Santo Domingo Rum Flight: Zacapa Centenario 23 Anos, Karukera 1995, and J.M. Martin



I dropped by Sofitel in Santo Domingo a few days ago trying to track down Brugal Siglo de Oro. I did not find the Siglo de Oro, but I did see they were offering interesting rum flights. I went back last night for their “Rums of the Caribbean” flight, comprising Zacapa 23 Anos, Karukera 1995, and J.M. Martin. I have no idea why Ron Zacapa, a Guatemalan rum produced near the Pacific, is included in a Caribbean rum flight. Maybe someone in the Caribbean is feeling jealous?




I was especially interested in trying the Zacapa. I have heard so much about this rum, and of course recently there have recently been controversies about availability – at least in the U.S. I had been tempted to buy a bottle after spotting it in the supermarket here, though at over 3000 pesos I didn’t pick it up. Now I’m wondering if the bottle I saw was not the XO. Anyhow, in recognition of all the hype and excitement surrounding it, I began with the Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Anos. Incidentally, the rum flight came with a plate of sliced sugar cane and a molasses dipping bowl. This was a nice touch, working as a palate cleanser, and also helping identify the sugar flavors in the rums. Unless you live in a tropical country you probably don’t often get to sample sugar cane. But on to the rum. . .

Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Anos

My first impression of the Zacapa was something like “Bloody Hell that’s nice!”, and of course I took a sip before really nosing it. This rum has a deep copper color and a viscous consistency, verging on liqueur-like. The nose, what I got of it before tasting, was a gentle and exceedingly inviting mix of stewed and caramelized fruit, caramelized cane sugar, light molasses, and a little orange. The taste was essentially more of the same, and yet I found myself pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed. It was exceedingly smooth, and the layers of smooth sugar cane masking the alcohol made for a very ‘unrumlike’ impression. I felt I was drinking the Pedro Ximenez of rums. All rums contain a hint of these sweet and inviting flavors, but this was the first time I had found them in such a concentrated form. The gentle flavors and lack of alcoholic bite made me expect a short finish, but somehow the taste lingered pleasantly on.

I decided to save the rest of the glass till the end of my tasting. This turned out to be a big mistake. The subtle flavors of the Zacapa became impossible to pick out after sampling two more full-flavored rums. Needless to say this was very disappointing.

My verdict? This is a gentle, approachable and intuitive rum that is impossible to dislike. It is an odd mixture of simple and complex. It tastes more-or-less as it smells, and the flavor is fairly uniform from start to finish, being subtle and fruity variations on caramelized sugar and molasses. Though uniform, the flavors keep shifting if you pay attention, and there is quite a bit going on. I found it disappointingly unrumlike though. This became very obvious when I returned to it after sampling the others. I would categorize Zacapa 23 Anos as a very interesting rum, and a good window on some of the tastes to be found in rum. However, beyond the beguiling syrupiness you really have to strain to pick out the flavors. Ultimately, it is just too mild to be a favorite with me. While difficult to prove in this day and age, I am firmly convinced that no pirate captain could drink this stuff without his crew mutinying.

Karukera 1995

This rum from Guadalupe had a light gold color, and an intense aroma of apples and cut grass. The taste was dry and refined, and my first impression was oddly reminiscent of calvados. I could easily have identified this as calvados rather than rum. The calvados note shrank over time though, with grassy caramel slowly emerging. The finish was dry.

I later searched online for information on this rum, and found that it seems to be a newish private label, established by Guillaume Drouin, son of the calvados producer Christian Drouin. Guillaume allegedly discovered rum could be as sophisticated as calvados while visiting Haiti (he must have enjoyed Barbancourt), and then established his own private label. Presumably the calvados quality I picked up was no coincidence.

This was my first experience of a rum from Guadalupe. Obviously this was in the same style as an aged rum agricole, though the apple notes made it different from any agricole I had previously drunk. Overall an enjoyable rum.

J.M. Martin

This aged Martinique rum poured with a light gold color. The nose was unusual and unlike any other agricole I have tried. There was the usual agricole grassiness, tempered by wood and vanilla. However, there were also a host of herbal smells, with a subtle hint of menthol, and perhaps a little apple. I was reminded of an Italian amaro. The taste was dry, grassy, herbal, complex, and hard to pin down. Maybe I should have added a few drops of water to smooth things out. I kept getting amaro-like tastes, but couldn’t really nail exactly what any of them were. The sugar cane sweetness was minimal, and this seemed to be the driest of the three rums. At time I was reminded of a light single-barrel whiskey. There was a dry lingering aftertaste, with a little woodiness.

Overall I found it hard to know what to make of this rum. Placing it in the context of other rums seems hard due to its eccentric character. I would like to try it again sometime.

2 Responses to “Santo Domingo Rum Flight: Zacapa Centenario 23 Anos, Karukera 1995, and J.M. Martin”

  1. Capn Jimbo Says:

    I’d like to address your comments about Zacapa 23, the rum that was almost singularly responsible for my “Twiggie Tie Dye” rum section at The Rum Project (linked at my name, above). And just what is this section?

    Simple. May I quote myself:

    “The Twiggie Tie Dye rums are those that, in the cause of marketing and sales, have gone over the top insofar as hiding unannounced flavors and additives. At best caramel, molasses, sugar, vanilla, orange, clove and other spices. At worst – and more likely – artificial, taste engineered adulterants. Pre or post distillation doesn’t matter; what does is that these additives, which likely include artificial flavorings, cover up or phony the rum to an obvious and excessive extent.”

    Now mind you there are rums that I know have been altered, but that have been done so well that I’m simply not sure. I’m forced to accept that. But as you put it – and I couldn’t agree more – Zacapa is indeed liqueur like: to an extent well beyond the capabilities of even the most skilled distillation and aging. Unless the barrels are made of sugar, lol.

    To me this rum represented the pinnacle of marketing hype, cool mountain aging akin to “mountain grown” coffee – only in the shade and under the personal supervision of Juan Valdez! The “23 anos” was long promoted as implying that the rum was indeed 23 years old, and as the respected Richard Seale put it “…maybe a teaspoon”. My own spreadsheet analysis would imply an average age of maybe 8 years based on their faux solera arrangement.

    Now I’m not saying syrupy Zacapa 23 is a bad rum; indeed it garnered a “7″ (of ten), good but certainly not superior or outstanding. It represented a trend of “rum as liqueur” – designed more for new or less serious rum sippers, a trend thankfully past.

    Think Flor de Cana with sugar. For more details on this and other Twiggie rums:

  2. Bunnyhugs » Blog Archive » Guatemalan Rum: Zacapa versus Botran Says:

    [...] already reviewed this rum here, so I’ll basically leave it at that. Nice but overrated. Though having said that, if you have [...]

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