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Review: Zafra Master Reserve

Arctic Wolf scores some face time with the crew from Zafra and gets the skinny on what makes this 21 year old Panamanian rum so tasty.  Read the review here.

Chip iconRum Review:  Zafra Master Reserve    90/100
by Chip Dykstra


One of the highlights of my trip to Miami for the Rum Renaissance Festival was meeting the people who are responsible for producing Zafra Master Reserve.  In an ultra hip city like Miami,it was totally unexpected to find such a genuinely nice group.  If the approach they take towards their rum is half as good as the approach they take toward building relationships, then the Zafra Master Reserve Rum will be a delight to sample and review.

Mr. Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez, the Master Blender and Director at Zafra, began his career in Cuba working with his father who was a liquor and wine merchant.  After earning a degree in Microbiology, he began working in the Cuban Beverage Industry.  The Master of Masters, Don Ramon Fernandez Corrales, taught him the ways of Carta Blanca, the foundation of developing aged rums.

In the mid and late 1970’s, acting as Director of the Cuban Beverage Industry, Don Pancho assisted in the training of master blenders at distilleries around the world.  Along the way, he learned the ways of Vodka making in Poland, Whisky production in Scotland and Wine making in Europe.  These skills have added to his personal touch and have enhanced his final products.

In the early 1990s he worked as the Master Blender for Varela Hermanos (the makers of Abuelo Rum).  Finally after a successful 40 year carrier, at an age where many plan to retire, he considers himself in his prime.  His latest creation is the Zafra Master Reserve 21 Year Old Rum which is being brought to the market by Dana Imports.

Allow me to introduce my review:

In the Bottle 4 /5

Picture 177As you can see, the rum is presented in a tall slender bottle with little in the way of frills. A solid high density cork completes the presentation which is minimalistic but rather nice.

In The Glass 9/10

When I poured the Zafra Master Reserve into my glass, I was immediately aware of the bourbon barrels used to age the rum. Initially, the corn and bourbon notes were dominant in the glass as I nosed it.  As the glass decanted, warm rich notes of oak spices began to build as well as a distinct fruitiness which reminded me of dark cherries, blackberries, and plump purple grapes.  As the rum continues to decant the aroma builds to a finale of deep brown sugar and toffee spices.

When I tipped the glass at an angle and then upright again to observe the legs, I saw an army of droopy leglets starting to form, but only a few coalesced into droplets and began to run down the side of the glass back into red tinged amber brown rum. This shows a persistent oil consistent with well aged rum.

In the glass, the rum is rich, complex, and very inviting as one would expect from an aged rum.

In The Mouth 54.5/60

The rum enters the palate with a soft bourbon flavour which is very approachable. However this soft approach is followed quickly by a wave of oak spices and tannin. Riding the crest of these waves are flashes of cherries, blackberries and grapes which are vaguely reminiscent of a port influence upon the spirit.  Within these currents is that ribbon of sweet corn and vanilla bourbon which I noticed on initial entry.

The more typical rum flavours of toffee and molasses provide the structure, or platform, upon which all of the previously mentioned characteristics and flavours reside. They sit just under the waves and currents of the other flavours, acting as an anchor maintaining the integrity of the rum spirit.

If there is a fault, it is in the character of this rum to change with my moods and with my previous palate condition. However the variance in flavour is never disappointing. I may taste different things on different days, but I am always pleased with the overall effect the Zafra has in my mouth. I believe the length of time spent in aging barrels has given the rum the ability to accent previous flavours on my palate and incorporate them into its flavour profile. This result is a rum which is rich, elegant, and full of character!

In the Throat 13.5/15

Whereas the entry into my mouth had the soft overtones of bourbon, the exit is all about complex oak flavours and spices battling down my throat.  The sweeter fruitier elements seem to be entwined into the oak tannins.   I cannot help but have one more sip as I write this down.

The Afterburn 9/10

Have you ever wanted a perfect rum for a special occasion.  Not a rum you savor for yourself, but one which you bring out when you want to share a special moment with a gathering of friends or family. That is what Zafra Master Reserve has brought to the table. This is a special rum with many nuances of flavour, and the kind of rich complexity which brings that special flair you are looking for when you share a special rum with friends and family.

Suggested Recipes:

Picture 165The Panamanian Harvest Cocktail

2 oz Zafra Master Reserve
1/8 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Frozen Blackberry

Chill a small cocktail glass until it is very cold.

Aromatize the glass with Maraschino Liqueur.
(This can be done by pouring a little in the glass, swooshing it round and expelling any excess. The object is to coat the inside of the glass with a film of the liqueur.)

Pour the Zafra, Dry vermouth, and Angostura Bitters into a metal shaker with cracked Ice.
Shake over ice.

Strain into the chilled rocks glass.

Garnish with a Frozen Blackberry.


For more from Chip Dykstra, check out the Rum Howler Blog.