Zaya Gran Reserva 12 year old estate Rum has been on my list of rums I wanted to review since I first got an email on it from their reps, promoting it in a fairly classic Mojito recipe. Most of the spirit promotions I get from p.r. reps via email involve very new recipes that their spirits would work with. It’s rare that I see classic recipes, varied only by the choice of base spirit, used to highlight a product. But that was Zaya’s hook and, at least for me, it worked. There was some backlog in their sample stocks, so it wasn’t until this week that I received my bottle for review. I was excited to try it, so it’s jumping ahead of a couple of Dogfish Head spirits to get a prompt review.
Zaya Gran Reserva is bottled in Trinidad from a blend of three to five rum, then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of twelve years. It’s won multiple prestigious awards, including Gold this year at the Ministry of Rum’s tasting competition. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean much to me if I don’t personally like the spirit.
At first glance, the bottle reminds me of Ron Zacapa Centenario rum. The two share a dark amber color and both bottles have woven straw wrapping a portion. On closer inspection, Zaya is more ruby or cherry in color, while the Ron Zacapa is a amber-copper.
The Zaya rum has a potent vanilla and maple syrup nose. These combine to produce a toffee layer and I also get the slightest undertone of orange zest.
Zaya has an incredibly smooth mouthfeel – it’s lightly viscous but not heavy nor overly rich. The first taste is initially dominated by cane sweetness, followed by the familiar vanilla and toffee, joined with a light hazelnut presence. It has a creamy quality that carries across the different flavors, making it very balanced and not drowned out by any single part of its flavor profile.
The finish is warm with a strong cane sugar and slight cinnamon flavor. While the burn going down is very light, there is lingering spice on the edges of the tongue.
Zaya is clearly a sipping rum. It’s marketed as such, though they also promote it in cocktails (as in the Mojito referenced above). While I don’t have the ingredients handy to make a Mojito, I did try Zaya with a bit of ice to see how a little bruising changed the flavor.
With ice, Zaya becomes even smoother. The vanilla and cane sugar flavors remain prominent, though some of the spice drops away. For me, this is closer to the sort of place I want to be at with a rum I’m sipping. That said, there was certainly a loss of some of the complexity with the addition of cold and water. While I don’t think it would discourage me from drinking Zaya with a bit of ice, I’d guess that most people who enjoy good sipping rums will prefer Zaya neat.
I see a lot of similarities in the flavors of Zaya and Ron Zacapa. Both are great rums and about as close as I’ve come to finding a sipping rum that I can enjoy as much as some of my favorite Irish whiskeys or bourbons. I think Zaya gives you something that’s almost as high quality as Ron Zacapa, at a price point that is substantially lower.
What’s remarkable to me is that when I started writing about cocktails, I probably would have put rum lowest on my scale of base spirits (well, next to vodka obviously). But as I’ve spent more time exploring rum cocktails and wading into sipping rums, it’s fast becoming one of my favorites. Its the discovery of new varieties like Zaya that have helped get me to this point. Quite simply, if enjoy a fine bourbon or scotch but you aren’t sure if you’d find anything you like in sipping rums, try Zaya Gran Reserva Rum. It’s smooth, complex, balanced, and very accessible.