Review: Ron Zacapa Centenario

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Ron Zacapa Centenario
www.ronzacapacentenario.com

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from Internet Wines and Spirits

Ron Zacapa Centenario is a legend amongst rums. According to many sources, it’s won so many tasting competitions that it’s actually been retired as a contender, and is instead used by the judges to calibrate their palettes as to what a truly fine aged rum can achieve. With such a lofty reputation, I was quite excited to finally try a bottle.

Centenario stands out on the shelves. The bottle is entirely wrapped in palm leaves – intriguing, but it does conceal the rum within. Upon opening the bottle, I was disappointed to note it was a plastic screwcap. And even worse, it had a non-removable plastic diffuser that one may expect from mixers, but certainly not from a 23 year aged rum with such a sterling reputation. (new bottles of Centenario seem to have a new, more sophisticated packaging.)

In the glass, Centenario has a brilliant red-amber color that’s both rich and inviting. To the nose it smells surprisingly like cream soda, but little else. Upon tasting Centenario – especially in light of the pedestal upon which it’s been placed by so many connoisseurs – I was perplexed. Ron Zacapa is sweet, and leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste of nuts. Its body is moderate and unremarkable across the tongue. Actually, not much seems to be going on here. Centenario embodies very little of what I’ve come to expect from rum – be it top shelf, daily consumption, or rot gut. In fact, it just doesn’t taste much like rum at all. More like a liqueur, it seems like it should be mixed with coffee or high-end cocktails, but not consumed straight from a snifter or scotch glass.

Ron Zacapa Centenario is not a bad product by any means, but it hardly represents what I’ve come to expect from fine rum. It has much more in common with Frangelica, Amaretto, and other “liquid candy” liqueurs than it does with true rum. I’ve read that Centenario represents the pinnacle towards which all other rums should strive – I hope this isn’t the case, as I’m much happier with most other rums staying right where they are.

Comments (21)

  1. Eveta

    You Have No Idea of what your talking about!!! Rum Zacapa is the Best Rum In the world.

  2. Bilge (Post author)

    Thanks for that insightful rebuttal, Eveta. I consider myself humbled and forced to reconsider – perhaps Ron Zacapa is indeed the “best rum in the world”. All those other, seemingly superior rums I’ve enjoyed over the years were merely figments of my deranged imagination, I suppose.

  3. Lorn

    I agree that it is similar to a liquer, though there is a gentle, peppery burn that lingers with every sip, the sweetness is not over much. I have found that is contains so much depth that I often lose sight of the inital, profound sweetness.

  4. Jim Ramsey

    I, too disagree, with your assessment. I have never seen Ron Zacapa packaged as you describe-perhaps you did not buy the real thing. I have been drinking rum for 0ver 40 years, and Ron Zacapa is the best I have ever tasted. Everyone I serve it to marvels at it–perhaps your taste buds need to be defragged and rebooted. Alone, or with mixers, this rum rocks.

  5. Bilge (Post author)

    Rum – as with most all beverages – is an incredibly subjective experience, and I would never suggest that my opinions would match everyone else’. I would, however, take exception to any implications that I might be so sloppy as to review the wrong rum, or that my lack of respect for Ron Zacapa is somehow a shortcoming on my part.

    The packaging pictured is how Ron Zacapa was sold for many years, until more recently changing to a more classy bottle. And as to my taste buds, they’re just fine, thank you šŸ™‚

  6. Rich McKee

    Bilge is right. Zacapa is not so much rum as a rum-based liquer … not bad … but not really good rum.

  7. Neffie

    I have been drinking Zacapa rum for over 3 years and have never seen the bottle pictured whether in the U.S., or Mexico. It has always been in a clear glass bottle with a woven band around the middle.

    Perhaps the bottle you bought has been on a shelf for a very long time?

    As for the bitter finish, I would venture a guess the bottle you have was at one time or more subjected to elevated temperatures and “cooked”. I tasted a bottle that had been left in a hot car all day here in Central Texas. Much of the flavor was gone and the finish was indeed bitter.

    You may want to consider trying another taste from a newer bottle and a different source. You may be pleasantly surprised.

  8. flymetoaustralia

    I’ve got to pitch in on this, Mr. Bilgewater.
    A few years back, I shared a bottle of this with friends in Guatemala.
    It was the newer bottle style, and I bought it at a grocery in Coban.
    From my experience, I have to defend zacapa 23s good name.
    In my opinion, Zacapa 23 anos is to rums What a good Cognac is to Brandies.
    I suspect your bottle was laying around the bilge a bit too long.

  9. Vinny Flores

    Correction, Iā€™m from Zacapa and perhaps I am not an expert on Rums, but I have been drinking Zacapa Centenario for more then 20 years, yes the bottle used to be wrapped entirely of palm leaves 15 and 23 year aged, in the last 15 to 18 Year it has changed to the new Bottle as you all have seen it, and I will recommend you to tray the Zacapa Centenario XO you will like it even more, Thank you for loving my Zacapa centenario

  10. Yamazaki40

    I finally had an opportunity to taste this ram. This is a good ram for sipping. I like it. But I can see why you think this isn’t much of ram. It does not have that ragged characteristics I expect from ram. For some people, this may be too tame.

    This is like aged Scotch. Smooth and refined. But it may lack boldness and strong flavors that 10 yr old Scotch has.

    To me this is equal to Mt. Gay XO. I think Mt Gay XO stands better when mixed, though.

  11. Capt. Thomas Foolery

    On the search for the discontinued Sea Wynde (no luck), I decided to give Ron Zacapa a shot and I have to say that you might want to try it again, Bilge. The bottle I had seemed right up your alley – rich, caramel flavor when it hits your tongue and then a nice, piratey burn as it walks the plank from your mouth to your stomach.

    I’ve found your ratings pretty consistent and you’ve been very dependable in terms of identifying great rums. I’m extremely grateful. This one, however, might deserve to be bumped up a star and a half to two stars.

  12. Bilge (Post author)

    I’ve indeed tried this rum here and there to see if it or my tastes have changed, but I still find it overly deserty for my taste. It’s good when measured on its own, but it fails to capture the essence of ‘true’ rum’s robust, pillage&plunder, take no prisoners spirit.

    I realize that penalizing a rum based on what I think rum “should” be puts me at odds with some. But hey, I make no secret of my preferences, and I think a voice needs to be given to those who prefer to see rum stick closer to its roots, rather than climbing the social ladder and becoming too blue-blooded for the pirate world to stomach in good conscience šŸ™‚

  13. Capt. Thomas Foolery

    I can understand the “overly desserty” assessment. I don’t mind it so much, particularly since it’s a good desserty (not cough-syrup flavored like Zaya tends to start tasting for me halfway through a glass). I’ve finally nutted up and started drinking like a real pirate – rum, neat, warm. Now I’m going through all my rums and finding they are vastly different experiences in some cases when no rocks are involved.

    But I say tomato and you say…well, you should say tomato cause that’s how the damn thing is said! Even so, it just points out how very subjective all of this is as we each bring different sets of conceptions/preconceptions/ideals to the table.

    Shot for shot, gill cup for gill cup, you’ve still got the best reviews around.

  14. dMODE101

    I tasted this rum yesterday and I still yearn for the next tasting of it. It is by far the best rum I ever had – not an expert on rum though… but I know quality when I taste it.

    Where I live (Denmark) young people sadly call Captain Morgan a great rum and they dislike anything but that… but I converted a few yesterday!

    Normally I’m a whiskey drinker so I don’t search for good rum as such … and why search anymore – I found what I was looking for!!!

  15. Doctor Memory

    Man, give the Zacapa a 2-of-5 star rating and you’ll still end up getting comments nearly four years later! I should do this myself, and load up the page with google ads… šŸ™‚

    Anyway, to each their own — I happen to really like the sweetness of the Centenario’s initial attack. But you’re certainly right that holding it up as the sine qua non of rums is sort of missing the point: I tend to think of Zacapa as the Laphroig of rums! It’s very much its own thing, and it’s almost useless to compare it to any of its sister spirits: either you like it or you don’t, and if you don’t there’s no reason to waste money on it!

  16. Nick Weston

    Hmmm…

    I found Ron Zacapa at Cuidad, a restaurant in L.A. that features rums from all over the world.
    Over the years I’ve tried more than 25 rums, and nothing beats Ron Zacapa. Even the bartenders said that that was their favorite.
    That is why I’m taking the time here to post that your two star rating is hilarious.
    Now go back to your Capt. Morgan’s Lite and stay off that top shelf…

  17. Bilge (Post author)

    Wow, Nick. I often try to treat differing opinions with some level of respect, but you’re an ass. 25 rums? 25 DIFFERENT rums? What a world traveler you are.

    I’ve tried hundreds of rums. And I don’t much like Ron Zacapa. And therefore in your tiny eyes I can’t appreciate top shelf rum? If your sole definition of top shelf were Zacapa and its ilk, you might have a point. But rum is a larger world than that, and your cherished Zacapa is just a tiny segment of it – and a segment that I submit to be wholly overrated and a poor example of rum at its finest.

  18. George

    This is still interesting to me even though your review is quite old and you’ve sampled more than your fair share of rums since this review. Your two star rating is in deed misleading. You have to judge rum based not only on your own palette, but an assessment of what the rum is trying to achieve. Ron Zacapa is certainly a rum of distinct complexity and quality. Many have tried to imitate it (Pyrat, Zaya Gran Reserva come to mind). Just because it doesn’t fit what you personally believe rum should be, doesn’t mean it doesn’t lend itself to a quality rum. Tasting a high end quality rum from Cuba, and another from Barbados might cause one to think less of the rum from either place depending on your taste buds, but comparing to two in itself is a failure in large part on the person tasting the rum. You don’t compare Zinfandel to Pinot noir for the sake of judging the wine even though they’re both red. Neither should you compare Zacapa to anything you’ve previously drank and enjoyed that doesn’t follow Zacapa’s theory for producing quality rum. I would invite you to try Ron Zacapa again with a clear palette and judge it based on what it is attempting to achieve rather what you think the distiller should have attempted to achieve to become what is in your mind a great rum. Please understand that I don’t question your love of rum, simply your judgement of this rum.

  19. Tony

    For the sake of my own rum journey I have found this thread really sheds light on rum that matters. I like this rum and find it enjoyable. Should it be called rum? not sure…in fact that is what made me come to this site. I think that there is additional or residual sugar added back to this product as well as glycerol and I do think it has more of a “deserty” flavor. My question about this rum is how pure of a product is it or how much of it is made up in a lab? Sure it says it is a blend of 23yr old rums but the reality is they can generate enough rum to fill the market??? how is that really possible given the evaporation of rums from different ages etc??? I like it be because it is part of Diagio I am sucpicious of the true purity of the product. If anybody can prove that this is in fact pure un-adultrated blended rums with the oldest being 23yrs old I would love to hear about it.

    My guess is that during the distillation of sugar cane the second or third distillation adds back some raw sugar cane to be re-distilled and the aging is more chemistry than barrel age. Thoughts???

  20. Jerry

    What other rums that you have tried are superior? I would love some recommendations.

    Thank you! Jerry

  21. Carlos Pinto

    I started my Rum journey with Haitian Barbancourt 15 years back in the ’80s – a superb and unexpectedly “dry”, “cognac-like” Rum. Then I met Zacapa Centenario, in the old palm-pack and then the new one – an almost opposite approach vs. Barbancourt but an exceptional alternative approach to Rum. More recently I was introduced to a new wonder, which experience resembles more the Zacapa than the Barbancourt universe – the Dos Maderas PX 5+5. Everyone dedicated to Spirits should try it. No Rum lover should ever let a second go past without trying it – and the Barbancourt, for that matter. Cheers !

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