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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24 Responses to “Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-Year-Old”

  1. Carlos Says:

    Hi, great thoughts on zacapa. I’ve wondered since this rum has become so popular how have they ramped up production with the “solera” process. It was only a several years ago this rum could be had for $23-25 duty free all around Central America. Maybe some bottles were aged much longer than now when sales were lower. This rum and I go back almost 25 years to the old Peace Corps days. It was liquid gold then as now to be coveted for special times.

  2. MinPin Says:

    I agree, Ron Zacapa 23yo is the finest rum readily available.

    Earlier this year, though, I had the splendid chance to drink the 25-year-old Ron Zacapa. Apparently this was a very limited run and is no longer available. The hotel I was staying at in the Caribbean was selling it for $300/bottle, but a wonderful person bought a bottle and sat down to drink it with us–he introduced us to Zacapa by saying, “I’m Cuban and proud of Cuban rum, but this is the finest rum in the world!”

    That bottle went down so smoothly, we then had to switch to the 23 yo Zacapa. Still splendid.

    When I got back home, I could only find the 23yo Zacapa and have since purchased 6 or 7 bottles. They’re dangerous. The rum tastes so good straight up and there isn’t much of anything for a hangover…and the buzz reaches a nice mid-point and hovers there for as long as you’re sipping the nectar.

    Look around online and you can find the 23yo for about $34/bottle (which is more than $10 cheaper than the local store that sometimes carries it).

  3. Steve Says:

    Interesting that I happened upon this review. I keep both of these bottles regularly stocked in my bar at home (when I can get the Zacapa) and they are both fantastic!

  4. Alejandra Says:

    I’ve just bought a botlle of 23yo straight from the cask for my boss, who’s from vasco country (Spain) and is leaving México for good in 3 weeks. I’m not a rum person or even know about it, but reading this makes me be sure that I got him the perfect good bye gift.
    I got the bottle here in México for about 120usd, taxes include. Hopefully, money well spent.
    Salud!

  5. Helen Says:

    I am hooked since my first bottle. I am originally from Guatemala and was unaware of this awesome, gret tasting Zacapa 23yo rum. My mision now is to find 1(if any available)of the 25yo tha MinPin says he had, hmmmm.

  6. Frank Says:

    Scott, I just got a bottle of this for my birthday. Wow is it smooth. Very good I agree.

  7. Pete Says:

    I would take issue with the description of Zacapa 23 in the original review – it is not an ‘average of 23 years’ it is a maximum of 23 years, meaning some of the rum in there could be very young. That is the one inherent issue with Solera, you just don’t know – maybe you don’t need to know, but the other inherent issue is that people then describe (as above and retailers) as 23 yo when it is not and that is misleading. To my mind the rum is too full of added sweeteners, maybe a prune juice or sherry added as many Latin countries do – the viscosity of the liquid indicates a post distillated added sweetener such as a high sugar juice. Sorry guys, just don’t like rum played with in this way, I recall from somewhere that rum from this region can contain up to 2.5% of something else – well this something else is very sweet and sticky to me.

  8. Peter Says:

    What happened to my thoughts on Zacapa?

  9. Timo Says:

    I agree, that this is one of the best in the market. But, actually, there is a Back Label (negra) version of it, and wow, this brings this rum from excellent to superb! What makes this version so great, is that they used Port Wine (or Sherry) barrels in the solero process. Unfortunately I have primarily seen it in Germany.

  10. Capn Jimbo's Rum Project Says:

    Long ago Z-23 was king, or maybe Queen of the Hill, and often marketed as “the best rum in the world”. Good marketing, as for the rum: not so much.

    In time Z-23 has become the banished Princess, as it’s marketing “23 anos” became “23” and the added sweetness apparent. But I’m posting to comment on the much misunderstood “solera” process.

    Scotte’s description of the method is quite accurate, and you will note that most of the soleras – like Z-23 or Ron Matusalem – like to quote what was the oldest rum in the mix.

    But average age is quite different.

    Statistical anaylysis of a typical, four-level system reveals that the development of the “average” is the reverse of exponential, or logarithmic. In simple terms the average age increases for a few years, then tapers off.

    Bottom line: it is very hard to much exceed an average age of about 8 years. The most good is achieved in about 4 years and four levels (roughly). Another notion: remember that the oldest rum in the blend (which is actually very little) gains a year, every year.

    Thus a quoted “15 year solera” (like Ron Matusalem), should more accurately be called Matusalem 16 the next year, and “17” the next, etc. By now Zacapa 23 should be called Zacapa 34. But the marketing department wouldn’t have that.

    Trust me, they are all quite aware of the average age, but they aren’t saying. It’s 8 years or less, and that is not nearly as saleable.

  11. kevin Says:

    Zacapa 23 years old used to be when I bought it a few years ago! dont be fooled the new stuff is a blend and not what the old bottles were. Not even close to the same quality. Find the real 23 Year old and you will have a winner. the blend of up to 23 yo and some 6 years is a scam

  12. dominikschachtsiek Says:

    I guess, that there are quite some misconception about the subject here…

    Ron Zacapa was never really 23 years old – I definitely had the feeling, that 10 years ago, before the whole hype it taste different. However it is still damn good – and I am calling it still one of the best rums of the world.
    And if it comes to say a bad word about Zacapa, it will be, that they still hold on their stupid age statement.

    Actually Ron Zacapa systema solera 23 is around 6 years old. There is a XO [which will be 8 years old or what they say 25 solera] – but the aromas are much more muted and one dimensional [though it is even smoother] – I would always go for the 23.
    The uniqueness comes from the use of different barrels [reused but untreated bourbon, charred bourbon, manzanilla sherry and P.X. sherry] and that the rum is transported from the lowlands to the highlands after it is distilled and for bottling back to the lowlands. I guess it is this extra agitation, which makes it so outstanding.

    By the way – the guys at Ron Zacapa dosn’t even have an authentic “solera” – this is very confusing and like said: sad to use it anyway. I think, that you should let the product talk – not the marketing department.

    One more time – the product itself is outstanding – but nowadays, there are definitely some equally good options, which I haven’t seen in the market, when Zacapa started its triumph…

  13. Scottes Says:

    I definitely agree that Zacapa used to taste different. Change is not always better, and rarely for the consumer.

    I’d love to read the article(s) about Zacapa’s solera system and the true average ages. In all my research I found very little information.

  14. Larry Says:

    Well, after being a Zacapa fan for about 3-4 years, I finally took the plunge: I located a bottle of the Zacapa X.O., which I purchased for about $100. Does anyone know what I can expect from this bottle, as I have yet to open it. Is it much better than the “regular” Zacapa? If you know about this, please email me, at captweill@aol.com. Thanks!

    • john Says:

      Not sure what is the status of your XO. I am just sipping on mine right now. Not extremely much of a difference to the 23 Zacapa. You have to have a very fine palate to taste the difference. Maybe more robust. A great stuff though. I am commemorating the birthday of my dad, who died 4 years ago. Good reason to pop an over 100 bucks bottle and a good choise too. He would have enjoied this thing. Cheers.

  15. Peter Says:

    Thank you for the info

  16. Dan Says:

    I just got into this Rum a few years ago while visiting my brother in law in Panama in 2010. I am never without a bottle of it at home and it’s a great go to gift for anyone who knows me. I’m a little discouraged to hear its not really 23 years old. So is there another comparable aged rum in and around the same price range? Having grown up in a family of scotch drinkers, I never aquired a taste for scotch myself, always to bitter. I do enjoy the smoothness of Zacapa. I’m also surprised no bar/restaurants I order it in ever have it or know what I’m talking about. I’m also a little discouraged to hear they may be adding sugar syrup to the formula. Anyone have any info on this, or was it just speculation? Great forum, thanx!

    • `Larry Says:

      I just found a bottle of the Zaya 12-year variety. I’ve never tried Zaya, so I’m interested to see how it tastes.

      BTW, I also just found a very interesting-looking bottle of a rum called Thomas Tew, which is from (believe it or not) Newport, RI. I haven’t opened it yet…anyone know anything about this rum?

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Hey Larry, I just went down for another visit to my Brother-in-Laws in Panama and we drank Zacapa all week. I also Had a chance to try the Fluero de Cano 12yr and then the 7yr. The 12 was pretty good, but not like Zacapa. He told me of Zaya, but said it wasnt available in Panama. So the first week I got back home(Colorado) I bought a bottle of the 12yr Zaya. About $10 less than Zacapa. It was very good. Maybe not as smooth as Zacapa, but a bit more flavorful, especially if you like vanilla. While I was at that Liquor Super Store, I also noticed a bottle of either 18 or 20yr Fleur de Cano. It was over $50, but I’ll have to try that soon too.

    Let us know how the Thomas Tew was.

  18. Dr. K. Says:

    Hi Scottes, I must say that this is a very interesting and thorough blog, and I agree with many of your reviews. If you enjoy Zacapa 23 year, I highly recommend Zacapa XO. Thanks for the post.

    • `Larry Says:

      Hi again everyone. What a debate! I love the regular Ron Zacapa, but I am continuously bringing bottles of the XO home from Grand Turk, or else ordering them from local dealers. The regular is great, but the XO just seems to disappear on its own. I made the mistake of bringing in a bottle of the XO into the office for last year’s Christmas party. I figured that everyone would take a taste and that would be it. Nope…they drained the entire bottle. Oh well!

      I’m not a huge fan of the Fluero de Cano, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Zaya! It’s got such an amazing taste of the oak layered underneath the heavy vanilla tones. That’s another bottle that just seems to disappear once opened.

      So yesterday I was in one of my favorite liquor stores, and the owner (who is pretty knowledgeable about rums), handed me a bottle of something called Stolen Rum’s Coffee & Cigarettes Spiced Rum. It’s 84 proof, and spiced with some unusual essences that (from what I’ve been told) run the gamut from “delightful” to “toxic,” so I can’t wait to try it.

      BTW, no, I still haven’t opened the bottle of Thomas Tew, but I will review it on here once I do. (Heck – I turn 60 in a few months, so I don’t sip as often as I used to!)

      Cheers, y’all,
      Larry

  19. `Larry Says:

    Oh, and as a quick addition to that last post, I have added another classic bottle to my collection. This past summer I toured the Bacardi factory in Puerto Rico. I brought back a bottle of the Bacardi 150 year Special Reserve, which set me back about $90 at the factory store. (It’s not the same as their “regular Gran Reserve,” which can be purchased in many US stores. The bottle is engraved with my name, and came with a registered certificate. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to bring myself to open the bottle for a taste! (Waiting for a special occasion.)


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