Zacapa Centenario XO Cognac barrels

I am fully aware that Guatemala would not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of the origin of a bottle of rum costing $100. Earlier this month I got to try a healthy pour of fine Ron Zacapa Centenario XO though and I’m ready to go on record saying this is one of the most sophisticated spirits that has ever passed my lips.

Of course I’ve long been a fan of Ron Zacapa rum and if I had to pick just one sipping rum for my personal bar, it would be their 15-year version. If I had to pick a second bottle it would be the 23-year. I like it that much. (OK, a 3rd would be Pritchard’s from Tennessee.)

This XO version is something entirely different though, aged at the end in French oak barrels that previously contained cognac.

It sounded like a gimmick to me when a bartender at the W South Beach offered me a taste during a luxury travel conference party I was attending there. It was different, for sure. But the more I sipped it, the more I liked it. The hint of cognac provides a roundness to the usual sweet caramel and nut flavors you get with rum and helps soften out the leathery bite coming from 6 to 25 years of interacting with oak in barrels. There’s a whole lot going on in your mouth when you take a sip of this rum and you’ll probably detect a lot of orange and spice notes mixing with the toffee and sweetness. I’m salivating from the memory.

There are more fruity and floral notes to this XO version than you get from the 23-year Ron Zacapa. Both of them are made with pure cane sugar honey (as is Pritchard’s I referenced above), so you don’t get the harsh molasses backbite you feel with one from Nicaragua’s Flor de CaƱa or almost any rum from the Caribbean.

Zacapa’s name comes from the lowland town near sugar plantations, but another thing that makes this rum stand out is where it’s produced, at more than 7,500 feet above sea level. Something aged in the tropical heat of an island tends to get woody fast. This rum has more time to age gracefully.

At a list price of $100, you’re going to want to shop around a while before deciding where to buy this Ron Zacapa XO. Sometimes you’ll find it on sale for $80, which is not bad, but I found one online store listing it for a mere $50, which is a real bargain. The cut glass bottle is nicer than many decanters you’ll see for sale and the glass stopper with cork is heavy enough to do serious damage if you chuck it across the room. A great rum in a great bottle and one of the best rums from Central America.

See more details on this Centenario XO version at the official (and quite pretty) Ron Zacapa website in English.