If you want a quick education when it comes to several different facets of what rum has to offer, the Kirk and Sweeney 23 is a bottle with a lot to teach.
First, let's consider the state of well-aged bourbon. Bottles of Pappy Van Winkle 20 are so rare and desirable that when people aren't being bled dry on the secondary market, they're literally willing to form crime syndicates to get their hands on the stuff. When the markets have spoken, a few handfuls of the oldest Pappy bottles will fetch thousands. Some people go absolutely apeshit with money when they're told they can't have something.
Even in the scotch world, where heavily-aged spirits are slightly more available, you pay for the premium. A quick web search shows that my local shop is selling a bottle of Macallan 21 for $570, and Highland Park 25 will run you close to $700 (before tax, no less). The bottles are out there, but you're going to reach deep into your wallet if you want to taste the effects of two decades of barrel aging on Scottish-made hooch.
Meanwhile, a bottle of 23-year old spirit from the Dominican Republic will run you a whopping fifty dollars. It's a price so low that you think there might be something wrong with it. The price-to-age ratio is all the more baffling when you stop to consider they're selling the 18-year for $40. Ten dollars more for an additional five years in the barrel? You don't have to twist my arm too hard there.
So that's lesson one taught by the Kirk and Sweeney 23: basically, the lower demand for rum creates great value for the adventurous. But the second lesson is that it's not entirely fair to compare ages from bottle to bottle, let alone spirit to spirit.
With respect to the "23" on the side of this bottle: that's not an "up to" 23 years or a "may include" kind of age statement you find with Solera system rums. As far as I can tell, it's at least 23 years old if it's conforming to American labeling standards. Trust me, I hunted for any kind of nebulous phrasing or verbal wiggling on the bottle and website and found none.
All that said, for a 23-year old spirit, I find it a little underachieving. Despite nearly a quarter century of aging, there's some initial raw alcohol shock (all the more surprising at 40% ABV) and the mouthfeel seems a little thin. Flavor-wise, El Dorado is making a knockout rum that I would argue is slightly richer and more decadent in eight years less time. For that reason, the K&S 23 is a good example of age being just a number in certain cases—cask selection, cask size, and climate may have equally as much to do with our perception of a "mature" spirit.
I don't want to rag on this too harshly, though: once we look past the expectations a big "23" tends to create, it's well worth the asking price. With the 23-year, Kirk and Sweeney have managed to craft something that's rich and well-rounded. The smell alone lets you know that you're about to jump into the deep end of flavor, and there's more than enough cola, tobacco, cinnamon, and dark fruit to play with. I like that there's an extremely interesting and pleasant earthiness to the spirit that tends to ground the ample amount of molasses and brown sugar. Perhaps the Kirk and Sweeney 23 lacks a distinctive personality, but it delivers all of the hallmarks I expect of a well-aged rum.
Also, the bottle is nuts. Just take a look at the product shot. There's at least ten bucks worth of glass in the packaging and it's all on the bottom. Don't put it on a delicate shelf and try not to drop it, or I bet it'll do some damage to a tile floor.