Modern Rum: From a modern multi column still.
ABV Hydrometer Test: 38% ABV @ 20°
29g / litre of sugar/additives
* M S
I have resisted writing about Ron Zacapa, mainly due to my own personal feelings about the brand and additives, which I did not want to come across in this review. But I have reached a stage where I think I should look objectively at one of their more recent offerings that they have most-definitely priced in the super-premium category. But does that mean the liquid is super-premium? Let’s see…..
According to their web site Ron Zacapa is:
“Crafted in Guatemala, Zacapa Rum is a work of art, and an expression of patience, richness, quality and master blending. Aged to perfection in the highlands of Quetzaltenango, Zacapa Rum develops its complex flavour and character 2,300m above sea level in the mystical House Above the Clouds.”
Delving undernathe the marketing bullsh*t in that statement, we have multi-column distilled spirit produced in high volumes, full of additives, aged using a form of Solera system, put in to premium packaging with dubious age statements and priced at the high-end of the market. Oops, I did say I was going to be objective, so I will not let the previous comments affect my tasting.
The marketing continues…..”Did you know that no two Zacapa bottles are alike? Each bottle is adorned with an individually hand-woven band of petate, a royal Mayan symbol representing the unity of time and space, earth and sky.”
That is essential in a bottle of rum, lol.
This specific offering, launched in 2016 differs from the regular blend having been “finished” in French Oak casks sourced from “Le Bois du Roy” – The Wood of the King translated to English, giving rise to the name of the product (Royal). The marketing continues that the ancient forestland is formed from four woods (l’Allier, Nervers, Vosges and Troncais), that were protected in the 13th century by the French king. “French oak is known for adding a delicious dried fruit flavour to spirits, very different to the vanilla rich American Oak.” The liquid inside is aged for upto 30 years – it is of course a Solera system, meaning that as little as one drop in each bottle could be 30 years old i.e. not a genuine age statement. To be fair to Zacapa with this release, unlike their “23” there are no dodgy age statements or misleading numbers on this bottle.
Based on my hydrometer test, Ron Zacapa Royal measures 38% compared to the label’s stated 45%, implying potentially around 29g / litre of added sugars.
Ron Zacapa Royal is a Modern Rum:
From a modern multi column still.
A lot of money and effort has gone into the packaging for this bottle and I have to say, I think it looks amazing. It does have a premium feel to it and the bottle is quite a heavy one. The bottle has a natural cork enclosure but the oversized top looks like a baby’s dummy (pacifier for the benefit of any Americans reading this).
There is no information on the box, bottle or label regarding the distillation process nor actual age of the ron but there is lots of what I call marketing bullsh*t regarding virgin sugar cane honey, ageing in the clouds and terminology that has no place on a bottle of rum – “Solera” (Sherry) and “Gran Reserva Especial” (wine) for example.
After pouring a tot of Zacapa Royal, I can see the liquid in my glass is a very deep mahogany, perhaps bordering on red/crimson colour when held up to the light. Swirling the glass reveals a heavy viscosity and big thick legs and tears that are medium paced down the sides of my glass.
The aromas are sweet generally…..Rich caramel sauce, chocolate, tropical fruits and vanilla. There is also a touch of nutmeg and oak lurking underneath the sweet notes.
Taste, Initial-middle 25/40
Thick and smooth on entry and heavy on vanilla and caramel notes. Towards the mid-palate I can taste smoked spice and almonds. It has a sticky mouthfeel to it at this point too.
Taste, Middle/Throat 28/40
The mid-palate almond notes turn to rich chocolate-dipped tropical fruits – bananas and pineapples. Towards the back of the palate is spicy caramel – imagine caramel sauce mixed with nutmeg and a dash of pepper.
Multiple tastings reveal an extra oakiness that I have not encountered with Zacapa before, but you have to get beyond the sweet caramel, sticky texture to experience the oak.
Time in the mouth leads to a bit of teeth grinding due to the mouthfeel though.
This has a surprisingly long and very enjoyable finish. It is still sweet, but the sweetness is tempered by a controlled burn and some prolonged oak.
I actually enjoyed the flavour of this drink – I could happily sip this when I want a sweet something, but I really struggle to call it rum/ron. There are very few natural rum flavours, it is very sweet, almost sticky at times and the mouthfeel is quite cloying. I think if I was going to have an after-dinner drink and did not want a true natural spirit, I think this would fit the bill – sweet, easy-to-drink and a great dessert. But at £260 or so per bottle, I am struggling to find a reason to buy it. And given that price tag, maybe my marks are a tad over-generous.
I know there will be lots of people who will love this – they will call it an “entry/gateway” style of rum (albeit not entry-level on pricing) to guide people on their journey from spiced rum liqueurs through to pure single rums. I really cannot find anything to connect this liqueur with a pure single rum or a single blended rum though. I have tried to be objective despite my own misgivings.
Zacapa Royal is for those people who are aspiring to drink spirits – they see it as smooth, suave and sophisticated, the marketing and packaging imply the same, the price means it *must* be super-premium, but their palate is not able to cope with the (often) strong or even harshness of a natural spirit and alcohol-burn. Therefore, by having a sweetened un-natural spirit, their aspirations are satisfied, their outward, public image entact, but their integrity is completely compromised.
I am not going to get into the additives versus no-additives debate here – you either accept they are present in some rums and continue to buy them or you do not. What I am going to get into here is the lack of transparency leading to punters essentially buying a lie. If you like, or do not mind if your rum has had something added, perhaps to soften the distillate, make it sweeter, easier to drink etc. then no problem – it is your drink, have it your way. But what I do not like is to pretend your drink is something that it is not – for example, dodgy numbers on bottles implying the age of a spirit or not disclosing that your drink is doctored. And that is what we have here – essentially, a marketing story creating a premiumised product, non-disclosure of additives (I have read in some circles where Zacapa have categorically denied adding anything to their products), a non-artisanal product and a huge price tag to go with it.
For me much of the real value in a rum is in its production, and in particular a batch distillation where you extract the flavour of your base product through the distiller’s craft and knowledge coupled with honest age statements and with careful ageing, produce something that is at home with the finest whisk(e)ys and brandies in the world. Top quality spirit producers will happily show you their craft, highlight the stills they use and history of production. Others will let marketing talk on their behalf.
For example, try finding a picture of the still at Licoreras de Guatemala, the distillery where Zacapa is created – it is not easy. I found some pictures by searching for Ron Botran, which is produced at the same facility (but is a different product to Zacapa). See the industrial-refinery-like multi-column stills below and then look at the picture of a traditional copper pot still alongside (the pot still is from Hampden distillery that I visited a few years ago in Jamaica). Which one do you think produces the top quality, traditional and natural rums?
Sorry to rant a bit and I am not aiming this solely in the direction of Ron Zacapa (Diplomatico, Angostura, Plantation, Don Papa, virtually every spiced rum and plenty of others, have sugar and other additives they do not tell you about) but at the end of the day, we all work hard for our money. It is a shame to waste it on marketing and packaging when there are so many amazing quality rums available. And just because the rum is not artificially sweetened, it does not mean it cannot have a sweet taste.
It might taste smooth, have an interesting flavour profile and is something I can easily enjoy drinking, but this is multi-column ron, with loads of additives, a fancy bottle, marketing bullsh*t and a huge price tag.
Review No. 142
P Denotes the rum contains POT still distillate.
C Denotes the rum contains traditional/Coffey COLUMN still distillate.
B Denotes the rum contains a BLEND of POT and COLUMN still distillate.
M Denotes the rum contains MULTI-COLUMN still distillate or is a MODERN rum.
A Denotes the rum is an AGRICOLE i.e. from Cane Juice.
S Denotes the rum is presented in a SWEETENED style.
Bottle/Presentation Out of 3
Glass/Aroma Out of 10
Taste, Initial-middle Out of 40
Taste, Middle/Throat Out of 40
Afterburn/Finish Out of 7