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Rum Review: Zafra Master Reserve 21

Zafra Master Reserve 21-Year

Zafra Master Reserve 21 Year

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Abuelo 12-year, I decided to expand my knowledge of Panamanian rums with a bottle from another producer. I found a bottle of Zafra Master Reserve 21-Year rum for about $37 at K&L wines, and here we are. This rum is aged in used bourbon casks.

The bottle itself is quite tall. Coming in at 13 ¼ inches high, it’s about the same height as Zaya or Brugal 1888. The shape of the bottle is simple; the label is embossed and purposely rough around the edges. I removed the foil and revealed a natural cork stopper with a plastic top. The bottle certainly won’t win any awards, but that’s not why we’re here. Let’s get some of its contents into a snifter and get down to business.

In the glass, the rum exhibits a lovely mahogany color with golden copper highlights. A swirl creates a ring at the top of the glass that begets a host of small legs that move easily back to the bowl.

On the nose there is limited astringency, and the prominent scents are of fruit: orange, cherry and pear with a hint of toffee supported by an oak foundation. Now to taste. The mouth feel is a bit watery, and the predominant sensation of spice is felt only at mid-palate. There is a moderate afterburn. The aromas have not translated into flavors as well as I’d hoped, but it’s still pleasant—the toffee flavors persist as do the orange and oak. Further sips didn’t reveal any additional subtleties, and I found myself uncompelled to finish the glass.

All in all, this is a solid rum for the price, but I’d hoped for more (yes, I’m greedy). Once again, I’ve fallen for the age of the spirit. At 21 years, one conjures up ideas of amazing tastes, but alas, our dreams rarely live up to reality. I’m no distiller or master blender, but perhaps the Zafra would benefit from a few years in casks other than bourbon.

So while the Zafra Master Reserve won’t become my new go-to sipping rum, it will be high on the list for cocktails requiring quality ingredients. Palmetto anyone?

Now for the scores:

  • Appearance 1/1
  • Aroma 2/2
  • Mouth feel .5/1
  • Taste 2/4
  • Aftertaste 1.5/2
  • Total 7/10

Buy Zafra 21 online

Have you had Zafra Master Reserve 21? What do you think of this rum? Please share your comments below.


15 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Etter permalink
    January 16, 2012 9:58 pm

    Josh I’m right there with ya. Zafra is completely innocuous. It looks great in the glass and It smells like Ron Burgundy’s many leather bound books and his apartment’s rich mohagany. It even tastes a bit like a great port. All good things in a glass. My only problem is the lingering saccharin sweet aftertaste. It has that diet soda sweet tingle on the tongue while I sit between sips. Though not nearly as sweet as Zaya, it’s a bit like the cream soda of rums.

  2. Josh Miller permalink*
    January 17, 2012 9:24 am

    Hilarious! Definitely the first Ron Burgundy reference I have seen in the context of a rum review. Glad you agree–I can think of a lot of other rums I would rather have at that price point.

    • James permalink
      June 19, 2013 6:25 pm

      Sailor Jerry is a better drop and cheaper but it is also nothing special

  3. June 7, 2012 10:11 am

    I’m late to the game, but what other rums would you recommend to drink straight up?

    I’m looking for a whiskey/rum/etc. that I can drink straight up without having to mix it with soda.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      August 6, 2012 10:34 am

      Hi Sean–sorry for the tardy reply. I would recommend Ron Zacapa 23. It’s about $40-$45 for a 750ml bottle, and it never disappoints. Cheers!

      • Tiago permalink
        October 17, 2014 2:11 am

        Josh, Zacapa 23, really ..?!?! Come on, it lacks the smoothness of such a highly decorated rum. This thing burns. I have the XO at home which is much better but still Zacapa is not high up there like some other

  4. Maryoss permalink
    April 2, 2013 6:59 pm

    Smooth is not the same as innocuous and there is no afterburn and one would be trying to prove a point not worth making to use this in a cocktail. A lovely sipping rum that is secure enough in it’s masculinity that it doesn’t have to kick anyone. Love it.

  5. Steve Lacey permalink
    August 1, 2013 9:52 am

    Botran Solera 1893. One try and you will never look back. Incredible product for the mild hit to the pocketbook. This is one to try.

    • All of Me permalink
      September 17, 2013 12:25 pm

      Totally agree with you, Steve. My girlfriend brought me one bottle back form a trip to Panama. For just 30 bucks, it’s worth every penny. A bargain for the quality.
      Anyway I have to come back to Abuelo 12 , I had it in Panama once, and loved it, but it was years ago and I wasn’t a whisky drinker at that time. Single malts really teaches you how to appreciate good rums!

      Cheers! and may thanks to Josh for the review

  6. Ron C permalink
    May 9, 2014 7:41 pm

    I find Zafra to be quite sublime. It is a border line bourbon. Giving it characteristics of a bourbon more so than a true rum. Quite an awesome blend for the cigar aficionado. To be had completely naked. Mixing this rum would be a crime. Being from panama I have had them all. Have always been an abuelo anejo fan. This has taken top spot. Bottoms up. Que Rico.

  7. November 29, 2014 7:02 am

    Hi my name is Jack C. CEO of Grapebrands wine & fine spirits
    I love the Zafra style of Rum I have Stock in my home in Florida
    but i’m not able to find this brand in Ontario Canada were we import wine and spirits
    if Zafra is not represented in Ontario or BC Canada we are interested to represent Zafra
    Thank You
    Jack C.

  8. Pat permalink
    November 9, 2015 10:30 am

    Anyone using this rum to make a mix drink should get flogged.

  9. Waykool Plantz permalink
    July 29, 2019 12:09 am

    I too prefer this over Zacapa 23.
    Have any tried Zafra 30 ? I find it the next step up from Centenario 30 or FdeC 25

  10. Hector permalink
    December 13, 2019 12:32 pm

    If you are looking for a great sipping Rum in that same price point , you should try Santa Teresa 1796, Kirk & Sweeney 23-year, or Plantation 20th anniversary, these don’t have all the added sugar that Ron Zacapa has.


  1. New Rum Review: Zafra Master Reserve 21-Year « Inu a Kena

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