Regular readers will know of my love for good quality rum.
The majority of rum that we see in Australia is made by distilling fermented molasses, a technique called Industrial Rum or Traditional Rum, it was predominantly made in areas with British or Spanish influences. The process is a standard procedure and guarantees a standardised product. The differences in the spirit come about from the quality and the origin of the molasses and how many times its distilled, how long it’s aged etc. Molasses itself is the thick, sticky and bitter, left over by-product of boiling the cane sugar juice, to produce crystallised sugar. The sugar forms together in crystals as the juice is boiled, the crystals are scooped out, the longer you boil the juice the more sugar you harvest but it also means that it’s a lower quality of molasses you get left behind.
Surprisingly, you can taste that quality in rum, for example the Substation 41 that I wrote about a few weeks ago has used quite high grade molasses, one that hasn’t been boiled for ages and still has a lot of the natural “freshness” and grassy notes, not surprising seeing sugar cane is a grass. But you don’t find those lighter notes in a rum that has been made from lower grade molasses, generally they are darker, and thicker feeling rums.
My personal preference though is for a rum that is made by the Rhum Agricole technique, a French word because the technique was used in mainly countries of French influence.
These are created by taking a blend of sugar cane honey (the first juice of the first press of the sugar cane), water and yeast which ferments and then is distilled. These are then further distilled, aged in white oak casks and blended. It is then blended again with fresh sugar cane distillate to produce “ron fresco” or fresh rum. The ron fresco is then aged in oak, and blended again until it is deemed fit for bottling. The use of fresh sugarcane juice carries through fermentation and produces a wider variety of aromas and flavours than a traditional rum, those aromas can even change through the production.
The range of rums coming out of the Ron Zacapa distillery in the little town of Zacapa in Guatamela are a little different again to a lot of other agricole rums. The team here age their barrels of rum at 2300m above sea level, one of the highest ageing facilities in the world. The cool temperature slows the aging process and the lower air pressure and thinner air helps to impart more of the barrel flavours to the rum. The craftsman then use the Solera method to blend their rum, a method traditionally used for blending sherry. The Solera system sees the rums blended and then aged in four different types of barrels, with the last stage using barrels that have previously held Pedro Ximinez, a dark, sweet dessert sherry from the Jerez region in Spain.
All this time and effort gives a rewarding rum, one that is superbly rich and flavoursome. It has won its fair share of awards over the years, most notably taking first place in the premium rums category 5 years in a row at the International Rum Festival 1998 to 2002. It was the first rum to be included in the International Rum Festival’s Hall of Fame in 2003. Most recently it was awarded the highest accolade in the category Rum aged +15 years in the 2007 International Sugar Cane Spirits Festival. In Australia we only get to see the Zacapa 23 and the Zacapa XO on the shelves at your local, but there are actually four in the range.
These are rums that aren’t meant for mixing, they are sipping rums and I personally find its best enjoyed without ice, just sitting back and wondering “why on earth do people even care who the Kardashian’s are”.
They are available at any good bottleshop and online. Just a quick note about pricing here, its significantly cheaper to buy the Ron Zacapa online. For example, at time of writing, Dan Murphy’s were $180 for the Zacapa XO, and online was $135, plus $25 shipping to Far North Queensland. It was also interesting to note that Dan’s wouldn’t price match here, even when I explained that I was willing to pay the $25 shipping, its all laid out in their “Price Match Terms and Conditions”. Instead of buying locally I bought online out of a bricks and mortar store in Melbourne that offered free postage for orders over $200, and saved myself around $80 which in this case was the same price as the Zacapa 23, or effectively two free cartons of beer.
Ron Zacapa 23 – an exceptional quality rum sitting at around the $80 mark its not going to be an everyday drop, but makes a great sipper for when you want to just relax, or have a quiet night of cards. It’s a blend of rums ageing from 6 years old to 23 years old. Sweet aromas of slated caramels, vanilla and butterscotch, toffee banana notes and some woody nutty notes. Its complex and has a sweet thick feel on the tongue, raisins, dried apricots and sultanas, leather, nutmeg with the faintest touches of ginger. It has one of the most complex and long, enjoyable finishes I’ve seen in a spirit. Great stuff.
Ron Zacapa XO – ok its not cheap, and its not something you will have all the time, but it makes one hell of a gift especially if they feel like sharing. It’s a blend of rums aged from 6 years to 25 years, with an extra ageing stage in French barrels that have previously held cognac. Its interesting that a lot of people seem to prefer the 23 to the XO initially, but then when it opens up in their mouth they get it and understand why its worth the extra few dollars. Every time you take a whiff it seems to change but there is a core of toasted oak, roasted nuts, orange peel with delicate florals in there too. On the tongue its complex with a superb balance of sweet, spicy, fruit and the bite of the spirit. Lashings of dried fried, sweet woody spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla and the most subtle touches of ginger in there. Superb long finish with no alcohol bite, its just long, lush and moreish!