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Rum Review: Zaya Gran Reserva

Zaya Gran Reserva

On a recent trip to Safeway, I noticed the Zaya Gran Reserva was on sale for ~$26, so I picked up a bottle. Upon closer inspection of the bottle I noticed it shared some similarities with one of my favorite rums, Zacapa 23. First, the color was similar—just a tad lighter, but still mahogany. The name started with “Za”, and the bottle had a wrapped band of palm thatch. Could it be as good as Zacapa? Could it be better? I continued my investigation.

The Zaya bottle itself is very substantial, with about an inch of thick clear glass at the bottom of the bottle rising conically into the bottle center. The label is in a word, uninspired—especially the round label indicating its 12-year aging. But we don’t drink rums because of their labels do we? Let’s have a pour.

In the glass, the color is a slightly brighter version of what we saw in the bottle—mahogany that shines with a golden twinkle in the light. Swirling in the snifter releases multitudinous thin legs that creep back to the snifter bowl, while droplets hang around the rim.

The nose carries very little astringency, and is simply bursting with vanilla and caramel. It smells sweet like an ice cream topping. Tasting it for the first time turns the same smells into flavors, and my palate is assaulted with an overabundance of vanilla and caramel. The mouth feel is oily, but the saccharin sweetness is the dominant characteristic here.

Pardon the digression, but remember the Bizarro World from the Superman comics? You know, where everything was eerily similar to our world, but looked a bit different and was decidedly not as enjoyable? Zaya is the bizarro world Zacapa! Thanks for indulging me on that.

So in summary, Zaya flies in the face of the old adage “you can’t have too much of a good thing”. It definitely does have too much of a number of good things: too much sweetness, too much vanilla, too much caramel. And while Zaya may be the Bizarro World Zacapa 23, the rum it most closely resembles in my bar is Seven Tiki Spiced Rum fromFiji. If you’ve had both, you definitely know what I’m talking about (Seven Tiki is known for a full frontal vanilla assault).

OK, enough silliness—on to the scores:

  • Appearance: 1/1
  • Nose: 1.5 / 2
  • Mouth feel: .5/1
  • Taste: 2.5/4
  • Aftertaste: .5/2
  • Total: 6/10

Buy Zaya Gran Reserva online

What do you think of Zaya Gran Reserva? Do you like it? Am I crazy? Wait, don’t answer that last one, but please do share your comments below.

 Aloha,
Josh
21 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonathan P permalink
    December 2, 2011 7:52 am

    I will preface by stating I do not drink rum neat as I’ve tried but just don’t like it (too bad because I don’t know what to do with my Gosling’s Old Rum). It’s just not my thing. In general I mix with diet coke as I find diet coke lets the flavor of the rum shine through, wheras fruit juices and other mixers change the overall taste substantially. That being said, Zaya is my personal favorite rum with 10 Cane being 2nd. I find Zaya’s flavor smooth as silk. Not overwhelming at all to me, but purely flavorful. It’s scaringly refreshing, and the hints of vanilla and caramel blend excellently with the diet coke.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      December 4, 2011 7:40 pm

      You are definitely not alone in your love of Zaya, Jonathan. I see it mixed frequently in contemporary cocktails, but it’s just a bit too much for me. As I’m fond of saying “there’s no accounting for taste” and I’m sure I like some rums that you don’t. Fortunately there’s almost as much rum to try as there is music, so we can both continue to explore new rum horizons as long as we are privileged to do so. Cheers!

  2. AndrewC permalink
    March 17, 2012 10:01 pm

    I will defend Zaya a bit in saying that if you don’t have the refined palates of some of the more experienced rum drinkers (I have just recently gotten into rum) Zaya is a great rum because the flavors are so strong and easily identifiable. For a rum newbie such as myself, Zaya shows that rums can be more than just mixers. In saying that, Zaya is very sweet- I always think Kaluha when I sip it. I use it like an after dinner dessert.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      March 18, 2012 7:18 am

      Fair enough, Andrew!

  3. Tanuki permalink
    September 28, 2012 10:01 pm

    I’m finding your reviews to be very helpful, as we seem to have pretty similar preferences. That said, I will say that I consider the bottle of Zaya sitting in my cabinet to be the biggest mistake in there. And I like vanilla… real vanilla beans, pliable and properly cured, are a serious nose drug. But this stuff is cloying.

    I did find a use for it though: old fashion glass with ice, 2 sprigs crushed peppermint, 1 part Zaya, 3 parts POG (Hawaiian Sun Passion-Orange-Guava juice drink). Pretty tasty, now I just need a name for it.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      September 29, 2012 8:13 am

      Thanks, Tanuki! Funny you should mention that–I’m working on a cooler type drink with a Zaya base right now as well. Although I don’t enjoy it much as a sipper, it does make a pretty great mixer in the right situation. Now about naming that POG drink…I’m lazy, so my instinct is to play on the POG–POG Hana, POG/Lama, POGcast.

    • Tanuki permalink
      October 11, 2012 8:54 pm

      Got it: it’s a POG Is My Copilot.

      • Josh Miller permalink*
        October 12, 2012 5:56 pm

        Perfect!

  4. Eric permalink
    December 3, 2012 6:49 pm

    Complete novice here on drinking rums much like Andrew said. Friend of mine from Wisconsin turned me on to Zaya and I really enjoyed it. We nicknamed it “Sugar”. He brings some down every year around Christmas and we kick back and relax with a glass and some Blues music cranked on a cold Winter evening. Would love if you could make a few other suggestions to try for a newbie to try Josh. I do find mixing Zaya is a bit much for me but would love to try a few other options this year when he gets here to Ohio. Thanks!!

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      December 3, 2012 8:36 pm

      Hey Eric–thanks for visiting. Happy to help! For an more complex sipper that is not as sweet as Zaya, try the Zacapa 23. You can’t go wrong with that one at about $40. As for a younger rum that can be sipped with some ice or mixed into classic cocktails and highballs, I would strongly recommend the Plantation Barbados 5-year. It’s less than $20, and just an amazing value. Feel free to post more questions here or on Facebook/Twitter. All of the contact info is under the contact tab above. Cheers!

  5. John permalink
    December 5, 2012 6:26 pm

    Not shure how you can rate zaya a six out of ten ? My own tastings rate it on par with Zacapa 23 at least (my son agrees with me on this and we have done numerous side by side tastings, with cigars and without) in fact given a choice between the two I’d have to pick the zaya. I realize people have different preferences but rating this fantastic rum a six out of ten is unfathomable !

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      December 5, 2012 6:57 pm

      Thanks for your comment, John. I appreciate that a lot of folks love Zaya–I’m just not one of them. If you are looking for TONS of sugar, caramel and vanilla, then this is a great choice. I prefer my sipping rums to be more nuanced, however, which is why I scored it so low. Cheers!

  6. ikihi permalink
    April 16, 2013 9:44 am

    Yes, I agree. It was a little too sweet for me. But many people seem to love it.

  7. ikihi permalink
    April 16, 2013 12:56 pm

    I went and tried your suggestion of plantation rum from Barbados and I liked it much more than the zaya rum.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      April 16, 2013 2:53 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it! Cheers

  8. Bill permalink
    April 20, 2013 7:30 am

    Hi Josh, I followed your comment backlink to here from your Bevmo review. I’m a newbie rum drinker and enjoy drinking Sailor Jerrys Spiced Rum neat. If you’ve tried them both how would you say Zaya compares with Sailor Jerry? Thanks for your review.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      April 20, 2013 8:01 am

      Hey Bill! Thanks for your question. If you’re enjoying SJ neat, then there’s a whole world of great rum awaiting you. If you’re looking to get into an aged rum that is on the sweet side, then Zaya might not be a bad “gateway” rum. It’s pretty affordable, and it’s got a lot of the vanilla you find in spiced rums. For a more “pure” style, try the Plantation Barbados 5 year. It’s also under $20 and darn good for the money. Then there’s always Zacapa 23 — a bit spendy at $45, but guaranteed to please nearly anyone. You can find reviews of those here as well. Just look under Spirit Reviews. Cheers!

  9. July 19, 2013 8:19 pm

    I love Zaya rum. I’ve tried many that are twice as expensive and not as good. It’s my favorite rum for $100 and under. Zacapa 23 is very nice, but more expensive.

  10. JJ - The Rum Man permalink
    September 15, 2013 1:49 am

    For you guys that use Zaya with mixers ( diet Coke – Coke ) or whatever why spend $30 a bottle when you can spent $15 for Capt Morgan or Bacardi.

  11. RIchard McWhorter permalink
    January 23, 2014 7:10 pm

    My favorite “mixed Drink” is 1/2 Makers 46 and 1/2 Wild Turkey American Honey.
    Zaya is right up my alley for a sipper. I like it with a squirt of lemon and 8 seconds in the microwave in a brandy snifter.

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  1. New Rum Review: Zaya Gran Reserva « Inu a Kena

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