Zaya Gran Reserva rum is a particularly useful spirit for two reasons: first, it is a nicely balanced rum that delivers cocoa and allspice alongside the traditional vanilla; and second, it is a masterclass in how to avoid deceptive rum labels. Among all of the major spirits, rums can have some of the most misleading labels when it comes to age statements. Take, for example, Scotch whisky—when a Scotch has an age statement, like Laphroig 10, that means that the youngest whisky in the bottle has been barrel aged for at least 10 years. Since every barrel will mature differently from every other barrel (albeit slightly), distillers will often have to blend in some of their older stock in order to produce a consistent product. Their goal is for every bottle of theirs that you buy to taste the same each time, so some blending is often required. However, every drop in that bottle must have been aged for at least as long as the number on the label, whether it is 10, 12, or 30 years. Rums, however, do not always share that kind of transparency.
There are two notable exceptions: rums from Jamaica and Barbados (and a few others, including the US) follow the Scotch model of age statements. Rums like Zaya (originally made in Guatemala, currently from Trinidad) do not follow the same rules, and the numbers featured on the labels can be misleading. Zaya used to be labeled as a “12 year old” rum, which it most certainly is not. They have since dropped the “years old” part, but the “12” is still prominently featured on the neck. A close look at the label says that it is “blend of 12 aged rums,” which seems better, but that number still gives the impression of an age statement. Do not be fooled.
A big part of the confusion with aged rums is the solera aging technique. Solera aging is a method of fractionally blending spirits together in barrels so that younger and older spirits can mature together in the same cask. When that cask is finally bottled, some of the liquid might have been in there for 12 or 23 years (like Zaya former sister rum, the Ron Zacapa 23 Sistema Solera) while some might have only been in for a few years at most. The solera technique is a perfectly fine method, but it makes age statements virtually meaningless. While the Zaya 12 might not be solera aged, this is just good information to know going forward.
All things considered, however, the Zaya 12 is an enjoyable cane rum at an attractive price point. On its own merits, it is a fine addition to a bar and a pleasant tipple taken straight—just be careful not to read anything into the conspicuous “12” on the label.