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Ron Zacapa 23 rum: old bottle vs "sistema solera"


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I read recently on the Whisky Exchange site:

 

"Interestingly, now that industry giants Diageo are distributing Zacapa, the '23 years old' age statement has suddenly been dropped and replaced with a somewhat more plausible claim - the rums used are aged between 6 and 23 years old and are blended together in a solera."

 

We recently picked up a bargain bottle of Ron Zacapa 23, and the above made us think we should compare this new "sistema solera" 23 with an old bottle pre-Diageo, which we happened to have in the bar.  Our old bottle is really old--perhaps over 25 years old.

 

Here's our take:

 

In the glass: the old 23 is darker, more opaque, slightly more viscous, more chocolatey-looking.  The new 23 is more amber in the glass, looks like a whiskey.

 

On the nose: the old 23 is funky, dark, leather, dried fruit, some interesting perfumey floral notes.  The new 23 is bright, sharp in comparison, some butterscotch; we might mistake it for a bourbon by the nose.

 

On the tongue: the old 23 is way more complex, mysterious, deep, funky.  The new 23, is brighter, sharper, shallower.  More alcohol.  (The proof is 80 on both bottles.)

 

Finish: the new 23's is shorter and burns more.  Old 23: hearth, dark fruits, long, warm and awesome.

 

For a sipping rum, we found the old 23 to be distinctly superior to the new 23.  But the new 23 is tasty as well.

 

The old bottle says on the back [sic]:

 

"Old Rum ripen for years in oak barrels, may produce a sedimentation, specially with temperature variations, this does not affect its excellent quality, but reafirms its genuinity.  Serve slowly."

 

The bottle is entirely encased in a "royal palm leaf" covering so we can't check the sediment visually.  The new 23 doesn't have any sediment, perhaps it's chill-filtered.

 

The new 23 was just opened, so it may change as it gets some air on it.

 

 

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Not to get all preachy, but zacapa burst onto the scene sugared and colored to hell, which it still is, and even if the 23 years is real, there's doubtful more than a mere drop of it in the bottle, because that's how the industry works. (per the Finnish govt's site, 20g/L https://www.alko.fi/en/products/103867/?fromsearch=true)

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Thank you, that site is great!  Interesting to compare different spirits.  Do you know what they mean by 'extract'?  Also, does 'sugar' mean the amount of sugar in the finished product, whether naturally occurring or no?

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Thank you, that site is great!  Interesting to compare different spirits.  Do you know what they mean by 'extract'?  Also, does 'sugar' mean the amount of sugar in the finished product, whether naturally occurring or no?

 

It means in the finished product. A distilled spirit should not have ANY sugar in it, with the possible exception of something aged for a while in sherry, port, etc casks, and then not more than a couple grams/L

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As far as I know, Zacapa has always been Solera aged, therefore not a 23 year old rum.

 

Doesn't men the proportions have not changed since Diageo bought it, though.

 

Not so, if you can trust the labels on rum, which is a somewhat dicey proposition. Before Diageo made the deal to be the distributor for Zacapa in about 2008 (and later bought a 50% stake in the brand) there was indeed a true 23yo old rum by all reports. But there was no way the producer, Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala which is owned by the Botran family (which also makes the much drier Botran rum) could keep up with the volume Diageo wanted to build into an international brand. Hence was born the "solera" system for rum. I think this solera system may have been discussed here in the past. I don't believe it is a true solera system as one thinks of with sherry. I think it is really just a fancy way for them to say the blend in rums of various ages in my opinion.

 

The bottle in the picture above with the full palm leaf cover is how the original Zacapa appeared and is something of a legend in the rum world. It too may have had some sugar in it but I doubt it was as sweetened to the degree that present day Zacapa is. I have a bottle of the 23 anos rum from an interim period in probably the mid 2000's when the palm leaf wrap was just the ring that it is today but was still labeled as 23 anos. I think it is a clearly superior to the present day rum (in a blind test!).  

 

But to think any rum is free of at least some sugar, coloring or other flavors (with the exception of the rhum agricoles) is only going to leave you disappointed. There may be some that aren't but I believe they are a significant minority. When it comes to rum there simply aren't any rules or oversight.

 

You are far better off if you just think of rum as a "cocktail in a bottle" and enjoy it for what it is.

 

Wednesday tasting 14MAY14 2.JPG

 

From my comments on these rums last May on another website:

 

 

There was a clear difference between the rums as the real 23 had much more body and fruit flavors while the solera was a bit thinner mouthfeel with a surprisingly drier but longer lasting finish. The finish on the 23yo was surprisingly short in fact. The bottles were both freshly opened for this comparison. We also compared a solera bottle that had been opened a couple of years to the new solera bottle and the older bottle was more like the original 23yo than the newer bottle. Somehow this did not surprise me. As the price goes up the quality seems to be going down…

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. ~Mark Twain

Some people are like a Slinky. They are not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs...

~tanstaafl2

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It means in the finished product. A distilled spirit should not have ANY sugar in it, with the possible exception of something aged for a while in sherry, port, etc casks, and then not more than a couple grams/L

 

Not sure that is entirely true but I am also a long way from my organic chemistry background these days. Any spirit aged in wood, generally hardwood and usually oak but other woods as well, for even a moderate amount of time, especially new charred wood, is likely going to have identifiable sugars from the wood resulting from the hemicellulose Xylan which is basically just long chains of the wood sugar Xylose. The Xylan gets broken down into Xylose from the heating process. 

 

I am not entirely sure what the distinction between "extract" and sugar is on the Finnish Alko link above. Rhum Clement for example doesn't have any sugar added by all reports as a Rhum Agricole but has 3 gms of "extract". Don't know if that source registers xylose as a sugar for the purposes of their reporting. Seems like the link to a study report on sugar in liquor from either Finland or one of the Scandinavian countries has been posted here before but I can't find it now.

 

Xylose is a "good" sugar in that it provides some sweetness but is not metabolized in the body for the most part with most of it being excreted by the kidneys into sweet, sweet urine...

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. ~Mark Twain

Some people are like a Slinky. They are not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs...

~tanstaafl2

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A more direct link to the Finnish site noted above which provides sugar content information in rums and other spirits. It also makes no effort to distinguish where the sugar content comes from or even what types of sugar it refers to. However anything more than a few grams almost certainly has to included sugar added to the distillate directly and not from barrel aging, whether it be in charred barrels or barrels that previously held some other spirit like sherry or cognac.

http://www.alko.fi/en/products/103867/

It remains unclear to me exactly what "extract" means. It was seen in Clement rhum agricole which has no added sugar. Could it be residual from using previously used French oak barrels (presumably cognac barrels) for aging? Note that bourbon, which can also have no additives and uses new charred oak, has no sugar but still has 1 gm of "extract".

http://www.alko.fi/en/products/190907/

http://www.alko.fi/en/products/157667/

Oh, and Ed Hamilton noted in 2010 that Zacapa has always been a blended rum.

http://www.ministryofrum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3853

The question seems to be how much older rum has been in the blend over the years. It is almost certainly less now than in the past. I thought I had that at least in its earliest days when it first was made in the 70's it was a true 23yo but I can find nothing to confirm it.

Only the Botran's know for sure I suppose...

So it appears as is typical for rum, information on the label is all but meaningless although the newer so called "solera" designation to describe their blending process is really more accurate than the old "23 anos" label.

Edited by tanstaafl2 (log)

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. ~Mark Twain

Some people are like a Slinky. They are not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs...

~tanstaafl2

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extract is a tricky thing and among classic congener categories I think it might have the most meanings. extract typically means everything minus water and ethanol which can be a large number if it includes a lot of sugars. but then there is dry extract which subtracts the sugar and probably gets you closer to that 3 g/L number. but then you can slowly subtract out tannins and acids. its from really old school crude analysis before the spectroscopy / chromotography era. in a whiskey like bourbon, which sees no additives, all that dissolved stuff can obscure the % alcohol by as much as 0.2 percentage points which is something the IRS wants to know about.

 

I'm working on a project right now where you can isolate the extract or basically dissolved aroma of an orange liqueur so you can figure out how much dissolved orange aroma is in a bottle. this will allow me to make small scale versions that have say the same alcohol content, sugar content, and dissolved aroma content as a major brand like Cointreau but their own tonality. no guess work, no tasting panels, just paint by numbers. If I can get the hang of it on something as simple as an orange liqueur, I can scale it up to more complex stuff like standardizing a gin when the oil yield of each botanical changes, or standardizing more multi component things like amaros and bitters. its pretty much like 3rd world analysis. all the big guys have moved way past it with their high tech toys, so all the techniques and what you can do with it have been pretty much lost and pretty much no small distilleries are exploring the laboratory.

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