Review: Special Report: Zaya vs. Zaya

So a while back I began receiving emails about Zaya 12 Year aged rum. It seems that the distillery has relocated from Guatamala to Trinidad. While this isn’t in itself a good or bad thing, there were also reports of a distinct drop in the rum’s quality as well. In fact, old Guatamalan bottles of Zaya were quickly becoming difficult to find as they became presumptive collectors items. I count myself fortunate to have scrounged up one of the last remaining bottles from a local store, thus making it possible for me to do a proper side-by-side comparison.

In the bottle, the new vs. old Zayas are nearly identical. The dark amber color is a near perfect match, and it’s only by holding up to the light and looking carefully that you can tell the old Zaya is slightly redder, while the new is a bit more orange. The bottle structure and labels are also nearly identical, although the script beneath the rum’s name now reads “Imported Rum from Trinidad” rather than the former “Imported Rum from Guatamala”, and the small disc above the tag now bears a tropical coat of arms instead of the previous sun-god looking thing.

To the nose, the difference is much more immediately apparant. Old Zaya smells of bananas, fruit, and sugarcane. It’s cool and clean – not as musky as many darker rums, nor as oaky. In truth, the aroma is distinctly light for a dark rum, but still very rich. New Zaya is a stark contrast – still very sweet, but this time more of raisins. It also smells much sweeter, and more syrupy. It reminds me more of the profile I would expect from an Indian rum, rather than Caribbean.

Of course, with any beverage the ultimate factor is taste – and as usual, taste here neatly follows nose. Old Zaya is indeed very smooth. Its sticky sweetness lacks the heady molasses kick I prefer, but the quality is clear just the same. It doesn’t boast any real burn going down, but a definite warmth is left behind. New Zaya feels still warmer on the tongue, and boasts a sweeter, more candy-like taste. It’s not quite as smooth, and has just a slight “cough syrup” sensation about it, but overall it still tastes of a quality – albeit different – product.

All told, I’m not inclined to declare New Zaya a drastic reduction in quality from Old Zaya. But it is certainly not the same rum. Old Zaya is clearly the more appropriate choice for sophisticated palettes, while New Zaya seems best for those who enjoy higher end flavored rums such as Captain Morgan’s Private Stock, Sailor Jerry, or Kilo Kai. In fact, it could be an excellent transition rum for those wishing to remove the training wheels of the spiced rums. However, those of us already well acclimated to the world of rums – particularly those of us who enjoy a little gunpowder in our swill – will find the new Zaya a stark departure from our prefered tastes.

Comments (14)

  1. "Mad Angus" Gordon

    Tis a shame to change what was a damned near perfect rum. I bought me a bottle not realizing they made the change over. Why tamper with a good thing? It’s got a good mellow taste, but I will still be missing the old one. Like a pretty lass I met on shore, I hardly knew ye, Zaya…. *sigh*

  2. Silvio

    Gordon,

    They had to move the production of Zaya to Trinidad because Zacapa, who used to produce the rum from Zaya, essentially kicked out the private labels which is why Zaya had to “tamper” with the rum a bit.

    In other news does anyone here know where I can get these rums in Europe?

  3. Rich McKee

    Your comparison of the Zayas is kind and fair. But since the “old” Zaya is my favorite dark rum on the whole damned planet, I cannot condone or forgive the scurvy idiots responsible for this disappointing change. Nor will I purchase anymore “new” Zaya. It’s pussy’s rum.

  4. Jim Tugano

    I believe the old Zaya was contract bottled at the Ron Zacapa
    distillery. When Diagio bouight Ron Zacapa they put and end to that, so the Zaya brand owners found a distillery in Trinidad
    to make it, thus the difference.

  5. Gonzalo

    I talked to the Zaya guy at the San Francisco Ministry of Rum event. The problem was that they were not able to get enough supply of 12 year old or older rums. They were faced with the options of moving to Trinidad or discontinuing the brand. I’m happy they decided to move and continue.
    I agree it is noot the same but it sure still is a good damn rum. Love it.

  6. tigerber

    Sadly, I never got a chance to taste ‘old Zaya’. I like the ‘new Zaya’, but it has competition. I am glad they could continue, but it should be much cheaper, since it apparently isn’t comparable. I love rum, anyway. 🙂

  7. John Foster

    I tasted the old Zaya last weekend in Key West and have unsuccessfully searched for a bottle since I returned home. Should have bought it there; didn’t know about the change until a few days ago. I am anxious to taste the new Zaya, because I have a distinct taste memory of the old.

  8. RM

    The new Zaya is nowhere close to the old Zaya in taste. The new Zaya taste very vanilla-ey. Too bad, it was a great rum.

  9. Capn Jimbo

    Hey Bilge…

    Hello again from Sue Sea and I at The Rum Project (linked at my name, below. One of the great reviews ever written by anyone was your old review of Zaya. I’ll never forget your description of Zaya:

    “It’s kind of like meeting a dusky tribal queen dressed from head to toe in rich silks and golden feathers, and when you reach out to politely kiss her hand she instead sits on your lap and liplocks you in front of your bewildered crew. Yeah – something like that.”

    I couldn’t agree more and just had to quote and credit you in our own very favorable review of Zaya Trinidad. Although it ended up in our Twiggie Tie Dye Section I firmly believe that Zaya Trinidad is not an unflavored sipping rum. But it is a good deal more than a simple, sweet dessert rum.

    In fact, it almost stands alone in its own special category.

    To read the whole review (and 100 more):

    http://rumproject.com/rumforum/viewtopic.php?t=153

  10. RC

    This Zaya vs. Zaya flavor profile review seems very discerning and decidedly fair. I believe that while the flavor has changed, the Trinidad version remains quite good, even if it has lost the ringer/sleeper status that the Guatemalan version had enjoyed.
    However, I am curious if anyone else has noticed the latest Zaya labeling change… which is the removal of the, “Distilled From Pure Sugar Cane,” text from recent bottlings?
    In more recent Trinidad bottlings the labels merely state, “Age Blended Rum,” and I have discerned more of a flavor shift in these bottles than I had when the entire operation was moved from Trinidad to Guatemala.
    I’m curious to know if others have shared this experience?

  11. RC

    Apologies for incorrectly ending the second-to-last sentence of my previous post. I transposed, “from Guatemala to Trinidad.”

  12. BillyMac

    What would be the closest, next in line Rum to the “Old” Zaya?

  13. RC

    B-Mac,
    After more than a few fun tastings, my buddies and I are convinced that the more recent (mid 2009-to-2010) Trinidad bottling which states, “Age Blended Rum,” are bigger and more artificial vanilla tasting… sorta Captain Morgan-esque… than the earliest Trinidad bottling which stated “Distilled From Pure Sugar Cane.”
    So to answer your question; yes, if you can find an early Trinidad bottling labeled DFPSC… grab it. But I haven’t seen any since mid-2009.

  14. Mad L

    I just find any of these ‘sweet’ rums hard to keep down. Personally I prefer mead if it be sweetness I am after. With that said I do not care for Sailor Jerry and certainly not fer Captain Morgan (any strain). I would suppose Pyrate would be good trade off for Zaya if it where ever to completely sink to Davy Jones.

    Myself however, will have to keep to my hard rums; Pussers, Appleton, and now Smith & Cross (seeing as how Sea Wynde now lays in the locker below).

    I wonder how Bilge Monkey would compare old Sea Wynde with Smith & Cross?

Comments are closed.