Review: Don Q Gran Reserva Anejo XO Rum

When I was going through my WSET certification, the one brand of rum that my instructor kept going back to time and again was Don Q. I hadn’t heard of the brand before, but doing some quick googling revealed a great track record and a deep bench of flavors. So today, I’m finally going to try the top of the line offering from Don Q, the Gran Reserva Anejo XO Rum, to see if that reputation is deserved.



Sebastian Serrallés was a wealthy Spanish businessman from Catalonia who arrived in Puerto Rico in 1820 and founded a sugar cane plantation in Ponce, Puerto Rico. There he started a family including his son Juan Serrallés Colón (often referred to as Don Juan Serrallés), who was sent back to mainland Spain for his education before returning to Puerto Rico to take over the family business.

In 1865, Juan imported a copper pot still from France and started using the excess sugar cane on his plantations to make rum. The end result was well liked, and in that same year he sold his first bottle of rum and started the family tradition of manufacturing Puerto Rican rum.

Looking for a brand name that would stand out, Juan named his rum after the famous Spanish fictional character Don Quixote (which seems to have worked, since “Don Q” is a well known and respected brand to this day).

Following the end of prohibition, in 1935 a new and larger rum production facility was built which helped expand the reach of their product and allowed the family to ship more rum for export. As a result of this expansion, the family became very wealthy — from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, their Uncle Tito rented an entire island (the “Isla Caja de Muerto”) to throw notoriously fabulous parties. They even bottled a specific rum for these events, dubbed “Uncle Tito’s Pirate Rum”.

In a reverse of the normal course of history for a distillery, in this case the Destilería Serrallés (the family owned and operated distillery for Don Q) actually became so large and powerful that it purchased Puerto Rican Distillers, Inc. in 1985, a conglomerate of smaller distilleries on the island. That situation remains to this day, with the Serrallés family under the direction of Felix J. Serrallés Jr. maintaining private ownership of the company and continuing to produce their rums from Puerto Rico.


Just like many other rum manufacturers, the Destilería Serrallés formed as a component of the sugar plantation that the family was already running. It solved two problems: what to do with excess sugar cane they couldn’t sell, and what to do with the nasty gunk that was leftover after all of the pure sugar had been boiled away and extracted from the pressed sugar cane juice. Instead of letting that go to waste, making rum was a way to make something useful that would be shelf stable and that could be shipped around the world.

That concept continues today, as the raw ingredient for these rums is the waste product from the sugar production process. Raw sugar canes are pressed to extract their sugary juice, which is then boiled in a series of pots to extract varying purities of raw sugar. That sugar is shipped and sold, leaving behind what is referred to as “blackstrap molasses” — a thick, oily, greasy, and still slightly sweet liquid filled with impurities.

That molasses is added to water and combined with yeast to create a mildly alcoholic liquid. Interesting to note: the strain of yeast used by Don Q is the same strain that they have used for over 75 years, which helps ensure quality and consistency.

After fermentation, the mildly alcoholic liquid is distilled in a traditionally configured series of five column or “continuous” stills, each one performing a different function and designed to extract the maximum amount of alcohol from the liquid. While column stills are great for getting the most volume possible, they also have a tendency to follow the “quantity over quality” rule and produce less characterful and flavorful rums.

Following distillation, the newly made rum is placed into charred American white oak barrels — likely second-hand barrels from the bourbon distilling process. While bourbon requires a new barrel every time, rum doesn’t have that same restriction, allowing them to reuse and recycle these still delicious (and way less expensive) secondhand barrels. The rum is added to the barrels and matured for a minimum of one year.

For this specific variety of Don Q’s rum, two different processes are merged together to make the finished product.

The most straightforward component is a selection of rums which have been aged in these charred oak barrels for between 9 and 12 years. Different barrels are selected and blended together based on their flavor profile to get the finished product just right.

The more interesting portion of this spirit comes from a solera aging process in which a portion of their spirits are mingled and matured over a period of 50 years. Read our full article on the process for more details, but the bottom line is that it’s a Ship of Theseus in a bottle and kinda cool if done right.

In the end, the various sources are combined to taste and proofed down to 40% prior to bottling and distribution.


Of all the bottles in the Don Q line, this one is unique and different — and I really like it.

This bottle has more of a 1920’s perfume vibe going on, starting with the cylindrical body sporting fluted and rounded facets along the sides. That body quickly rounds to a short neck and is topped with a cork and faux metal stopper. It really does look great, showing off the color of the liquid inside and refracting the light beautifully.

On the front of the bottle is a smaller-than-normal label with the Don Q brand name on it and some additional embellishments, including a golden border and textured paper. It feels like a high quality label and goes perfectly with the shape of the bottle. Along the bottom is a ticket sized sticker in metallic gold with the more specific bottle details.

I mentioned that this bottle feels different than any of the other ones in the Don Q line, and that’s true — the rest are more traditionally shaped with more boring label designs. This one feels like they took the time and effort to set it apart and make it special.



This certainly looks the part of an aged rum. The spirit has this nice deep golden color, like a glass of honey instead of a glass of rum. Coming off that glass is a nicely saturated aroma filled with the things I love to see in a rum: brown sugar, toasted marshmallow, vanilla, and baking spices, along with a tiny hint of dark cherry and orange citrus.

While the aroma may have been simple and straightforward, the flavors are way more complex and interesting than I had expected. It starts out with some good simple brown sugar notes, accompanied by an unexpected dose of banana and crisp apple fruits. That gets swiftly joined by some vanilla, and then the fun starts.

At this point it tastes like someone has grabbed a blowtorch and started toasting the brown sugar on your tongue. The flavor profile shifts and develops, becoming darker and richer until it reaches the point where it’s almost the same flavor as you get from the top of a creme brulee. At this point, I can clearly see some dark chocolate and toffee notes among the mix, and that deliciously crispy brown sugar and dark chocolate combination is what lingers through the finish.

On Ice

Ice has a tendency to cancel out the lighter and more delicate flavors in a spirit, and I think that’s exactly what’s happening here. But while it isn’t necessarily something I’d voluntarily sip on the rocks, I think it sets this spirit up very nicely for some cocktails down the road.

Lost behind the ice are the fruity banana and apple notes, only really visible as an afterthought on the extreme finish of the flavor profile. The brown sugar also doesn’t have its sweeter and lighter phase, instead now instantly tasting like that well-torched creme brulee. Combined with some dark chocolate, there is a good mix to the flavors, and those black cherry notes are still there… but I think given the choice, I’d prefer this neat.

Cocktail (Rum Old Fashioned)

I added this to the list for this review specifically because the Don Q website said that it was a great way to drink this spirit– and after a single sip, I wholeheartedly agree.

What I like best in an old fashioned are darker and richer spirits that will give the angostura bitters something to work with and balance out. In this case, that charred brown sugar and dark chocolate flavor provide an excellent base for the bitters to work with and the resulting cocktail is balanced and delicious with a depth and character you don’t normally see in a rum.

If I can make a suggestion, I feel like a little splash of the juice from a container of Maraschino cherries would be the icing on the cake instead of sugar or simple syrup. Just a little touch of fruity sweetness to tie it all together.

Fizz (Dark & Stormy)

This is typically a test where a dark rum or a spiced rum will do best, since those have the powerful flavor profile needed to cut through the ginger beer and the lime juice. But in this case, it seems like the rum has taken on more of a bourbon-like role and turned this into a Kentucky mule instead. A Puerto Rican mule maybe?

Up front, the sweetness in the spirit is doing a great job balancing out the spicy ginger beer and the tangy lime juice. That brown sugar is doing the role that the sweetness from the corn content in a bourbon would be performing normally and doing so admirably. It’s a delicious sipper of a cocktail. On the finish, some of those richer and darker components like the charred brown sugar and dark chocolate come out, adding some needed depth and character to the profile.

The only thing it’s missing is a bit of peppery spice to make it perfect. Add a jalapeno and I think this would be amazing.


Overall Rating

I think my WSET instructor was right (I mean, he does teach spirits for a living): this is a delicious rum. One of the best I’ve had from the United States, and great for the price point. Taken neat, there are some really nice components that come through, and that transition in the flavor profile is a roller coaster for the taste buds (in a good way). Diving deeper, even with some ice in the mix, there’s plenty of depth for the dark chocolate and toasted brown sugar to continue to contribute and make for some really nice cocktails.

If I could spot one area for improvement it would be the flavor of this spirit on the rocks. I think it’s a touch too dark and harsh without much balance. It’s a characteristic that helps make for some great cocktails, but I wouldn’t reach for a glass on the rocks unless I had no other option.

Don Q Gran Reserva Anejo XO Rum
Produced By: Don Q
Production Location: Puerto Rico, United States
Classification: Rum
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $53.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
A tasty roller coaster of flavors, starting light and sweet and ending dark and rich.


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