A. D. Jonckheer
Elly van Meeteren is director of Handelmaatschappij A.D. Jonckheer. The family-owned company has sold San Pablo in Curaçao since the early 1960s, when her father, August Damian Jonckheer, acquired the brand from its Cuban owner only days before the Havana distillery was expropriated by the Castro regime.
"We used to import from Cuba," she said. "One day, the owner, Justo González, realized he was going to lose his factory, so he placed a large order and shipped to Curaçao as much rum as he could. After that, he took a vacation to Miami and never came back."
Eventually, González went into business with Jonckheer and began making the rum in Curaçao — where its quality seemed to improve, thanks to the purity of Curaçao's distilled water.
"I remember us working on Sundays, filling bottles by hand. We would sell three bottles here, three bottles there," recalled van Meeteren, who doesn't drink but seems to be an expert on the Caribbean rum industry.
She says San Pablo enjoys a 70% market share on Curaçao, where it sells 50,000 cases a year. The best-selling size is the 170-ml flask, which is convenient for carrying in the back pocket. The brand retails locally for about 14 guilders (around $7.85). Among its rivals are Bacardi and Suriname's Black Cat rum, which is sold illegally for 9 guilders (about $5.05) per bottle.
The company has 25 employees, though "hopefully, within a year, we'll have 100 people working for us," said her brother, Willem Jonckheer, who supervises San Pablo's advertising and marketing efforts.
According to Jonckheer, no more than seven people know the formula for San Pablo rum. When asked about its ingredients, he would say only is that it's made with alcohol distilled from South American sugar cane.
"We were told by a Bacardi agent that since they can't compete with us on the local market, they sent a bottle of San Pablo to Puerto Rico to be analyzed," he said. "The answer they got is that it's one of the purest rums they've ever seen."
He added: "It's not like Cruzan Rum, it's not like Don Q. We're one of the few Caribbean rums that you can drink on ice. I don't know of any Puerto Rican rums where you can do that."
Only Havana Club — bottled in a joint venture between France's Pernod Ricard and the Cuban government — comes close to San Pablo in taste, he said.
But that doesn't mean the family has any love or admiration for Fidel Castro.
"In Miami, they call rum and cola 'una mentirita,' a lie, because Cuba is no longer free," reads a company press release. "There is no Cuba Libre anymore, unless you try it with Rum San Pablo, the rum that defied Fidel and stayed free!"
San Pablo is available in three varieties: gold label, platinum white and special edition, each of which are aged for various lengths of time.
For years, San Pablo's sales were limited mainly to locals and tourists visiting the island. But duty-free constitutes less than 5% of total company sales.
Here are full texts from the labels
cw4: Platinum White Rum San Pablo; Since 1945; Curacao Rum; 80 Proof; Bottled and Produced by A. D. Jonckheer N.V., Curacao, Netherlands Antilles; Imported by The Revolution Spirits Company, Miami, FL; 750 ml; 899225000755
cw3: Gold Label; Rum San Pablo; Product of The Netherlands Antilles; 80 Proof; Bottled and Produced by A. D. Jonckheer N.V., Curacao, Netherlands Antilles; Imported by The Revolution Spirits Company, Miami, FL; 750 ml