*EDIT: Tests from Alko in Finland have shown this product to contain 25g/l of sugar. Buy with care. I was clearly taken in by the advertising and many others have been. Part of my journey, but nowhere near the final destination*
This is a rum that has been written about many times by many people, most of whom go into a far greater level of detail than I ever could regarding the history of the families and industry behind the rum, but all that I would be doing is repeating what has gone before. Instead, I will link to some useful information sources.
The Zacapa plantation is located in the volcanic plains of south-western Guatemala in a place called Retalhuleu, over 350m above sea level. It is here that the fertile, acidic soil and constant sunshine lend themselves perfectly to the cultivation of sugar cane. Unlike a large bulk of rums that use molasses, Zacapa uses the concentrated first press of the sugar cane which is known as ‘virgin sugar cane honey’. This is thought to impart a sweeter, smoother flavour. This is said to be the first key step in creating the Zacapa taste profile. Next, the fermentation process begins using a yeast extracted from pineapples ( Saccharomyces cerevisiae ) which transforms the sugars within the ‘virgin sugar cane honey’ into alcohol. This slow fermentation takes about 5 days and the yeast is said to impart the aromatic compounds that Zacapa requires. After fermentation, the distillation takes place in a single column still, lined with copper to add flavour and to remove impurities. After the distillation process, the rum is taken into the highlands of Quetzaltenango, 2300m above sea level. This place is romantically called ‘The House Above the Clouds’. This location has cooler temperatures with thinner air and atmospheric pressures which mean that the barrels are subjected to less air pressure variation and the infusion of flavours from the barrels is intensified. Zacapa rum is aged using a Sistema Solera which is based on a centuries old Spanish Sherry aging process. The Zacapa Sistema Solera involves the blending of rums of various ages ( in the case of Centenario 23, between 6 and 23 years old ) in casks that once housed Bourbon, Sherry and Pedro Ximenez Wines. Every single drop of rum drops through each type of cask during the process to allow the flavours and aromas present in each one to impart their influence on the aging Zacapa. This combination of the differing cask types and Sistema Solera allows for the production of a complex, rich and flavourful rum.
The Solera System, particularly the one employed by Zacapa is explained on the following page by Refined Vices
Each bottle displays Guatemala’s rich, Mayan history proudly by adorning itself with a hand-woven petate band. Each one is hand-woven in the villages of the Departments of Chiquimula, El Quiche and El Progreso and therefore each bottle is unique. The petate band is a royal Mayan symbol said to represent ‘the unity of time and space, earth and sky’
In the glass: Zacapa displays a dark toffee brown colour with a slight redness. It looks quite oily and viscous and therefore you know that it will coat your mouth. I can smell caramel, toffee, vanilla and tropical fruit ( pineapple and banana ). As the glass sits, there is a warm oakiness developing with a burnt toffee / butterscotch aroma. Even if you’re not a fan of rum, this smells amazing. However, I am a fan of rum, so I go straight in for a sip.
In the mouth: My mouth is immediately warmed and coated with the spicy sweetness of the rum. Sweet fruits ( pineapple, apricot, banana ) appear along with vanilla, toffee and sherry. It is quite oaky but very sweet. There are untold levels of depth to this rum and absolutely no burn or roughness. The finish is long, sweet and with building levels of spice and tobacco ( maybe from the oak ). I found that the finish instantly made me want to take another sip.
This rum may be considered too sweet by some, which I can understand. I’ve even read of people pouring the rum over good quality vanilla ice cream!
© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.