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.

Zaya Gran Reserva

A couple years ago I purchased a bottle of Zaya Gran Reserva and found it to be very good, though I had always thought it was over-priced (I pay about $40 in Massachusetts). It was stuck in my head recently, and when I found it at a liquor store I grabbed a bottle. Not too much after that, my friend Phil and I sampled it amongst some other top-notch rums. We were both amazed at how good it was, and how much it reminded us of Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old. Phil grabbed his chilled bottle of the Zacapa and the two rums went head-to-head. We sampled each numerous times, and could not determine which one we liked better. Last Saturday Phil and I did it again, sampling both rums numerous times. Again we could not pick a winner.

This is a rum that is as good as Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old, which I recently called “absolutely the best rum I’ve ever had.”

I recently reviewed the Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old so now I’ll do a full review on the Zaya.

Some Information
Zaya is a 12-year-old rum distilled by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala, the same company that distills Ron Zacapa and Ron Botran. It is double-distilled in copper pot stills, and aged in oak barriques, a 225-liter barrel.

Initial Tastes
The initial smell is heavy, full-bodied and rich. It smells sweet, which is good in my opinion. Some wood comes through, but not overly so since it’s balanced nicely with toffee or caramel smells, and a touch of honey. The smells alone indicate that this is going to be a complex rum with great balance.

The first taste is smooth and fills the mouth with flavors, rich dark-golden flavors. The finish is long, with a touch of a burn and some very pleasant and moderate spiciness. A larger sip comes on like a barrel of sweetness and flavors – wood and dark toffee and a burst of honey and a very long finish that speaks of nutmeg and other spiciness. This is a fantastic rum, there’s no doubt about that.

A Bit Of A Wait, A Bit Of Water
I poured another measure and let this sit for a bit. The initials tastes lead me to believe that Zaya may have more to show than a fresh pour, so I figured that I’d let it sit to see what that brings out. The wait is worthwhile, though it changes only slightly. The sip is a touch smoother, less sweet perhaps, with a touch of vanilla coming out. The finish has changed a bit, a little shorter and the spiciness is lessened (though still quite prominent). I wouldn’t go out of my way to let this sit, as the changes are quite slight.

A touch of water – just a touch – smooths it noticeably and sweetens it a bit. While the flavor is more pleasant, the grand finish is shorter and the spiciness has dropped considerably. In ways the water has dropped the tastes a bit and made it less complex, though it’s certainly more drinkable. If you’re not used to drinking rum neat, a few drops of water may help you out, but it’s not really necessary. (Please note “a few drops” as much more will flatten this considerably.)

The spicy finish may turn off some folks, so an ice cube may be in order. If you chose the ice route I would strongly suggest that you drink it immediately before the water flattens the tastes.

Summary
The Zaya Gran Reserva is a fantastic rum, rich with full-bodied flavors and pleasantly complex. It’s a bit on the sweet side, which I prefer, though nowhere near as sweet as Pyrat XO or Pyrat Pistol. Highly recommended.