Zuma introduces barrel-aged cocktails with worldly flair, otherworldly flavor

Barrel-aged cocktails are the rage these days. But the folks at Zuma are taking it to a new level, thanks to a set of custom-built, super-funky contraptions created by the company’s global beverage director James Shearer and his friends at Zacapa rum. It’s a global initiative that recently landed at the modern Japanese restaurant’s Cosmopolitan location. While a full appreciation of the project will require a jet-setting lifestyle, the taste offered there is impressive in its own right.

The steampunk-esque contraption is known as a solera, and it’s the same technology top distilleries use to blend fine whiskeys before bottling. Zuma soleras consist of four five-liter barrels of charred American oak connected with metal piping. Each of the top three barrels has been treated with a different solution to absorb its flavors. Once those flavors have time to seep into the wood, the barrels are emptied, and the entire contraption is filled with a premixed cocktail that is then allowed to age for six weeks. Every time a drink is poured from the bottom barrel, a new one is added to the top, allowing the mixture to work its way through every container, absorbing each flavor profile, and mingling them together.


The base cocktail — a combination of Zacapa rum, Bulleit bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters, Bitter Truth Elixier, Golden Falernum and three types of vermouth — is the same in every Zuma solera around the world. But the treatment of the American oak casks is always different, providing a different experience in every city.

Here in Las Vegas, the three flavors at play are bananas, maple syrup and a combination of sauvignon blanc, elderflower liqueur and raspberry that’s meant to impart the taste of bubblegum and memories of a sweet perfume. Together, they’re intended to evoke thoughts of a Las Vegas breakfast after a wild night on the town.

Travel to London, however, and you’ll encounter the same cocktail flavored with essences of coffee, rhubarb and raspberry. In Rome, you’ll find boozy Parmesan, Nutella and chocolate.


For globe-trotting customers inclined to compare the one-of-a-kind experiences, Zuma and Zacapa are hoping to introduce an incentive. While still in the planning stages, the idea is to create a Zuma “passport,” with one page for each location: London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Dubai, Miami, Bangkok, Abu Dhabi, Datça Peninsula, New York, Rome and Las Vegas. Each time a solera drink is ordered in a new location, the staff will stamp the corresponding page. The first person to collect all 11 stamps could win a trip to Guatemala to tour the Zacapa distillery and receive a barrel of his or her favorite city’s cocktail to enjoy at home. Not to mention international bragging rights.