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Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero)

Review:  Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero) Rum  (93.5/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted December 18, 2012

I recently was given the opportunity to review the newest bottling of the Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero) Rum. (I have previously reviewed an older bottling of this rum when it was labelled Ron Zacapa Centrenario 23 Anos. My understanding based upon conversations with Zacapa Master Blender, Lorena Vásquez is that the flavour of the Ron Zacapa Rum varies slightly from year to year. Therefore, we may expect some differences in the rum since that last review over three years ago.)

Ron Zacapa rums are made from sugar cane harvested in southern Guatemala, which is pressed into virgin sugar cane honey. The fermentation process uses a yeast strain (saccharomyces cerevisae) isolated from pineapples to transform sugars within the ‘honey’ into alcohol. This fermentation process takes approximately 5 days after which the fermented ‘wine’ is distilled in a single continuous column. (A distillation by-product called vinasse which contains the fermented must, yeast and other non-fermentable products which are rich in sugars and minerals is recycled and used to nourish and irrigate the Guatemalan sugar cane fields.)

After distillation, the Zacapa rum is transported to the ‘House above the Clouds’ in the Guatemalan mountains for maturation. Special cellars age the rum at an altitude of more than 7000 feet above sea level where the ambient temperature is much more stable and the oxygen levels are lower than at lower elevations. The more stable ambient temperature ensures that the aging barrels are subject to less differential air pressure between the outside and the inside of the barrel.

As well, according to my correspondence with Zacapa Master Blender, Lorena Vásquez:

“Zacapa is aged at high altitude where the temperature is lower. The lower temperature also directly influences the oxygen levels which are lower as well, and this lower oxygen level aids in a slower aging process. The slower aging, allows for more time for the aromas and flavors to combine.”

Zacapa rums are aged using a process they call ‘Sistema Solero’ which is based on the system used to age Spanish sherry. The subject of my review, Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero) is blended from solera aged stocks which range in age from 6 years to 23 years. The aging barrels used are a mixture of American Whisky casks, and Sherry and Pedro Ximenez wine barrels. The combination of solera aging and the variety of reused barrels creates a highly complex rum with a rich aroma and flavour.

Ron Zacapa is owned by Rum Creation and Products Inc. (RCP), who have signed a global distribution and joint marketing agreement with Diageo.

In the Bottle: 4/5

The Ron Zacapa bottle has changed a little over last three years. One change which I appreciate is that the words “sistema solera” have replaced the word “Anos” upon the label. The previous wording on the bottle carried the implication that the contents had been aged for a full 23 years.

The new label makes it clear that the rum is a product of Zacapa’s ‘Sistema Solero’ aging process which (if you are versed in solera style aging techniques) implies that the oldest rum in the blend is 23 years not the entire contents. Having said that, I would prefer even more clarity as the present label may still mislead many consumers who have no firm idea of what ‘Sistema Solero’ means or that the number 23 represents the oldest rum in the blend.

To make things clear, this spirit  is a blend of rums aged between 6 and 23 years with the majority of the rum being much closer to 6 years of age than 23. If this were a Canadian or Scottish Whisky, and it were to carry an age statement, it would be considered a 6-year-old spirit.

Leaving that aside we have a rather nice presentation. The woven band of palm leaf which separates the top and bottom label is a nice touch, and it helps me to grip the bottle if it is cold and has condensation on the outside. The corked top is great, and I have no complaints (other than that mild rant about age statements).

In the Glass 9.5/10

The Ron Zacapa 23 Solero has a reputation for being one of the very best rums in the entire world. As I examine the rum in my glass, I find no reason to doubt that reputation. The spirit has a rich dark brown caramel colour, and when I tilt my glass and give it a bit of a twirl, the rum shows moderately thick legs which move slowly down the inside of the glass.

The initial aroma which rises from the glass is full of brown sugar, molasses and baking spices. Some lighter notes of orange peel and marmalade work their way upwards with a mixture of toasted walnut, and dried fruit (raisins, dates and a touch of prunes). The rum grows in the glass with the baking spices (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and deep dark rich brown sugar) gaining strength and vigor in the breezes above the glass. Impressions of cocoa gather, along with a building impression of cola and vanilla. Although I sense a firm oak presence, it is not an omnipresent sensation, the aroma of oak and spice is very well melded into the overall rum.

In the Glass 56.5/60

For many of my friends (and for myself) this is an almost perfect sipping rum. The flavour leads out with dark caramel (treacle) and toffee accented by honey and wood spices. I taste dry fruit, cocoa, walnuts and baking spices, the combination of which gives me an impression of Christmas fruitcake. As I sip, I notice rich tobacco, orange marmalade, marzipan and a cherry impression similar to a Turkish Delight candy bar. The rum is rich with flavour and complexity.

If there is a flaw, it is that the rum can at times seems carry just a little too much honey sweetness. This is not a consistent impression, rather it is something I notice on some days but not on others. It is a very minor quibble as my high score for the rum attests.

In the Throat 14/15

Dry fruit, walnut, and cocoa seem elevated in the finish which reveals just a touch of bitterness in the exit (which perhaps is the perfect foil for the honey-like sweetness which characterized the entry). The palate is left with lingering impressions of molasses and baking spices.

The Afterburn  9.5/10

I said it earlier, the Ron Zacapa 23 Solero has a reputation for being one of the very best rums in the entire world, and I certainly agree. This cane spirit has a rich, full flavour with layer upon layer of complexity. Perhaps, it is just a smidgen too sweet on some days; but then again perhaps I am just searching for flaws where none exist.

My final score of 94/100 reflects my high opinion, and perhaps the only real flaw in this rum, is that it is so hard to find in my locale.

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


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)


(Note: Just in case an astute reader noticed that the scored dropped by 1/2 a point since its original publication, I noticed a minor inconsistency in my scoring for bottle presentation and revised the score and my “In the Bottle” section on January 28, 2013. )

8 Responses to “Ron Zacapa Centenario (23 Solero)”

  1. russ said

    hi.just back from our tastings in florida. questioned the reps about why we could not find zac15 at any of our preferred stores,they answered that zac 23 was not really a 23yr old ‘average’ and the product was redirected from zac15 to use in the zac23 bottlings…..who knows?.also except for total stores the plantation line is very scarce,did find some bottles ,although a mission. happy trails thru the snow russ

    • Hi Rus

      The 23 as far as I can determine represents an estimate of the oldest rum in the solera blend. I have been told that the average age of the Zacapa 23 is in the range of 7 to 8 years old. The 15 is a ‘travel only’ bottling sold in the duty free market. Again the 15 would represent the oldest rum in the blend.

  2. Tom said

    “…hard to find in my locale.”

    You’re in Alberta, right? So am I, and I was thrilled to discover this world-class rum is available in my area – Edmonton – and I see it is around Calgary too.

    I always lug back a bottle or two when I fly home from the US or Mexico; it seems to be a popular item in the duty-free stores.

    Thanks for the blog, I’m enjoying it and will be expanding my rum knowledge with your help…

  3. Got to say I find this rum unuisual and know exactly what Mike is talking about regards something lacking.

    If I start off the evening with a glass of this I enjoy it far less than if I “warm up” my palate with something like El Dorado 12/15, Pampero Anniversario or Diplomatico Reserva Exclusivo. Overall it’s very enjoyable, but not one for “any time” in my view – that award goes to El Dorado and if I only had budget for one bottle, this would miss out.

  4. Jason said

    This rum was the first really good rum that I ever tried, and long before I discovered your blog, picking up a bottle in the Cancun airport 2 years ago now.

    I only wish I had some left to compare it to now that I have tried a greater variety of good rums.

    Thanks for all your good “work” on your reviews. I’ve found them very valuable as I discover the great varietys of this spirit out there.

  5. Hi Mike

    I don’t think you are missing anything. The El Dorado rums do have a more robust flavour than the Zacapa which you obviously appreciate more. I in fact prefer the El Dorado 21 slightly over the Zacapa 23 although it is very close to to some extent depends upon my mood.

    As for your palate adjusting over time, I think we all experience subtle changes as we grow older. Whether this will make you appreciate the smoothness of solera rums more in the future or whether you will continue to prefer robust flavour is hard to say. Hopefully you will appreciate both.

  6. Mike said

    i’ve been enjoying your reviews now quite a bit lately i’m new to rum and drinking and i must say my Ron Zacapa solera 23 when compared with my other premium rums, El Dorado 12, El Dorado 15 seems to be lacking in flavor, the only advantage i found the zacapa to have is that it seems smoother, i’m not sure what i’m missing here. All the reviews of the zacapa seem to rank it so highly in the world of rum, do you think it is possible for my palate to adjust over time as i try new things and then ill appreciate it more, or am i just missing something?


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