Zafra, the Panamanian superpremium rum with a name that means "sugar harvest," is now reaping another milestone with a 30-year-old bottling, little more than a half decade after it joined the burgeoning aged rum category.
The tiny release, the company's second expression after its flagship 21-year-old, has been in development for five years, says co-owner of the brand Gardner Blandon. "The product has been aging for 30 years in Bourbon casks. We closely monitored the aging process and we batched until we came to the conclusion that it had reached its optimal condition," he says. "The task of batching many times over is tedious, but was necessary to the fulfillment of our goal of offering our consumers our ultimate expression to date."
The arduous process also wasn't overly productive, issuing just 5,500 liters for the first edition. "It's only 6,720 bottles," says Blandon. "Talk about a small batch! In the rum category, that's almost nothing." Each bottle in the release is numbered in the series.
The paucity of product might be expected. Until recently aged rums, especially examples with three decades age, have been a small player in the overall rum market. But Blandon and his partner Lazaro Carbajal have been instrumental in the major change in rum perception. Before marketing Zafra, their Miami-based Dana Wine & Spirits had imported and promoted to prominence the Guatemalan rums Ron Zacapa and Botran, both renowned for their well-executed maturation.
For Zafra, the partners sourced a renowned rum producer in Panama. The spirit is made using local sugarcane, which is then converted into molasses and fermented. Distillation is done in a column still, before aging in the tropical climate of Panama.
Zafra 30 Master Series (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; aged 30 years; $200 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Deep, copper color. Jumbo teardrop legs.
NOSE: Vanilla and molasses punctuated with Christmas spice, caramel and other Bourbon-barrel notes.
PALATE: Voluptuous, sweet molasses and vanilla notes. Hints of fruit, with creamy strawberry and banana. Nuanced licorice, cinnamon and nutmeg.
FINISH: Very long finish with hints of all of the above that then transition into bread dough and spice notes.
CIGAR PAIRING: My Father No. 1 Robusto (Nicaragua; 5 1/4 inches by 52 ring gauge; $9.70, 90 points; June 2016 Cigar Aficionado) Sweet-and-spicy notes of gingersnap and baked breads segue into a cereal note before a fairly light black tea finish. There's slight resistance to the draw, but the burn stays very even. As both elements of this pairing seem to blaze similar trails—spicy proceeding to bready notes—we couldn't resist matchmaking. The risk with such a confluence is getting little synergy. Not the case here. The cigar developed lovely leathery flavors, and the rum received a new, deep whiskey tone, indicative of its Bourbon barrel aging. And—oh yeah—if you're wondering, both amped up on the spice and bread dough.