In this review, we’re traveling to Guatemala, high above the clouds at an altitude of 2,300 meters, where the Zacapa rum casks are stored and matured. You will discover Ron Zacapa 23 in more detail as I cover the following topics:
The brand Zacapa has quickly established itself as an industry icon in a rather short period of time. Being part of Diageo, the largest spirits manufacturer in the world, Zacapa is a real rum-powerhouse. The global success story of the brand has made the solera rum a main-staple in many connoisseurs’ liquor cabinet.
A very darkly roasted mahogany brown color strikes the eye. As always, the color of certain spirits can be altered, since the usage of sugar caramel is quite common. However, the viscosity and the legs will always provide an indication of certain compounds and qualities of the spirit.
In this case, the robe shows a rather thick and oily appearance, with heavy droplets that run down the side of the glass in a very slow fashion.
Ron Zacapa 23’s Nose
Notes: Forest honey, bitter chocolate, brown sugar
The nose is immediately lured into a creamy sweet, caramelized sugar aroma. An abundance of sweetness is the first impression, slowly transforming into forest honey notes. Some nutty qualities start to emerge, whilst a charred, roasted hazelnut and some almonds add a layer of complexity.
Bitter walnuts are coated in rich bitter chocolate. To lighten the rather thick impression a bit, ethereal freshness and citrus zest make themselves noted. The combination almost reminds me of a mint chocolate chip cookie, that is drenched in dark brown golden syrup.
A gentle smokiness reveals hints of pipe tobacco, with a sprinkle of fresh mint leaves, basil, and thyme. Finally, it all comes back to a vanilla-like, caramel fudge, nutmeg, and mace expression, that perfectly sums the sweet, spicy, and caramelized signature of this solera rum.
It’s a very mellow bouquet with intense aromatics, an intriguing level of complexity, and medium-plus diversity.
Ron Zacapa 23’s Palate & Mouthfeel
Primary Tastes: Dried prune, golden syrup
Opening: Raisin, eucalyptus, wood cask
Heart: Licorice, golden syrup, vanilla
Finish: Long [bitter chocolate, mint, roasted walnut]
As the nose already indicated, the mouthfeel and palate are predominantly sweet and opulent. The rum feels thick, oily, mouth-coating, almost chewy in texture.
I sense dried fruits, mostly prunes, every now and then accompanied by a touch of charred nuts, which were also detectable in the olfactory analysis. Furthermore, that ethereal quality, which really elevates the experience by giving an extra layer of liveliness and freshness, makes a stellar comeback. It very much brings a eucalyptus note to the retronasal impression.
To further support these complex nuances, a sprig of mint is thrown in for good measure, and the side of the palate is tickled with a whiff of astringency. I get some wood spice and more of the dried fruit, sweet raisins that distinctively points towards Pedro Ximénez Sherry.
The lingering finish is carried by licorice, golden syrup, and sweet, luscious vanilla.
How To Drink Ron Zacapa 23
Enjoy this mouthwatering solera style rum in a cocktail or highball of your choice, poured over a large crystal-clear block of ice or straight up from a bulky rum snifter.
This rum will add complexity and depth to your favorite cocktails. Whether you choose to mix a Rum Old Fashioned, classic Daiquiri or a Dark & Stormy, you really can’t go wrong with this full-bodied añejo. You can discover more cocktail ideas in our guide to the best rum cocktails.
Best Pairings With Ron Zacapa 23
Given the oily signature of this sipping rum, the pairings for me are rather obvious. You could easily drink this velvety spirit with an equally luscious dessert: given it’s not a sweet overkill for you.
Pour a few drops of Ron Zacapa 23 on top of your tiramisu and then enjoy a glass side by side with the Italian dolce – a heavenly treat without a doubt.
If you want to contrast and challenge your palate, I would recommend a fresher choice with citrusy top notes, like a key lime pie. Or you could alternatively consider pairing this with a freshly cut ceviche, where the tangy acidity perfectly matches with the rum.
Hands down, the Ron Zacapa 23 is a cigar lover’s dream-come-true rum. Smoky, woody, lusciously sweet, velvety in texture, creamy in the finish. Me personally, I’d probably choose a Cameroon wrapped cigar.
A great example would be a Don Carlos from the Fuente family, using that distinct wrapper from Meerapfel in Cameroon. There you can also find an intriguing combination of sweetness, with just a hint of spice, further elevated by the characterful blend of the filler and binder tobaccos.
An exceptional pairing with the Ron Zacapa 23.
Overall Experience & Value For Money
You will find yourself going back to the glass and taking sip after sip because this rum is just so easy-going. It’s got a very long finish, that will reveal layers upon layers of velvet on the palate.
It’s a very sweet profile that lures people in, while others probably find themselves reaching for a crispier, drier rum. When comparing the 23 with the XO, which we will review another time, you will see the difference in aging and how the usage of ex-Cognac casks for the XO adds a more subdued, more elegant and complex characteristic.
In general, though, this is a very pleasant, very enjoyable rum with a very distinct presentation, gorgeous looking bottle with some extra flair of the Mayan petate band.
Given the price tag, this is a more luxurious every-day sip, but the versatility gives you plenty of options to serve and enjoy this rum.
For some people, a powerhouse brand like Zacapa means reliability and a trustworthy, loyal choice for their home bar. Others might shy away from these large-scale manufacturers and global brands that appeal to a large range of consumers.
One way or another, Zacapa has clearly a main staple rum and global icon of the spirits industry with tremendous success and reach. And it makes for a damn-delicious cigar pairing or rich, heavy Daiquiri.
Reinhard Pohorec is a sensory expert and experience designer with a unique reputation as an emerging talent in the world of sensory technology, luxury brands, premium cigars and beverages. Entrepreneur, creative mind and host, he specializes in staging exceptional experiences, educational programs, coaching and hospitality project management for leading companies on a global level.
With a focus on the multi-sensory, he creates memorable and inspirational experiences to educate like-minded epicurians. He’s a contributing author to international publications, a tasting panelist for various global platforms as well as the founder and host of Light 'Em Up.