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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.

38 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


  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.

    • March 1, 2015 8:42 pm

      Uh, Gee, I don’t know…….Perhaps because those rums to which you refer are utter garbage? Other than that? No reason, really.

  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.

    • Sara permalink
      October 20, 2017 5:55 pm

      Add a bit of orange liqueur and a little less of the honey to balance it out, you’ll have a delightful drink.

  12. January 30, 2015 1:49 pm

    Interesting path the brought me here and caused me to comment on an extremely old post. My first introduction to good rum was a bottle of Zacapa 23. I was so impressed with it that I decided to buy a few more bottles of midpriced high quality rum. I picked up a Brugal 1888 and Zaya 12. Neither come close on my palette to the Zacapa (although it could be my predeliction toward bourbon that drives that preference). The Zaya is a dessert rum. Extremely sweet and cloying. Definitely not terrible but it’s not in the “sipping neat” class for me.

    • March 1, 2015 8:39 pm

      Bourbon? Good grief! You could have just as easily said you have a preference for Brandy, and not have been so reviled!

  13. February 12, 2015 4:35 pm

    If there was ever a vanilla rum thats good, Zaya would be that rum. I do like this rum a lot because of the cost, I find the flavor is good enough for daily consumption and great for cocktails like mai tais.

  14. March 1, 2015 8:36 pm

    Zaya is great with either coke or 7-up, especially when the pop is diluted with 1/2 lime Perrier – Sheer delight, and an awesome chick magnet to boot!

  15. Mark W. permalink
    March 18, 2015 4:56 pm

    Zaya is a great rum. It is sweet and many claim it should be classified as a spiced rum. I do like it a lot as an after dinner sipper but it also mixes well in May Tais or rum and coke. To each his own, but this is the dark rum I choose to keep on my shelf . Cheers!

  16. Robert permalink
    December 3, 2015 7:18 pm

    I bought a bottle of Zaya about a year ago…mostly by mistake. My wife and I were in Palo Alto and had occasion to visit a great Cuban restaurant. They made their Manhattans with Zacapa rum instead of Bourbon. The drink was quite good and a refreshing change from our regular bourbon drinks. Well, after we got back home to Sacramento, I couldn’t remember the name of the rum, but I did remember it started with a Z. So as fortune (or misfortune) would have it, I came across a bottle of Zaya at Costco and bought it, thinking it was the rum we had that night at the restaurant. I thought it tasted rather sweet right out of the bottle but since it was mixed with vermouth at the restaurant, I couldn’t make a determination one way or the other if it was the aforementioned rum. Well, as you might expect I later found the Zacapa after some research. I will say that I am sitting here with my wife on a cold winter night in the Sacramento valley, sipping a hot buttered rum made with Zaya. For some things it is a really good mixing rum and tastes quite good under those circumstances. No…not a rum for the connoisseur just a decent drink for a reasonable price which will warm the palate and heart on a cold winters night.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      December 5, 2015 9:50 am

      The best rum is the one on your glass. Cheers!

  17. joestan permalink
    August 9, 2016 3:36 pm

    Warning! Zaya has been changed. No longer “12-year-old rum”, now “a blend of 12 rums”. On the label, the word “Zaya” is no longer in script. The flavor is much different than the old version, and, in my opinion, not as good. Josh, you should do another review.

    • August 16, 2016 9:59 am

      We were getting ZAYA GRAN RESERVA “blend of 12 aged rums” from Safeway. Bottle had cork, reed weave colar and script lettering embossed on side of bottle “Zaya”. This was a smooth and flavorful rum. My wife resently purchased the se rum fr Bevmo. This bottle had the same labels but it had a screw top, no reed colar and embosed lettering was more plain block lettering. The color was slightly lighter, most definite different flavor and not as smooth, more toward lighter fluid burn.

      • November 24, 2016 1:46 am

        I 100% agree with your lighter fluid statement. I just opened a bottle of the new version of Zaya (also from Bevmo) and the old vanilla/caramel aroma is almost gone, replaced with a faint smell of plastic or lighter fluid. The taste carries a burn that it never had before and is drastically different than the old flavor. The new version has a twist-off top, no reed collar, and the raised glass lettering matches the same font as the logo printed on the front. The old bottles had different font for the raised lettering and front logo.

        I’m glad other people are experiencing the same differences that I am. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for an old-style bottle to do a side by side comparison.

      • Scott E Thomas permalink
        August 21, 2018 12:22 am

        I think the new Zaya with the screw top tastes like straight up vanilla extract. Awful. I have tried it side by side with an older straw-neck bottle and there is no camparison.

  18. August 9, 2016 5:51 pm

    I agree – The Zaya rum is fraudulent!

  19. rich permalink
    November 28, 2017 8:29 pm

    I don’t drink a lot but I do use rum with cooking…I used some in a bread pudding and it works well along with bisques.

  20. Kim Peterson permalink
    January 21, 2018 1:56 am

    Love it, have for years

  21. fran kelly permalink
    September 13, 2018 7:07 am

    I too was confused by the name. NOTE it is not 12 year old rum. It is a blend of 12 aged rums. read the box and label. Just like Heinz 57 Ketchup the 12 has nothing to do with years. For the whole sale price is a good sipping rum, but in the middle of the road in taste.


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

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