Don Q Gran Reserva XO: The Ultimate Bottle Guide

Don Q Gran Reserva XO is a premium Puerto Rican rum. Thoughtfully crafted, beautifully aged, and produced by a visionary distillery steeped in history, the Gran Reserva XO is a best-in-class rum — and a prime example of why the region's spirits are so highly regarded.

The Gran Reserva XO is complex but perfectly balanced, which makes sense coming from Don Q. The distillery has a wealth of extremely well-aged rums to draw from when it comes to blending, and unparalleled access to fresh, high-quality ingredients (thanks in part to its start in the sugarcane industry). Despite sharing a birthplace with the enormously popular Bacardi brand, Don Q even appears to outpace the industry leader on its home turf of Puerto Rico.

The spirit has an authentic sweetness that's unadulterated by the additives sometimes used by other distillers, and the maturity of the rum presents itself with notes of rich vanilla, luxurious toffee, and plenty of oak. With an approachable 40% ABV (or 80 proof), it also has enough versatility to be sipped neat or mixed with other ingredients. For anyone interested in learning more about this top-shelf product, let's take a closer look at everything there is to know about Don Q Gran Reserva XO.

The history of Don Q

Given Puerto Rico is considered by many to be the rum capital of the world, it's no surprise the tale of Don Q is inextricably tied to the chronicles of the island's rum industry. The story starts with Juan Sebastián Serrallés, a Spaniard who settled in Ponce, Puerto Rico around 1820.

At that time, Puerto Rico already had a well-established sugarcane industry dating back to the 16th century, leading Serrallés to found a plantation called the Hacienda Teresa. In 1861, Juan Sebastián's son, "Don" Juan Serrallés Colón, established his own sugarcane plantation called Hacienda Mercedita (named after his wife, Mercedes). After importing a copper pot still from France in 1865, Juan created the very first batch of Serrallés rum.

Upon relaunching its rum operation in 1934 after the end of Prohibition in the U.S., Don Q changed the name and recipe of its rum. The following year, the family built a state-of-the-art distillery to signify a commitment to rum-making. In the years since, Destilería Serrallés has gone from strength to strength, with the Don Q brand relaunching in the U.S. in 2006. Now run by the sixth generation of Serrallés family members, the company has introduced new styles of rum to its range and built a well-deserved reputation for world-class spirits.

What does Don Q Gran Reserva XO taste like?

On first approach, there's a complexity to the Gran Reserva XO that makes individual aromas a little hard to distinguish. There's a bit of alcohol heat in the beginning, but not the nose hair-singing kind that's often present with younger or stronger spirits. As the heat dissipates, it becomes easier to identify the nuances. There's a sweet and soft aroma that's punctuated with touches of toasted coconut, campfire marshmallow, rich caramel, and some dried fruit poking through.

On the palate, the first thing to hit you is the incredibly velvety mouthfeel — reminiscent of rolling melted toffee around your mouth — followed by an explosion of roasted oak. There's still some heat to the rum, but it presents itself as enjoyably spicy (possibly peppery) and doesn't make the Gran Reserva XO taste any less smooth. Additionally, while many similar rums in this category start to taste a little too syrupy due to the addition of extra sugar before bottling, Don Q's purity shines here. It's superbly balanced with a notable dryness, and the typically saccharine flavors like vanilla, buttercream, and baked apple are countered with bittersweet dark chocolate and dried orange peel.

The finish is largely an extension of the main event. Not too short and not too long, the candy-like aspects let themselves out gracefully without overstaying their welcome, while hints of allspice and cinnamon prickle the tongue throughout.

How is Don Q Gran Reserva XO made?

Like all rums, Don Q Gran Reserva XO starts with sugarcane. Although it can be made with fresh sugarcane juice (this is what differentiates rum and rhum), most use molasses as a base — Don Q included.

Fortunately, molasses is something the distillery has in abundance, given it's a byproduct of sugarcane production. The high-quality molasses is diluted with fresh water from the Río Inabón before being fermented with yeast to create an alcoholic mash ready for distilling to a higher strength. There are many factors that contribute to a rum's flavor, and one of the things that sets Don Q apart is its proprietary yeast strain that's been kept alive for over 75 years. Another is that the spirit is distilled a whopping five times in a copper pot still. Compared to column stills, pot stills produce more full-bodied rums that retain a higher concentration of flavor compounds, and copper produces a cleaner-tasting spirit.

All Don Q rums are aged for at least a year in charred American oak barrels. But the Gran Reserva XO outpaces other varieties, containing a blend of rums aged between 9 and 12 years. Additionally, the distillery employs a solera fractional blending process, which allows it to add smaller quantities of rums aged for as long as 50 years.

How to drink Don Q Gran Reserva XO

There are plenty of great ways to mix rum. However, expressions that boast the quality and maturity of the Gran Reserva XO are generally intended as sipping rums. Whether drinking it neat, with a couple ice cubes, or with a splash of water to reduce the rum's intensity, Don Q hits the mark here, and its smoothness means it can be enjoyed without any fuss or extra ingredients. The Gran Reserva XO goes down extremely well without ice, but the extra chill and dilution make it approachable to those who like a mellower experience.

Of course, it's always worth putting a liquor through its paces, so I also tried this rum in an old fashioned and a piña colada. While I love old fashioneds, the added sugar is often unnecessary with sweeter, adulterated styles of rum. Yet the dryness of the Gran Reserva XO completely sidesteps this issue and results in a truly elegant expression of the classic cocktail.

Additionally, given Don Q's historic relationship with the piña colada, the Gran Reserva XO seemed worth experimenting in the frozen cocktail. I was expecting the rum's complexity to muddy the fresh flavors of the king of tropical cocktails, but this wasn't the case. Rather, it added a luxurious depth to the piña colada, while a squeeze of fresh lime helped balance out the sweeter notes.

How does Don Q Gran Reserva XO compare to the rest of the Serralles Collection?

While Don Q produces a pretty wide selection of rums, none of them feel redundant, and its offerings are divided into three distinct categories. Its white, gold, and overproof rums fall into the Traditional range; the Flavors range is home to infused expressions such as coconut, lemon, and pineapple; and lastly is the Serrallés Collection.

The Serrallés Collection is where you'll find Don Q's more premium rums, like the Gran Reserva XO. Named in honor of the distillery's founding family, these spirits boast extended aging, and many use unique and specific casks for maturing the rum. Consequently, it's worth comparing how the Gran Reserva XO stacks up against the Reserva 7 and Oak Barrel Spiced rum (which are also found in the Serrallés Collection).

The Reserva 7 is evidently younger than the Gran Reserva XO –- brighter but hotter tasting –- and is better suited as a high-quality, dark mixing rum. While it's also generally cheaper than the Gran Reserva XO, it's worth spending the extra money if you're after a sipper. Meanwhile, the Oak Barrel Spiced rum is surprisingly supple. While many spiced rums come off overtly saccharine, Don Q's version tastes richer and more complex, and provides a nice variety alongside the Gran Reserva XO bottle in the Don Q's premium selections.

Don Q Gran Reserva XO vs Bacardi Gran Reserva Limitada

While there are plenty of premium aged rums to measure against Gran Reserva XO, it only seems fair to choose an offering from Bacardi (given the brands are both Puerto Rican and Don Q seemingly outsells the global juggernaut on its home turf). Although the Gran Reserva XO is closer in price to Bacardi's 10-year-old Diez rum, the Limitada is closer in age, so it should be a better comparison in terms of flavor. Truthfully, at double the price on average, the Bacardi Limitada should unquestionably be the superior rum. However, the reality is quite different.

The Limitada is by no means a poor rum, but you already feel like you're wanting more after the first nosing. It's complex, but it's hard to discern what makes it so. Taste-wise, there's a good amount of barrel oak, vanilla, and tropical fruit, but the lighter mouthfeel is something of a let-down. Rum aficionados will also suspect extra sugar has been added before bottling.

While you might expect Don Q's Gran Reserva XO to stand up to Bacardi's younger, less-premium offerings, the fact that it's markedly better than Bacardi's top-shelf rum is a little shocking. It would be easy to place the blame on Bacardi for a lackluster offering, but this would unfairly undermine the craftsmanship and skill that's gone into producing Don Q's Gran Reserva XO.

Is Don Q Gran Reserva XO good value for money?

You can generally pick up a bottle of Don Q Gran Reserva XO for around $50 to $60 (depending on your location, that is). This is more than twice the price of the brand's entry-level rums like the Gold and Cristal, so it's fair to question whether the Gran Reserva XO is worth the cost.

Truthfully, this pricing is more a testament to the superb value of Don Q's rums across the entire range. The premium aged rum market has seen significant growth in recent years, with some bottles costing hundreds of dollars each. When you dive into these offerings, it becomes clear that some distilleries are using higher prices to convince customers of quality, rather than letting the rum do the talking. You can get a better idea of value for money by comparing the Gran Reserva XO to similarly priced rums in the premium category, such as the El Dorado 15-year from Guyana, or Ron Zacapa 23.

Ultimately, the Gran Reserva XO is an extraordinarily good value given the quality. This is abundantly clear considering how many rums seem to sell for nearly double the price but can't compete in terms of flavor. That being said, if you're planning on mixing your rum, you'll likely be better off choosing one of the cheaper options in the Don Q lineup.

Don Q is named after a famous literary hero

Given that the first Serrallés rum was created by "Don" Juan Serrallés, you'd be forgiven for thinking the rum's moniker is eponymous. Although there's a chance it may have partially inspired the brand's name, Don Q is actually named for Don Quixote, the eponymous hero of Miguel de Cervantes' literary classic.

Published in the early 17th century, the epic tale of Don Quixote is often viewed as the first modern novel of western civilization. The book tells of an aging, low-level nobleman who, after becoming obsessed with fantastical stories of chivalry, declares himself a knight and heads out seeking adventures like those of which he'd read. Although Don Quixote can't quite separate his imagined grandeur from the banal reality of life, the story is ultimately about fighting one's limitations and fostering an unwavering sense of idealism.

There are plenty of reasons why Don Quixote may have earned its place as the Serrallés family's favorite novel, but the book's underlying themes likely inspired them to bequeath the Don Q name upon its rum. The character set out in search of the perfect world, after all, and for the Serrallés family? The name is representative of their own quest for perfection — except in their case, they're aiming to make the best rum possible.

Don Q Gran Reserva XO used to be called Gran Añejo

If you're hunting down a bottle of Don Q Gran Reserva XO online, you may find your search results occasionally come up with Don Q Gran Añejo instead. While the names and bottle designs are different, the rum inside is the same product.

The reason for this is that Don Q rebranded its lineup in 2020, and while doing so, decided to rename the Gran Añejo. The first version of this particular rum was launched in 1993 as a limited-edition release, in commemoration of the 500-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus's supposed discovery of Puerto Rico. The expression received such acclaim that Don Q decided to make it a permanent fixture of its rum range.

Apart from upgrading the bottle design and creating visual consistency across the product line, Don Q felt the name should better reflect the superior standard of the rum inside. The addition of Reserva to the name is meant to more effectively portray the exclusivity of the spirits that make up the blend, while the XO designation is one that brandy fans are likely already familiar with. Meaning "Extra Old," the initials are a mark of premium aging that arose in the Cognac industry and has since crossed into other liquor styles. Although Cognac is the only spirit where XO is a legal classification, other spirits use the label to denote extended aging and finer quality, as well.

Don Q rum was used in the first piña colada

Though distilleries love to claim its products were used in the first version of a classic cocktail, there's normally little in the way of hard proof. However, the piña colada is one of the few exceptions. In fact, although Bacardi boasts its rum was the first to be used in a piña colada, it's not the same recipe we know and love in the 21st century — and Don Q's rum was actually the first to be mixed in this frozen cocktail.

Now, the earliest recipe for a cocktail by this name (which did use Bacardi rum) can be traced back to 1922, but it lacked coconut cream — a crucial ingredient in the beverage we know today. The inventor of the modern piña colada is Ramón Marrero, who first whipped up the cocktail at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in 1954. In 1978, the tropical beverage was named the official drink of Puerto Rico, and the territory's government has officially recognized the hotel as the birthplace of the piña colada on multiple anniversaries.

As to proving the inclusion of Don Q rum in the first piña colada, there's physical evidence. The distillery owns a document signed by Merrero, testifying that he used Don Q. While the specific rum blend is no longer produced (it certainly wasn't the Gran Reserva XO), the closest alternative is the company's core expression in Don Q Gold.