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Zafra Master Reserve

Rum Review:  Zafra Master Reserve    90/100
A Review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Published July 23, 2010

At Rum Renaissance, I had a wonderful time.  One of the highlights of the trip was meeting the people who are responsible for producing the  Zafra Master Reserve.  I think you can all recognize myself in the picture to the right, but I would also like to introduce the others.  Next to me on the right is Carlos E. Esquivel G. the Executive Director of PILSA (A Rum distillery and production company, specializing in Aged Rums, and Rum related products in Panama ans South America). Just to the right of me is Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez Perez,  the Master Distiller and Company Director who is directly responsible for the blending and the construction of  Zafra Master Reserve.  Beside Pancho is his son, Lorenzo, who is growing and learning at the side of his father, Pancho.

The reason I am happy to introduce these people really has nothing to do with their rum, but everything to do with the feeling of ‘family’ that they brought to Rum Renaissance.  In a town like Miami, where the lines between reality and pure fantasy are blurred (and where I met a lot of ‘plastic’ people; it was totally unexpected to find such genuinely nice people, who treated me like part of their family. If the approach they take towards their rum is half as good as the approach they take towards people, then the Zafra Master Reserve will be a delight to sample and review.

I want to say a word or two about the Master Blender, and Director, Mr. Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez,  who  began his career in Cuba working with  father who was a liquor and wine merchant. After graduating in Biochemistry with a degree in Microbiology, he started in the Cuban Beverage Industry, having as his mentor, the Master of Masters, Don Ramon Fernandez Corrales, who taught him the ways of Carta Blanca, which is the foundation and starting point in the development of aged rums.

In the mid and late 1970s acting as Director of the Cuban Beverage Industry, he assisted in the training and implementation of Master Blenders in the distilleries of several countries worldwide such as the former Soviet Union, Poland, The United Kingdom, Canada, South America and places as faraway as Madagascar.  Pancho learned the ways of Vodka making in Poland, Whisky making in Scotland and Wine making in Europe, this has added to his experience and personal touch in his own blending and production of quality rum.

In the early 1990s he worked in Panama as the Master blender for Varela Hermanos (the makers of Abuelo Rum).  Finally after a successful 40 year carrier, and at an age where many plan to retire, he finally considers himself to be  in his prime.  His latest creation is the Zafra Master Reserve 21 Year Old Rum, which is being brought to the market by Dana Imports.

In the Bottle 4 /5

As you can see, the rum is presented in a tall slender bottle with little in the way of frills. A solid high density cork completes the presentation which is minimalistic but rather nice.

In The Glass 9/10

When I poured the Zafra Master Reserve into my glass, I was immediately aware of the bourbon barrels used to age the rum. Initially, the corn and bourbon notes were dominant in the glass as I nosed it.  As the glass decanted, warm rich notes of oak spices began to build as well as a distinct fruitiness which reminded me of dark cherries, blackberries, and plump purple grapes.  As the rum continues to decant the aroma builds to a finale of deep brown sugar and toffee spices.

When I tipped the glass at an angle and then upright again to observe the legs, I saw an army of droopy leglets starting to form, but only a few coalesced into droplets and began to run down the side of the glass back into red tinged amber brown rum. This shows a persistent oil consistent with well aged rum.

In the glass, the rum is rich , complex, and very inviting as one would expect from an aged rum.

In The Mouth 54/60

The rum enters the palate with a soft bourbon flavour which is very approachable. However this soft approach is followed quickly by a wave of oak spices and tannin. Riding the crest of these waves are flashes of cherries,  blackberries and grapes which are vaguely reminiscent a port influence upon the spirit.  Within these currents is that ribbon of sweet corn and vanilla bourbon which I noticed on initial entry.

The more typical rum flavours of toffee and molasses provide the structure or platform upon which all of the previously mentioned characteristics and flavours reside. This structure sits just under the waves and currents of the other flavours, acting as an anchor maintaining the integrity of the rum spirit.

If there is a fault, it is in the character of this rum to change with my moods and with my previous palate condition. However the variance in flavour is never disappointing. I may taste different things on different days, but I am always pleased with the overall effect the Zafra has in my mouth. I believe the length of time spent in bourbon barrels allows the rum to pick up previous flavours on my palate and incorporate them into its flavour profile. This is rich, elegant, and full of character!

In the Throat 13.5/15

Whereas the entry into my mouth had the soft overtones of bourbon, the exit is all about complex oak flavours and spices battling down my throat.  The sweeter fruitier elements seem to be entwined into the oak tannins.   I cannot help but have one more sip as I write this down.

The Afterburn 9/10

Have you ever wanted a perfect rum for a special occasion.  Not a rum you savor for yourself, but one which you bring out when you want to share a special moment with a gathering of friends or family. That is what Zafra Master Reserve has brought to the table. This is a special rum with many nuances of flavour, and the kind of rich complexity which brings that special flair you are looking for when you share a special rum with friends and family.

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Rum Reviews.


Suggested Recipe:

The Panama Harvest Cocktail

2 oz Zafra Master Reserve
1/8 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Frozen Blackberry

Chill a small cocktail glass until it is very cold.
Aromatise the glass with Maraschino Liqueur.
(This can be done by pouring a little in the glass, swooshing it round and expelling any excess. The object is to coat the inside of the glass with a film of the Maraschino liqueur.)
Pour the Zafra, Dry vermouth, and Angostura Bitters into a metal shaker with cracked Ice.
Shake until the shaker chills.
Strain into the chilled rocks glass.
Garnish with a Frozen Blackberry.


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)

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