Bottle #62: Roncoco

Bottle #62 is Roncoco, a coconut liqueur based on white rum, bottled in Lake Alfred, Florida, under the authority of Ron Matusalem of San Juan, Puerto Rico. As a rum fan, I was already aware of the Ron Matusalem name, although these days it is made and based in the Dominican Republic rather than Puerto Rico. As I started digging into its history I didn’t find much about Roncoco, but I did find a LOT of drama.

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Ron Matusalem was founded in Cuba in 1872, but as I talked about in Bottle 58: Bacardi O, all of the Cuban rum brands were nationalized after the 1959 Cuban revolution, and Ron Matusalem was no exception. The family fled to Miami and eventually established rum making operations in the Bahamas, with bottling facilities in Puerto Rico and Florida.

Things got really messy after that with the establishment of a bunch of different family corporations, and eventually a series of court battles as different sides sought to exert control. The court cases (1989, 1993) actually make pretty entertaining reading, although I’m still not sure I fully understand all the twists and turns.

I did find this great line in a 1993 court bankruptcy case: “The court determines that the Debtor has failed to demonstrate good business judgment or even mediocre business judgment.” But what’s really wild to me is that it turned out the court was wrong. The “Debtor” was Dr Claudio Alvarez, who was by this point the head of one of the several companies that made up Ron Matusalem. His strategy, according to the court filings, was to reposition the Matusalem brand by raising prices. This would of course result in an initial drop in sales, which would be recaptured within a period of several years, and then the company would return to profitability. The court was skeptical – why give up profitability now in the hopes of profitability in the future?

But in fact, as I talked about way back in Bottle #1 – Maker’s Mark, raising your prices to reposition yourself in the market is a tried-and-true liquor brand strategy. And after an out-of-court settlement in 1995, Ron Matusalem basically did just that, relocating operations to Dominican Republic and relaunching in 2002 as a premium rum brand.

But well before all that, in 1975, Ron Matusalem began selling a coconut rum liqueur called Roncoco. Originally bottled at 60 proof (30% ABV) it was initially sold in a wicker wrapped bottle which was eventually replaced with a pearly white glass bottle. People really liked it, and I found a couple posts online from people complaining about how hard it was to find.

Mine isn’t even a pearly white bottle, just a half empty plastic one, and only 24% ABV. I’m putting the dates for it from between 1989 and 1995. It’s after 1989, because that’s when government warning labels started. And before 1995, because that’s when the court cases were finally settled, and when – as part of its great relaunch – the company terminated its existing bottling and distribution contracts.

One of those contracts was to none other than the David Sherman Company, now known as Luxco, who had a starring role in my episode about Bottle #3 – Hot Shot Tropical Fruit Schnapps. And presumably since a premium rum company would have no need for a coconut rum liqueur, part of the separation agreement appears to have been giving David Sherman Co the rights to the brand. As Luxco, they are still making and selling a Roncoco liqueur today, although without much fanfare and quite a different look!

That’s most of the story about Roncoco, but I unboxed TWO bottles of coconut rum liqueur in Reveal #12, and they turned out to have an unexpected connection. So be sure to check out the next episode for more on that!

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Bottle #62: Roncoco

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Bottle #62 is Roncoco, a coconut liqueur based on white rum, bottled in Lake Alfred, Florida, under the authority of Ron Matusalem of San Juan, Puerto Rico. As a rum fan, I was already aware of the Ron Matusalem name, although these days it is made and based in the Dominican Republic rather than Puerto Rico. As I started digging into its history I didn’t find much about Roncoco, but I did find a LOT of drama.

Ron Matusalem was founded in Cuba in 1872, but as I talked about in Bottle 58: Bacardi O, all of the Cuban rum brands were nationalized after the 1959 Cuban revolution, and Ron Matusalem was no exception. The family fled to Miami and eventually established rum making operations in the Bahamas, with bottling facilities in Puerto Rico and Florida.

Things got really messy after that with the establishment of a bunch of different family corporations, and eventually a series of court battles as different sides sought to exert control. The court cases (1989, 1993) actually make pretty entertaining reading, although I’m still not sure I fully understand all the twists and turns.

I did find this great line in a 1993 court bankruptcy case: “The court determines that the Debtor has failed to demonstrate good business judgment or even mediocre business judgment.” But what’s really wild to me is that it turned out the court was wrong. The “Debtor” was Dr Claudio Alvarez, who was by this point the head of one of the several companies that made up Ron Matusalem. His strategy, according to the court filings, was to reposition the Matusalem brand by raising prices. This would of course result in an initial drop in sales, which would be recaptured within a period of several years, and then the company would return to profitability. The court was skeptical – why give up profitability now in the hopes of profitability in the future?

But in fact, as I talked about way back in Bottle #1 – Maker’s Mark, raising your prices to reposition yourself in the market is a tried-and-true liquor brand strategy. And after an out-of-court settlement in 1995, Ron Matusalem basically did just that, relocating operations to Dominican Republic and relaunching in 2002 as a premium rum brand.

But well before all that, in 1975, Ron Matusalem began selling a coconut rum liqueur called Roncoco. Originally bottled at 60 proof (30% ABV) it was initially sold in a wicker wrapped bottle which was eventually replaced with a pearly white glass bottle. People really liked it, and I found a couple posts online from people complaining about how hard it was to find.

Mine isn’t even a pearly white bottle, just a half empty plastic one, and only 24% ABV. I’m putting the dates for it from between 1989 and 1995. It’s after 1989, because that’s when government warning labels started. And before 1995, because that’s when the court cases were finally settled, and when – as part of its great relaunch – the company terminated its existing bottling and distribution contracts.

One of those contracts was to none other than the David Sherman Company, now known as Luxco, who had a starring role in my episode about Bottle #3 – Hot Shot Tropical Fruit Schnapps. And presumably since a premium rum company would have no need for a coconut rum liqueur, part of the separation agreement appears to have been giving David Sherman Co the rights to the brand. As Luxco, they are still making and selling a Roncoco liqueur today, although without much fanfare and quite a different look!

That’s most of the story about Roncoco, but I unboxed TWO bottles of coconut rum liqueur in Reveal #12, and they turned out to have an unexpected connection. So be sure to check out the next episode for more on that!

 

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