was a high-end sipping session with Phil. Among other things, we tried the Zaya Gran Reserva which instantly reminded us of the Zacapa 23. Phil cracked his bottle of the Zacapa and we sat down with both, side-by-side, tasting each one and trying to figure out which was better.

We failed to find a winner.

From the best we could determine, the Zacapa is sweeter, with some lighter fruits and honey, and a tiny bit smoother. The Zaya was richer, fuller, with heavy fruits (tastes of raisins or figs and such). But they were both equally superb, just in slightly different ways.

I was astounded that we could not determine which one we liked more. I am still astounded, and have since wondered if we were just in some kind of mood that placed them at the exact same level of quality. Is that really possible? I suppose it is – if I was in the mood for a sweet rum I’d grab the Zacapa. If I wasn’t in the mood for sweet then I’d grab the Zaya.

So I decided that I’d have to give each one a full review, and then square them off again, side-by-side, for another shootout.

So here’s the review for the Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old, a truly superb rum.

Solera Process

As an immediate point of interest is that the Zacapa 23 is not really aged for 23 years. It is produced using a solera process, which is a blend of rums… It can be difficult to explain the age of a rum from a solera process, so I’ll have to describe the process.

Take a barrel and fill it with rum. Wait a few years, and fill another barrel with fresh rum. Wait a few more years, and fill yet another barrel with fresh rum.  And so on, and on, until you have a stack of rum aged for different years.

Now go to that first barrel – the oldest stuff – and draw off some rum. Fill that barrel to the brim from the next barrel, using rum that’s slightly younger. Fill that barrel from the next one in line, again filling the barrel with rum that is slightly younger. Keep doing this process until you remove some rum from the barrel containing the youngest rum. And finally, fill that barrel with fresh rum.

Within time, that barrel containing the oldest rum is a mix of rums across time. That oldest barrel will still contain traces of the original rum that was first poured into it.

The solera process was originally used for making Sherry in Spain, and some sherry-makers have barrels that contains traces of sherry that is hundreds of years old. I don’t know when Zacapa began it’s solera, but the Ron Zacapa Centenario has an average of 23 years of aging.

Initial Tastes

The rum smells sweet with touches of honey, hints of vanilla, a touch of spice and a slight fruitiness. What a wonderfully complex and well-balanced bunch of aromas. The first sip is sweet, touches of chocolate, somewhat rich and full. The swallow is wonderful, with a medium finish with a barely-detectable burn – the smoothest rum I’ve ever tasted. Some spiciness some through at the finish, but well-balanced and not overpowering. Simply superb.

More Tasting

The worst thing about the Zacapa 23 is the end. Not the finish – it’s great – but the end of the glass when the bottom is clearly visible. The only thing to do is to pour another, and try to make it last.

It’s not easy. This rum is so very drinkable and so very smooth.

But there’s not much more to say – everything comes out quickly in the first few sips and stays superb all night long.

Water & Ice

Though I’ve had this on ice, it’s really not necessary. Sometimes in the summer it’s nice, since a cold drink is more refreshing. Water doesn’t do much to this rum except weaken it, and again it’s not necessary. So if I wanted it cold I’d put it in the fridge for a bit, or store it there and let it warm up a bit before drinking. You’d be missing things if it’s too cold, and it’s certainly not necessary.

This rum really deserves to be neat, but having it slightly cooler than room temperature is nice, too.

I once told a friend that this rum should never be mixed with anything, except maybe a piece of ice. I now take that back – this rum should only be mixed with friends.

Summary

Ron Zacapa Centenario is absolutely the best rum I’ve ever had.

Except perhaps for Zaya Gran Reserva. But I’ll have to decide that another night.

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