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Zaya Gran Reserva Rum

Review: Zaya Gran Reserva Rum 87/100
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published on December 5, 2012

Zaya Gran Reserva Rum is a brand currently owned by Infinium Spirits. This rum brand was originally distilled and aged in Guatemala, but in 2008, Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala entered into a distribution arrangement with the Diageo spirits conglomerate which elevated some local brands such as Zacapa Rum, but which left other Guatemalan brands like Zaya without a similar arrangement. Because the Zaya brand was gaining a lot of momentum as a luxury sipping rum, the manufacture of Zaya was moved to Trinidad and Tobago where it is now produced by Trinidad Distillers Ltd.

Zaya Gran Reserva is apparently constructed from a secret recipe of several well aged rums to meet a specific taste profile which is very similar to the original Guatemalan rum. All of the rums in the Zaya blend are aged for a minimum of 12 years in small oak casks.


Bottle circa 2012

In the Bottle 4.5/5

I have owned my 2 bottles of Zaya Rum for a couple of years now, and when I finally opened one of them for this review it was with some angst on my part. This is because each bottle had accumulated a small layer of a white globby substance which had settled to the bottom of the bottle. (This substance has roughly the same look as my sugar does just before it dissolves when I make sugar syrup.) Although (as you can see from the picture to the right) the bottle presentation for Zaya is superb, that accumulating white substance has distressed me enough that I deducted a half point from bottle presentation.

(I tried to investigate the source of the white precipitate and was told that it is probably lipids (from the oak barrel) which have precipitated out of the rum. I filtered some of it out and discovered that the substance is very sweet, and has a bit of an oily or greasy texture. Whatever is at the bottom of the bottle, it disappears when the bottle is shaken and does not reappear again for several months.)

Note: The bottle and label of the Zaya Gran Reserva Rum has changed slightly since this initial review, the new bottle is shown below and to the right.

In the Glass 8.5/10

When I pour my Zaya into my glencairn glass, the Rum displays a dark bronze color with some rich coppery highlights. The initial aroma from the glass is very complex with rich vanilla, oak spice and pipe tobacco leading out into the air above the glass. Sweet caramel winds through the breezes, and I seem to catch accents of dry fruit, marmalade, marzipan and banana peel as well.

Although I find the nose rich and complex, I am a little dismayed by the way that the vanilla and sweet caramel continues to pour out of the glass. There is a sticky richness apparent in the aroma which seems out of proportion with the tobacco, the oak spice and the dry fruit.

Zaya Bottle 2017

In the Mouth 52/60

In the seventies (boy am I aging myself), there was a rock band from Calgary, Alberta called the Stampeders. They had a hit single called Ramona. My only real memory of that song is the part where everyone in the band sings “Ramona… Ramona… Ramona”. As I sip on my Zaya, I am reminded of that song, only this time the band is singing “Vanilla… Vanilla… Vanilla”.

And I think it is a real pity because there is so much more in the rum that should be front and center. Rich nutty flavours of almond and Brazil nut; baking spices like allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg; oaky flavours of wood spice and tobacco; and nice dabs of dry fruit and orange marmalade. But for me, all these flavours and nuances seem to be taking a back seat to the vanilla. The only flavour that stands up to the vanilla is sticky sweet caramel.

A lot of my readers (especially those who like vanilla) will really relish this rum; but for me, the sweet vanilla and sweet caramel became cloying, and what should have been a great rum was diminished.

In the Throat 13.5/15

The sweet caramel and rich vanilla allows the rum to display a long finish. Baking spices and nutty marzipan break through the vanilla dominance allowing some nice oak spices and wood smoke to linger.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

When I tasted this rum recently as part of my review process, I was not alone. I had three friends with me. Although I thought the Zaya Gran Reserva was a solid sipping rum, I also felt it lacked balance due to the over the overabundance of vanilla (and to a smaller degree the sweeter than usual caramel). My friends however reveled in the flavours of the Zaya declaring it one of the best sipping rums they had ever tasted.

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


You may (loosely) interpret the scores 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)


12 Responses to “Zaya Gran Reserva Rum”

  1. HJL said

    Here in Ohio it is tough to find any deceent rums. When Zaya showed up I had to try it. Wife friends and I all had the same thoughts which differ from yours. We agree that the aroma is over the top with vanilla and caramel. However, we find the sipping had a different profile. To us the over the top vanilla and caramel seemed to almost vanish in the actual tasting and the other interesting flavors and tastes came through loud and clear. 2 confirmed Scotch drinkers enjoyed it.

    • That’s the wonderful thing about enjoying Rum (or Scotch). We each taste things a little differently. I am very pleased that you enjoyed your Zaya, and I trust you will keep spreading the word regarding quality rums to all scotch drinkers!


  2. russ said

    so ,we r not the only ones who have many almost empty bottles that we mix 2gether for a blended treat. usually use eldo 15 or plantation 5 yr barbados as base and create some wonderful mixtures….even in the rum bars they poohpoohed the idea when i mention it and i was surprised that many didn’t believe that most of their inventory behind the bar were blends r

  3. Looking at these comments above, it strikes me that they are absolutely right: we start off in our explorations of rum by bending on Bacardi and Lambs and what have you, then liking the Captain Morgan, Zayas, Zacapa and sweeter, fuller offerings, and then progressing (assuming we’re still in compos mentis) to checking out stranger, stronger, more complex and interesting rums. Dare I say expensive also? These days I look – and award marks – for stuff that tries for the fences and isn’t afraid to take a chance, is different and wonderful…and weird, yes.

    • It is rather refreshing to see that my review has struck such a positive chord with everyone.

      And yes Lance, I appreciate a rum that swings for the fences as well, but sometimes (and I am thinking of Appleton 30 year Old here), we have to call it down the line and determine whether the long ball was fair or foul.

  4. SeldomSeen said

    Hey Chip – I think your assessment of Zaya is spot on. For me, it’s kind of an entry level sipping rum, much like sweet wines are for people entering the world of wines. Most start out with the sweeter stuff and then transition to the drier, more complex wines as their palates become more sophisticated.

    Being so sweet and smooth, Zaya is easy to like….. initially. I was also enthusiastic about it my first few outings with it. However, it quickly became one I wouldn’t purchase again. The vanilla is way over the top and I found myself mixing it with other rums I wasn’t so enamored with that lacked something in their flavor profile. Some of my blends turned out quite well fortunately helping me thin my herd of rejects. But after reading many of the earlier posts on the Ministry, I am really saddened I never got the chance to try the Guatemalan Zaya bottlings. Maybe that version would still hold a place in my galley. But I won’t be fighting anyone over the last bottle of the Trinidad version.

    • That kind of sums up my feelings on the Zaya as well. I like it just fine, but it will not be one of those rums that I will lament over if I cannot find another bottle.

  5. russ said

    hi i agree with you chip.zaya was in our top 5 for a long time but as we mature in our sipping most of us have gone a bit away from the western carib offerings such as zaya,zacapa,diplo,eldo etc. but do i still,buy/drink/enjoy them…absolutemento amigo!

  6. This is my absolute favorite rum (that I’ve tried so far). Between this and Zacapa, I choose Zaya, the sweetness really does it for me. Any suggestions for similar rums (I’m in the Edmonton-ish area as well)? And, if it make you feel better, I’m not quite 30 yet and I saw the Stampeders live.

    • It good to know that the younger generation has not forgot the Stampeders. As for a rum with a similar profile to Zaya, there really is not that many choices as most of the sweeter Solero style rums do not display nearly as much vanilla nor oak in the flavour profile. If it is the sweet caramel and vanilla that you are digging, I would suggest Captain Morgan Private Stock. Another rum which I personally find has too much vanilla but which all of my friends go ape over.

      Cheers Chip

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