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Ron Zacapa Centenario XO 15

Review:  Ron Zacapa Centenario XO 15   (91.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted February 3, 2013

Ron Zacapa rums are made from sugar cane harvested in southern Guatemala, which is pressed into virgin sugar cane honey. The fermentation process (which takes approximately 5 days) uses a yeast strain (saccharomyces cerevisae) isolated from pineapples to transform sugars within the cane honey into alcohol. After fermentation, 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 sea level. The stable ambient temperature ensures that the aging barrels are subject to less differential air pressure between the outside and the inside of the barrel. This apparently lessens the effects of the oak allowing the flavour to develop at a more leisurely pace.

Zacapa rums are matured using a complicated process they call ‘Sistema Solero’. The subject of my review, Ron Zacapa Centenario 15, is produced from rums which range in age from 5 years to 15 years. The barrels used for aging are a mixture of American Whisky casks, and Sherry and Pedro Ximenez wine barrels. The combination of high altitude aging and the variety of reused oak barrels creates a complex rum with a rich aroma and flavour. This rum is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume, and available through the duty-free trade (at major airports).

Ron Zacapa is owned by Rum Creation and Products Inc. (RCP), who have signed a global distribution and joint marketing agreement with Diageo.

SAM_0295 Zacapa 15In the Bottle: 4/5

The bottle presentation for the Ron Zacapa Centenario XO 15 is shown to the right. This is a 1000 ml bottle which I obtained at one of those Duty-Free stores at the Trinidad Airport.

The look is the same as that for the previously reviewed Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero), and I have the same concerns over what I perceive to be a label which is perhaps a bit misleading as far as the age of the rum is concerned. The label seems to imply to many who see it, that the rum within the bottle has been aged for 15 years (or at least an average of 15 years) which is certainly not the case. To be clear, this spirit contains a blend of rums aged between 5 and 15 years. If this spirit were a Canadian Whisky, an American Bourbon, or a Scottish Whisky, and it were to carry an age statement, it would be considered a 5-year-old spirit.

Leaving that mild rant aside the bottle is rather nice. 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 other real complaints.

In The Glass  (9/10)

The Ron Zacapa Centenario 15 has a rich dark copper 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 aroma which rises from the glass is full of rich brown sugar, dark tobacco, molasses, baking spices and wiffs of chocolate. As I let the glass sit, I seem to be able to distinguish spicy hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and vanilla as well as the Christmas-like scents of dark fruitcake and fresh broken nut shells. I quite enjoy nosing the glass which seems to carry less sweetness than I noticed in my previous review for Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero) and Ron Zacapa XO (25 Year Solero) Rum.

The empty glass (after I finished my sampling session) is full the lingering smells of deep dark brown sugar, wonderful baking spices, dark bittersweet chocolate and broken walnuts. I am enjoying the aroma from the empty glass as much as I did the previously filled glass.

In The Mouth  (55/60)

The first taste of the rum reveals the same characteristics which were apparent in the breezes above the glass. I taste rich toffee and spicy tobacco, bittersweet cocoa and yummy fruitcake, dark caramel, and nice baking spices all mixed together with the flavour of walnuts. As the glass decants, I begin to notice a firm yet pleasant oak presence within the rum. The oak flavour does not dominate, rather it seems to act as a complement to the overall flavour.

I should point out that this rum (as I suspected from nosing it) is indeed less sweet than the other Zacapa Rums I have reviewed. This is probably due to spending less overall time maturing in those Sherry and Pedro Ximenez wine barrels. Depending upon how sweet you prefer your rum to be, this toned down version of Zacapa Rum may be preferred by a good many persons.

In The Throat  (14/15)

The exit for the rum is quite long and satisfying. The finish includes flavours of dark caramel (treacle), lightly pungent tobacco, spicy toffee, dry fruit in the form of raisins and currants, and ebbing flavours of cocoa and walnuts.

The Afterburn  (9.5/10)

I very much enjoyed sampling the Ron Zacapa Centenario XO 15. Although not as smooth and supple as the Ron Zacapa XO (25 Year Solero), and not quite as robust and flavourful as the Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero), this is still a spirit of top-notch quality. In fact, I believe that this slightly brasher, less sweet version of Zacapa will be preferred by many.

My overall score of 91.5, reflects my opinion that this rum reaches well into the realm of quality sipping enjoyment. 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)


2 Responses to “Ron Zacapa Centenario XO 15”

  1. Greg said

    I’m just wondering, if you were to do an updated Top 30 rums list, where do you predict this rum would end up?

    I recently tried the 15 for the first time and and it’s definitely up there with the 23 as being one of my favorite rums.

    • When I update my top 30 Rums list, I will probably have a few other rum fiends on the Jury. (On that front, I am not even sure when the list will be updated, I suspect I will want to wait a few years before i tackle that much tasting again.) Because I am only one voice on the jury, its hard to say if the spirit will make the list or not. My score of 92.5 though, places it near the top 10 on my personal list.


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