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Ron Zacapa Masterclass – #SummerofRum

As part of Youngs Pub’s ‘Summer of Rum’ I visited the Shaftesbury Pub in Richmond on Thursday 4th for Ron Zacapa’s masterclass session. Young’s are running these rum events throughout the summer so have a search for one that interests you and there could be one next door!

The masterclass was led by Charlie who throughout the evening demonstrated not only his knowledge of Ron Zacapa, but his knowledge of the spirit world especially barrel aging, be it spirits or cocktails.

The session began with an El Presidente cocktail made in front of us with the Zacapa 23. As we sat down for the masterclass Charlie dove straight into rum, explaining its history, how it’s created and a general overview for those who knew little to nothing about it. Well broken down and simple to understand.

From here the depth of the masterclass moved to the Zacapa 23 in particular. The name itself comes from a town in Guatemala which is where the rum originates from in Central America. We were given an insight into how the sugar cane is grown in Guatemala around 200 meters above sea level. Zacapa takes the concentrated first pressing of the sugar cane juice, called the “virgin sugar cane honey” and distils this once before maturation.

However one of the main selling points of Zacapa is that their rum is matured 2300 meters above sea level, in the clouds no less! At this height, the temperature and the humidity do not fluctuate as wildly as expected in that region of the world. This helps to give consistency to the environment in which the Zacapa is aged.

We were then treated to a neat sample of the Ron Zacapa 23 Solera. Here Charlie explained the difference between the two main barrels that rum is aged in; European and American Oak. He explained the different characteristics taken on by the rum when sat in these casks and then mentioned Zacapa also uses a third barrel which has been used to age Pedro Ximenez Sherry. The entire process is overseen by Lorena Vazquez who is the brands master blender.

As explained eloquently by Charlie, Ron Zacapa has a ‘Sistema Solera’ process when it comes to maturation. Each year, rum has an amount lost during the aging process through evaporation; this is known as the Angel’s Share. Once aged for a year the barrel is no longer full to capacity with rum. Zacapa will take unaged rum to top up this shortfall in the one year barrel. The rest will sit to age once all the one year barrels are topped up. This process is repeated each year with the rum from the younger barrel used to top-up the older barrel. The two year barrel’s contents are topped up by the one year barrel and then the shortfall in the one year barrel is filled by unaged barrel. This solera process is used all the way down to rum that has been aged for 23 years. As a result the barrel which has been sat for 23 years will contain rum that has been aged for a minimum of 6 years up to a maximum of 23 years. Hence the term ‘Sistema Solera.’

We were then treated to a rare portion of Zacapa 23 which had been barrel aged in a small cask for one month. The small cask interacts with the rum at a faster rate than a larger one, and in my opinion helps to soften and blend together the flavours.

Finally to wrap up, we were treated to one of my favourite cocktails, the rum based Old Fashioned. Charlie masterfully produced them with great flair, showing off how even a simple cocktail can taste amazing, to the delight of the crowd who were present. Bravo!

Overall, this was a very informative masterclass from a very well known premium rum brand. They had great cocktails to show off the versatility of the rum, but were clear that Zacapa 23 is a great spirit which is enjoyable neat as well. If you can get a ticket, grab it with both hands and enjoy a fun evening of rum and great cocktails.

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Everyday Rum – Review 3: Havana Club Rum 7 year – £20 (700ml)

Havana Club has a high pedigree in the rum community and outside. There has been rum in Cuba since the introduction of the sugarcane crop to the Caribbean. Havana Club is currently the leading rum in Cuba and uses a number of Maestros Roneros (Master Rum Maker). It takes 15 years of dedication to become a Maestro Ronero, during which the elder masters impart their knowledge to the newer trainees. Havana Club’s Primer Maestro Ronero, Don Jose Navarro explains “It’s is a cultural legacy, passed on from Maestro Ronero to Maestro Ronero, from heart to heart, from Cuban to Cuban.”

You could be easily mistaken in thinking that this Havana Club 7 year is an entry level offering from Havana due to the price point. Although it maybe entry level in terms of a potential sipping rum, there are a few younger siblings that Havana produce which would be regarded as the entry level. Those are very much regarded as mixing rums, but this rum in their range takes things up a level.

The number written on bottles can be misleading when it comes to aging. However, in this instance Havana confirm that the minimum amount any part of this rum is aged is for 7 years. Thereby sticking to the ‘youngest drop’ policy. This is done by blending individual barrels of rum.

The rise to popularity of Havana Club 7 has been rapid in the UK market and is part of the reason it appears in the ‘Everyday Rum’ segment here. This can be found in supermarkets and most bars and it is becoming popular is restaurants as well. This rum has won awards at spirits championships in the 1990s which helps to display the Havana pedigree.

The bottle is an unusual dark brown colour and has a black label with the familiar red Havana club motif. The bottle has a screw cap rather than a cork which most premium rum manufacturers add when creating the packaging for a premium sipping rum. Definitely a stand out rum packaging when sat on a bartender’s shelf.

On the nose there is an immediate whiff of sweet caramel and a slight oak-ness. There are hints of coconut and passion fruit alongside which meld well together to help give an inviting aroma to this blend. The ethanol smell is still present though and needs to be understood and navigated past.

On my first sip the taste is more pleasant than the immediate ethanol hit from the nose. Alongside some leather and tobacco notes, I taste dark chocolate, burnt sugar and an oak-ness. The finish is creamy, with a hint of burn which does detract from the rum. Having sat for a few minutes I now taste prunes and raisins countering the sweetness found from the molasses. An interesting balance. The finish now is smoke and tobacco like. It doesn’t burn as much now, but the after taste isn’t what I prefer in my rum. Although if you enjoy those smoke and tobacco flavours, or fancy something to go alongside a cigar I can see how this rum would suit your needs.

Due to the wide availability of this rum throughout the UK market it is natural for this rum to have been used as a higher end mixer in cocktails. This is also where I feel this particular rum excels and where I would recommend a more casual rum drinker to enjoy this blend. In my opinion this makes a lovely Rum Based Old Fashioned cocktail and a Cuban classic cocktail of Cuba Libre is probably the best instance of this cocktail I have tried. Why not have a look at an article written earlier on rum based cocktails and experiment with those as well?