Friday, April 17, 2020

Rum Review: Ron Zacapa 23 Solera Gran Reserva

COVID-19 has forced so many of us into a sequestered existence.  For me, it's a challenge because I'm like a dog: I run in packs.  Usually a couple mutts come over on Friday nights, and we have a few laughs watching bad hair minstrels like Mötley Crüe, Dio and Ratt on YouTube, accompanied by old college era hounds: Teacher's and Chivas.  As the bottle levels recede, tiffs and even arguments erupt over who is the better axeman: Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads?  That's Friday night.

Saturday night, I and my Significant Other might entertain her friends.  I do my best to make a witty observation regarding the latest Trump inspired cover art of the New Yorker, and on cue, lament the passing of Maria Callas in a hushed voice, quivering with sadness, over some Russian River Valley chardonnay.  "Damn that Onassis!  If only he had married her and not Jackie," my guest opines as she reaches for another Carr's cracker adorned with a dash of cream cheese, smoked salmon and a caper, while her billowing tiger-print blouse sleeve stealthily avoids grazing the adjacent hummus bowl.

Well, COVID-19 has dispersed my various dog packs, and now I am alone with my thoughts, fears, introspection and bouts of melancholia, as I watch Whitesnake's David Coverdale wail in my basement, and simultaneously even miss those Saturday night cultural jousts with my neighbourhood Bengal tiger.

This semi-monastic lifestyle of mine has caused me to search my soul for meaning.  And after much thought, I have concluded I am intolerant and somewhat bigoted in my views on whisky.  Deep down, I am just convinced that Scotland produces the finest.  If we leave the whisky category entirely and venture into say rum, well, I am really challenged in my views.  So, in an effort to be more inclusive and tolerant, I am going to expand my pack by doing a number of rum reviews.

Ron Zacapa Centenario Sistema 23 Solera Gran Reserva
I have readers on here and viewers on my YouTube channel that occasionally suggest I review Ron Zacapa rums.  In particular, this 'Sistema 23 Solera Gran Reserva.'  I don't know much about rum other than those made from sugar cane tend to be a helluva lot better than their counterparts whose origins are molasses.  This particular Ron Zacapa rum has some promise before I open the bottle because it starts as a first pressing of sugar cane from southern Guatemala.  This sugar cane juice is then fermented using a proprietary strain of pineapple yeast, and distilled in copper-lined column stills.  After distillation, the rum is aged using a 'Solera' process.  Here is where my confusion begins.

Guatemala was a Spanish colony at one time and though it is now independent, the motherland left its imprint in the culture and life of the country that continues to this day.  This Ron Zacapa was launched in 1976 and by the 1990's the label started to use the word 'Solera' on it.  This term refers to a process of aging and blending rum.  Originally, it was a process used by Spaniards with respect to aging and blending of sherry.

Solera System Explained
Imagine rows of barrels or casks, stacked five or so levels high, and rum drained from the ground level casks is the oldest, and the empty space in the cask is replaced with rum from the cask of the row above.  Meanwhile, as the oldest rums are bottled by draining the floor level barrels, more young rum, fresh out of the still is poured into top row barrels.  This is the purported Solera system, but from what I have read, the term is used very loosely meaning the actual aging and blending of rum may not be adhering to Spanish tradition.  I read one rum expert said he had never seen a Solera system employed at any distillery as described above.  So, who knows what the truth is.  Anyhow, you and I now have some understanding of what Ron Zacapa wants you to believe.  I suspect the use of the Solera term is more marketing than fact.

Wood Management
Ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex- Pedro Ximenez casks to varying degrees are used.

Age Statement
None.  But, a visit to the website and a careful read of the label indicates that the rums making up this product range in age from 6-23 years.  A casual consumer might think this is a 23 year old rum.  That would be a mistake.  The use of the number 23 is a little deceptive I think (I am sure this statement will continue to prevent me from ever getting a brand ambassador job!).



Not bad.  More expensive than standard rums for sure, but not outrageous.

Nose (undiluted)
Vanilla, cocoa, dark wood, varnish, dried orange peel.

Palate (undiluted)
Rounded, sweet entry of cocoa, old burnished wood, butterscotch, melted caramel, bruised tangerines, and Christmas cake.

Finish (undiluted)
Slight zing of brown sugar, warm sugared California raisins, deep white oak and cinnamon lingers.

General Impressions
This rum has complexity.  A lot of flavours are competing for dominance, ranging from vanilla, cocoa to some French roast black coffee.  It's a good rum for sure and I think, in general, people will like it.  For example, I am thinking newbies to sipping rum.  Why?  Because its sweet.  Sweetness is present all the way through the drinking experience with little variation.  While the sweetness is what will make this rum very popular with undoubtedly the younger drinker, I do think this attribute does detract also from another wise fine rum.

I would like this rum to have been a bit dryer.  Dry and spicy it is not.  It is sweet, rounded with notes of caramel, molasses and fruit cake.  A well made rum for sure, but not one that I could have more than two drams at a sitting as its a bit too sweet for me.  I am sure my wife's friends would enjoy this as a nice, fireside digestif following dinner to accompany and enhance discussion of that scoundrel, alpha dog, Aristotle Onassis.

Ruff! Ruff!

Jason Debly

P.S.  Now that you suffered through that long review, here is the snappy 8 minute video review.  Just doing my part to encourage literacy in a world with the attention span of a bumble bee:  

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Rum Review: Mount Gay XO Reserve Cask Rum

Generally, I am not a huge rum drinker because I find it a little too sweet for my liking.  Nevertheless, as you know, there are always exceptions to every rule.  Mount Gay XO is such an exception.

This rum is drier than most.  The master blender and his team have really produced a rum here that is different.  So, with that being said, let's delve into the basic stats of this spirit and then check it out in the glass.


Age Statement
None.  The website tells us Mount Gay XO is a blend of aged rums ranging from 8 to 15 years.  The 'XO' means 'extra old.'


Cork stopper.

Mount Gay Distillery is the oldest official rum distillery in the world, established in 1703.

Nose (undiluted)
Bananas, old leather jacket, stewed prunes, English cream, spiced oak, hints of sherry-like notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Warm, out of the oven, creme brûlée; melted caramel, cocoa, even some Nestle Quick powder and light banana. Molasses on pancakes, a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Finish (undiluted)
The sugar cane sweetness of the mid-palate transitions by the time of the finish.  Once gone from the palate, you are left with  sustained, dusty notes of baker's chocolate, with a sprinkling of sage, rosemary and thyme.

General Impressions
This rum is impressive.  The price point is affordable.  You could spend a lot more for purported 'premium' rums and end up with a lot less.  This is a very dry rum that delivers a lot of complexity by the time you reach the finish.  Well balanced, never hot or offensive, it's a real delight.

Give it a whirl my friend.  It will deliver!


Jason Debly

Creme brûlée's photo credit: Craig Lee for the New York Times.  Use of photo here is purely for illustrative/educational purposes only in accordance with the 'fair use' principle of copyright law.