It’s been awhile since I did any Latin American spirits taste test posts on here, so it’s time to pull out my reliable duty-free favorite Ron Zacapa. “Ron” is “rum” in these parts, but Mr. Zacapa is the king when it comes to Central America. You may see a local brand from Costa Rica or Panama here and there and Nicaragua’s Flor de Cana wins the prize for the best distribution. But if you’re going for quality, reach for the rum from—of all places—Guatemala.
I’m personally partial to the 15-year version, which seems to have the perfect balance of sweetness, caramel, butterscotch, and oak. It envelops you with the comfort of a warm blanket and a fireplace at the first sip and lingers on the finish like a night you never want to end. It’s smooth, warm, and elegant, with the complexity you would expect from something made well and aged well. There’s none of that typical rum “black strap bite” you get from its Nicaraguan counterpart and you can sip it neat all night long.
There’s a 23-year version as well, though for my taste buds it seems like too much of a good thing. The oak is much more prominent and it loses some of the character you can taste in the version that’s not almost a quarter-century old. For Scotch stored in cold climates the extra years can help, but in the hot tropics, there’s a limit to how long is too long.
The brilliant thing about this rum is the price: in duty-free shops you can commonly find the 15-year version for around $20, which is one of the world’s screaming spirits bargains. Even the 23-year version is often on sale for less than $35, fancy wood box included. If you’re heading home from Latin America and are looking for an appropriate gift, this one will elicit some appreciative smiles later. If you’re buying a gift for someone in Central America, this is a sure bet.