It's accepted as fact that no one knows more about the art and science of handcrafting world-class rum than Don Francisco "Pancho" Fernandez. Fernandez was for 35-years the former Cuban Minster of Rum and the mastermind behind Havana Club. After leaving Cuba, Don Pancho headed to the jungles of Panama, where some 4 hours outside of Panama City, he became director and master blender at Alcoholes y Rones de Panama.
Now decades later it has been responsible to a number of world-class brands, none finer than critically acclaimed Zafra 21 Years Old Master Reserve Rum. If you're searching for an elegant rum brimming with irresistible charm, no need to look any further.
Zafra, which is the Spanish word for the harvest of sugarcane, is made from hand-cut cane cultivated in the nutrient-rich soil surrounding the distillery. The harvested sugarcane is brought to the distillery where it is rendered into top-grade molasses and allowed to slowly ferment in open vats using naturally occurring airborne yeast. The fermented wash is then distilled in copper column stills built nearly a century ago.
After the rum exits the still it is reduced to 75% alcohol and transferred into charred, American white oak barrels for maturation. The 210-liter, ex-bourbon barrels are stored in the distillery's rum cellar, where they will remain for more than two decades. When Don Pancho deems the rum has reached optimum maturation, the barrels are emptied. The rum is then filtered for clarity and bottled at 40% alcohol (80 proof).
Creating a complex spirit like Zafra takes a great deal of hands-on work and constant supervision. Says brand co-owner Gardner Blandon of Zafra Rum LLC. "We worked with Don Pancho for many years developing the rum's unique flavor profile. Plus we taste test every batch to ensure that Zafra is consistent in all characteristics year after year."
Their diligence has paid off in a big way as Zafra Master Reserve is an extravaganza for the senses. It has a dark amber hue, a velvety textured, medium-weight body and a generous bouquet saturated with the aromas of black cherries, orange zest, plums, cinnamon, nutmeg, caramel, vanilla and brown sugar. The aromatic array is enchanting and well worth the price of admission. The rum has a mild entry that quickly expands filling the mouth with the sumptuous flavors of honey, baking spices, toffee, vanilla and fresh fruit. The lingering finish is smooth, slightly spicy and thoroughly satisfying. What a gustatory treat.
In these cocktail-centric times it's hard not to want to mix Zafra with some fresh lime juice, a touch of sugar and spend the evening sipping on a most marvelous Daiquiri. While the rum will indeed make a luxurious foundation for a bevy of classic cocktails and mixed drinks, do yourself a favor and taste this sophisticated spirit neat before mixing it. Guaranteed you'll be really glad you did.