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Rum Review: Rum San Pablo and Cuban Rum Smackdown

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How do you rate Rum San Pablo (five is best)?
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Capn Jimbo
Rum Evangelisti and Compleat Idiot

Joined: 11 Dec 2006
Posts: 3499
Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Sun Jul 20, 2008 7:54 pm    Post subject: Rum Review: Rum San Pablo and Cuban Rum Smackdown Reply with quote

Rum San Pablo: "A Spoonful of Honey"

This very hard to find rum has a wonderful backstory. On yet another of our excursions to kayak the Keys, Sue Sea and I noted a new liquor store in the upper Keys. As I tend to do, I ran in "...for just a quick look, honest" as I love to find and peruse rum sections, mostly to compare prices but always on the lookout for something new.

At this point I rarely find anything new, and have found that Total Wine is pretty hard to beat for its selection and low prices. But I have found some smaller stores that do have closeouts, or just happen to have a brand or two at very attractive prices. Or that have some of the harder to find selections like Cubaney, Ron Abuelo Seven (7) Year, et al.

Well on this quick reconnoiter I found the prices very high except for one product I'd never seen before: Rum San Pablo at just $11.95. The bottle was not impressive, nor the label, but I did note something that really attracted my attention.

Rum San Pablo is the first rum I'd seen made in the Netherlands Antilles, specifically Curacao, by a Dutch company, A. D. Jonckheer N.V. The back label exclaimed that this rum was made:

..with the purest water in the world - distilled sea water. The result after aging in oak barrels is a taste that is exceptionally smooth and mellow. Our slogan "Smoothness in a bottle" (and)... this one of a kind taste has made it the number one selling rum in the Dutch Caribbean islands since 1945".

Well that - and the low price - did it. Sold, at just over ten bucks, what could I lose?

After returning to Fort Lauderdale I decided to research this unusual rum. It turns out it has quite a Cuban history. The original distiller was a Mr. Justo Gonzales whose Cuban factory made and exported this Cuban rum to the Netherland Antilles for some years until Castro's appearance in 1960. Fearing the loss of his distillery he begged his Dutch distributor - A. D. Jonckheer - to quickly buy his entire stock of 150 barrels and to withhold payment until he could escape the country.

This was done, Gonzales fled and went into partnership with Jonckheer from 1960 and continued to produce his Cuban rum from imported molasses and using his secret formula. After his death the company passed entirely to Jonckheer, and currently is run by his daughter. Rum San Pablo continues to be made using Gonzales' Cuban methods and formula and is alleged to be the #1 selling rum in the area.

Or so it is reported.

Of course we all are (or should be) skeptical of marketing (take for example the made up Vizcaya Cuban Formula, Cask 21 VXOP) so Sue Sea and I approached this rum with caution. As per usual, I'd had a few sips prior to our tasting and picked up a bit of clove and recalled that our Cubaney 8 Year and the aforesaid Vizcaya VXOP also fell into the clove family profile.

I began to wonder whether these former Cuban producers - in addition to producing lighter rums - were into clove, so I decided to run a comparison along with this first time tasting and review of San Pablo. Would San Pablo turn out to be authentic? Would it really live up to it's label (as few rums ever do)? And just how would it score? The reviews:

Vizcaya Cask 21 VXOP

Please refer to the original, complete review in this forum section. In sum:

Let it be said at the outset that I believe this rum may indeed have some relation to some vague "Cuban formula" as claimed, but that it remains a product of the marketing department. It is overdone, heavy and unilateral. It's hard to really call it a Cuban style rum.

Like the Cubaney 8 Year (which I do believe is more authentic), it presents with a similar aroma but featuring a very pungent clove dominant over the vanilla, against a background of deep orange and a bit of brighter pineapple. The taste opens with dark sweet Bing cherry, but quickly escalates into clove, clove and CLOVE. Warm in the mouth, then moving into a long, hot and more peppery clove, chestwarming finish and aftertaste.

Like clove? I mean, really like clove? Then you'll love this faux Cuban, clovey, borderline medicinal rum.

Cubaney Eight Year

The complete and original review also appears in this forum section. In sum:

Now we're getting somewhere. Cubaney 8 Year presents with sweet vanilla clove - very pleasant - against a light oak, light almond, a hint of pineapple and a high citrus orange. As Sue Sea noted the vanilla and almond seem to add a sweetness to the clove, nice. The early palate is quite robust, but transitions into a nice deep orangey apricot with a hint of high pineapple and ends with a noticeable oakey clove. The finish is short, chestwarming and moves from sweet clove to a near pepper. There is an aftertaste of clove.

In sum, much more pleasant, rounded and balanced than the Vizcaya. Although clove is present in the Cubaney, it is more a well blended component than the dominant and overpowering feature of the V-drink.

Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva

Best of the lot so far, and really moves away from the clove-based profile. This rum (chosen as the reference standard for the Cuban style) is a 15 year Solera rum. Accordingly it is complex and a rum that demands time and airing.

We've reviewed this rum twice (review appears in the forum section) and I urge you to check it. Wonderful aromas of cocoa, vanilla, orange, oak and a touch of cinnamon and clove. An early sweet and rich palate that reflects the aroma and that builds to a hot, white pepper, smoky oak finish. The most complex and balanced of the three listed so far.

I fell in love all over again with the Gran Reserva and favored it with an "8" over Sue Sea's "7". As for San Pablo, the ratings were reversed. As far as we are concerned this is a tie. We'd buy both again.

And now for the mystery rum, Rum San Pablo from Curacao:

Sue Sea:

Jim and I had a lovely time in the Keys as always, a very hard place to leave I can assure you. In addition to getting on the water in our kayaks, we love to explore and yes, I do tolerate Jim's rum hunts. We've actually discovered a couple of surprising rums in this way, eg the Cubaney (in Key Largo) and Pirate's Choice (in Marathon). Rum San Pablo was yet another and certainly worth an eleven dollar bill and change.

Rum San Pablo comes in a fairly ordinary bottle with a fairly ordinary label not suffered by a marketing department. I too was intrigued by a rum from an island group not particularly known for it, and by its Cuban heritage. And yes, I was skeptical. But I'm not now.

On first nosing I thought I was getting a kind of corky, reedy bamboo kind of light wood aroma but in time I finally got it - a light wooden cigar box! The aroma is very light, very pleasant, like honey you can taste but with little nose. Like real honey. It's like a pleasant wisp of an aroma in the breeze. San Pablo's early taste is exceptionally creamy/buttery smooth. About midway it transitions smoothly and gently into a mild clove which slowly emerges in the late palate to become the dominant element.

The finish is warm, not hot, smooth and medium long. And there is an aftertaste, the light wooden cigar box I noted, which was a tongue experience (not in the throat like some heavy rums).

Rum San Pablo is light, consistent, very pleasant and smooth as silk, just as the label promises. Refreshing and completely balanced. This fine rum is all about smooth and I think an excellent example of the Cuban light style of rum.

I like the smooth simplicity of this rum which I think would have many good uses - as a light appetizer kind of rum, as a good sipper representative of its style, even as a great introductory rum for new drinkers. It's smoothness as it transitions across my palate was heavenly.


On my previous nights sipping I found I liked this rum and was quite interested in a real tasting with Sue Sea. I thought it only fair to do a comparison with other so-called Cuban expatriate rums. But to be frank, I wasn't holding my breath.

Unlike the Cubaney and the V-drink, Rum San Pablo presents in an honest gold, no orange or amber, with good clarity, nice legs. It opens lightly and sweetly with just a hint of clove in the background. It is important to take note of Sue Sea's light wooden cigar box. The early palate is smooth, sweet and honey-like. What happens next is the art of this rum - Rum San Pablo then transitions smoothly and beautifully. As the dominant honey slowly fades, the clove just as smoothly emerges to become the primary note which then - just as smoothly - slides into a very pleasant light clove and medium-long finish.

I accept Sue Sea's aftertaste, though we may disagree about the tongue position, lol. Of the three rums compared today, Rum San Pablo was clearly the most impressive, but not based on complexity. It was the best based on it's remarkable balance and exceptional smoothness.

Think about this...

Opens with a smooth honey with just a hint of clove against a light and pleasant wooden cigar box background. The dominant element is honey and the cigar box is a tease which goes into hiding. The dominant honey then opens the palate and slides beautifully into a growing but lovely clove and smooth finish. And then what? The cigar box tease was there all the while to reappear at the end! Great!

This to me represents the subtle sophistication of taking three notable elements and making them work together in smooth balance. I should also add that during this tasting we reflected on the fact that many experienced cigar smokers seem to prefer heavier rums with pungent aftertastes for their cigar rums.

We then wondered how and why a Cuban distiller - who we may assume knows and appreciates perhaps the best cigars on the planet - would produce such a light rum, which at first blush seems rather distant from the heavy rums many cigar smokers prefer. It was then Sue Sea was finally able to distinguish the subtle and light wooden (not cardboard) cigar box background. Subtle but absolutely there.

And then it all made sense. I believe this rum and its history are entirely authentic. At it's apparent price of about $12 it is surely a best buy.

Rating (10 is best): Sue Sea - 8, Jimbo - 7.


Special Note: Some time later I actually found a bottle of Rum San Pablo Gold Label at an amazing $8.95 in Miami.At this price you'd be wise to buy a case.

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