Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solera)
Review: Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solera) Rum (90.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted December 18, 2012 (Revised December 2015)
This year (2015) I took the opportunity to revisit Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solera) Rum as part of my The Rum Howler 2015 – Top 25 Rums review series which I shall be conducting through the month of December.
My understanding based upon conversations with Zacapa Master Blender, Lorena Vásquez is that the flavour of the Ron Zacapa Rum varies slightly from year to year. Therefore, we may expect some differences in the rum from year to year.
Ron Zacapa rums are made from sugar cane harvested in southern Guatemala, which is pressed into virgin sugar cane honey. The fermentation process uses a yeast strain (saccharomyces cerevisae) isolated from pineapples to transform sugars within the ‘honey’ into alcohol. This fermentation process takes approximately 5 days after which the fermented ‘wine’ is distilled in a single continuous column. (A distillation by-product called vinasse which contains the fermented must, yeast and other non-fermentable products which are rich in sugars and minerals is recycled and used to nourish and irrigate the Guatemalan sugar cane fields.)
After distillation, the Zacapa rum is transported to the ‘House above the Clouds’ in the Guatemalan mountains for maturation. Special cellars age the rum at an altitude of more than 7000 feet above sea level where the ambient temperature is much more stable and the oxygen levels are lower than at lower elevations. The more stable ambient temperature ensures that the aging barrels are subject to less differential air pressure between the outside and the inside of the barrel.
As well, according to my correspondence with Zacapa Master Blender, Lorena Vásquez:
“Zacapa is aged at high altitude where the temperature is lower. The lower temperature also directly influences the oxygen levels which are lower as well, and this lower oxygen level aids in a slower aging process. The slower aging, allows for more time for the aromas and flavors to combine.”
Zacapa rums are aged using a process they call ‘Sistema Solera’ which is based on the system used to age Spanish sherry. The subject of my review, Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solera) is blended from solera aged stocks which range in age from 6 years to 23 years. The aging barrels used are a mixture of American Whisky casks, and Sherry and Pedro Ximenez wine barrels. The combination of solera aging and the variety of reused barrels creates a highly complex rum with a rich aroma and flavour.
Ron Zacapa is owned by Rum Creation and Products Inc. (RCP), who have signed a global distribution and joint marketing agreement with Diageo.
In the Bottle: 4.5/5
The Ron Zacapa bottle has changed a little over last several years. One change which I appreciate is that the words “sistema solera” have replaced the word “Anos” upon the label. The previous wording on the bottle carried the implication that the contents had been aged for a full 23 years which is certainly not the case.
The new label makes it clear that the rum is a product of Zacapa’s ‘Sistema Solera’ aging process which (if you are versed in solera style aging techniques) implies that the oldest rum in the blend is 23 years not the entire contents. Having said that, I would prefer even more clarity as the present label may still mislead many consumers who have no firm idea of what ‘Sistema Solera’ means or that the number 23 represents the oldest rum in the blend.
To make things clear, this spirit is a blend of rums aged between 6 and 23 years with the majority of the rum being much closer to 6 years of age than 23. If this were a Canadian or Scottish Whisky, and it were to carry an age statement, it would be considered a 6-year-old spirit.
Leaving that aside we have a rather nice presentation. The woven band of palm leaf which separates the top and bottom label is a nice touch, and it helps me to grip the bottle if it is cold and has condensation on the outside. The corked top is great, and I have no complaints (other than that mild rant about age statements).
In the Glass 9/10
When I pour a small sample of the Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solera) Rum into my glass I notice the spirit has a rich dark brown caramel colour, and when I tilt my glass and give it a bit of a twirl, the rum shows moderately thick legs which move slowly down the inside of the glass.
The initial aroma which rises from the glass is full of brown sugar, molasses and baking spices. Some lightly sharp notes of orange and banana peel work their way upwards with a mixture of crushed walnuts, and dried fruit (raisins, dates and a touch of prunes). The rum grows in the glass with the baking spices (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and deep dark rich brown sugar) gaining strength and vigor in the breezes above the glass. Impressions of cocoa gather, along with a building impression of cola, chocolate and vanilla. Although I sense a firm oak presence, it is not an omnipresent sensation, the aroma of oak and spice is very well melded into the overall rum.
Although my sensory impressions are very similar to my previous reviews, I do notice the rum seems lighter, a touch sharper and just a bit sweeter than it did in the past.
In the Glass 54.5/60
The flavour leads out with dark caramel (treacle) and toffee accented by honey, wood spices and just a touch of sharp orange and banana peel. I taste dry fruit, cocoa, walnuts and baking spices, the combination of which gives me an impression of Christmas fruitcake. As I sip, I notice tobacco and an impression of orange Curacao. Some marzipan is present as is a cherry licorice impression similar to a Turkish Delight candy bar.
I have noted in the past, that this rum can at times seem to carry just a little more honey sweetness and vanilla. This was certainly my observation this year and the sweetness is combined with just a hint of astringency making this rum perhaps not as rich and inviting as it was in the past. This is the second year in a row that I have downgraded the score just a touch, hopefully it is a passing trend and not indicative of a lower standard than in the past.
In the Throat 13.5/15
Dry fruit (raisins and dates in particular), pecans and walnuts, and cocoa are all highlighted in the exit which reveals just a touch of bitterness in the exit (which perhaps is the perfect foil for the honey-like sweetness which characterized the entry). The palate is left with lingering impressions of molasses and baking spices.
The Afterburn 9/10
For the second year in a row, I wonder to myself if the marketing agreement with Diageo which has opened this rum to new markets may have also caused the producers to stretch the blend with a higher percentage of younger rums in order to meet the increased demand these new markets have generated. This is of course merely speculation; but this speculation is consistent with my perception during this review re-visitation which has for the second year in a row caused me to downgrade the score.
Having said that, My final score of 90.5/100 reflects that I still have a very high opinion of the Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solera) Rum.
If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Rum Reviews.
My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret the score as follows:
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)