Lesson 1: Never judge a book by its cover. AKA hiding in plain sight: an extravaganza of rum.
A rum tale: E&A Scheer of Amsterdam.
I hate January. Nothing ever happens in January. The weather sucks. The piggy bank is empty. Why some fools decide that it’s the perfect month to go “dry” baffles me (to me Dry January is an excuse to focus on London dry gin). However this January finds our intrepid cocktail blogger battling through the elements on his trusty (OK rusty) steed to the soul-less Amsterdam docklands where lie the facilities of the worlds largest independent rum blender; E&A Scheer. Wait, who? Yes, good reader, it is a valid question for until very recently this company has been, at best, an open secret known only to the rum cognoscenti. For many years they existed only (even to us Amsterdammers) as a curious brass plaque above that of the Jamaican consulate on the city’s prestigious Herengracht. But in recent times E&A Scheer have decided to move ever so slightly out into the open which is how this bedraggled writer found his way, via the wrong side of the tracks, a couple of industrial unit loading bays and the truck entrance (gee, thanks Google maps) to their impressive new ultra-modern offices. Now that old city centre office might have been quite charming but despite my difficult bicycle ride I am more than happy to be out here. Because. This. Is. Where. The. Rum. Is. Just me, my guide Niels and about 9,000,000 litres of rum to cure all the ills of this otherwise worthless month. And what rum. Scheer’s modern sample room (and bar) contains a world of astonishing rums. High ester Jamaican pot stilled flavour bombs, almost neutral 95+% spirit, 12 year old Nicaraguan rum, Barbadian classics and even Indonesian Arrack; it was all spread out there before me to sniff and taste – and almost all at still or cask strength. “Why pay to ship water?” explained Niels and I could hardly disagree. I had certainly expected a good range of Caribbean rums but there were some very interesting surprises too. Who knew Ghanaian rum could be so good even existed or that Thai rum could be so refined? The only disappointment is a lack of Cuban rum due to some US investment in Scheer. Stop: History time!
A brief shaft of weak sunlight illuminates the wonders of Sheer’s sample room.
The beginnings of E&A Scheer are a bit hazy but basically about 300 years ago a couple of German brothers who were likely already distillers by trade showed up in Amsterdam to set up shop trading in wine and frankly anything else they could think of. Why Amsterdam? Well in those days Amsterdam was the centre of the world and, especially if you wanted to trade, it was absolutely THE place to be. As time went by their descendants – still happily trading away under the name of their forebears – found a profitable niche in Batavia arrack. Yes, we’ve been there before: Arrack is that intriguing Indonesian “rum” that in those days was much beloved by the Dutch, Germans and Swedes the last of whom used it to create Swedish Punsch (which we’ve also talked about). Eventually, after gradually cornering the arrack market the popularity of that wonderful spirit declined – who knows why – and Caribbean rum, which they’d long had a little bit of a finger in became more important to them. Despite being a tiny company with never more employees that you count on your fingers E&A Scheer were always ahead of the game (as evidenced by their URL www.rum.nl) and in 1995 transformed themselves, under the guidance of new managing director Carsten Vlierboom, into an altogether more modern business. Carsten saw the rum boom coming early and the company’s experience in the arrack trade positioned them perfectly to repeat the same trick over 100 years later. In typical Dutch style Scheer have quietly cultivated relationships with rum distilleries the world over to the point where the palette of rums they can draw on to blend with is nothing short of spectacular. In line with recent interest in rum worldwide the last three years have seen yet further growth at Scheer – Covid-19 hindering them not the slightest – with a doubling of output and staffing. Even so with just 41 employees they punch well above their weight. Think of any blended rum that isn’t stabled at one of the big international drinks companies and it is more than likely that blend was the work of Scheer. While you won’t see their name on the bottle as they prefer to let their clients hog the limelight a good example is Denizen who are unusually open about their partnership with E&A Scheer.*
A tiny portion of the 6-8 megalitres of Scheer’s rum. Beyond this line photography is forbidden – remember some of this stuff is north of 95% – but I can assure you I’ve seen it! Note the larger steel tanks at the back. The vast majority of the spirit is stored in those.
To better explain this it is perhaps best to imagine that we wish (and how) to establish our own rum brand. Assuming you have made the appropriate preliminary steps such as the legal shizzle and securing the services of a bottling plant a first approach to Scheer via a handy tool on their website will get the ball rolling. Even an order for as little as 1000 litres Scheer will create a range of blends for your consideration and ship them out to wherever you are. It is important to note that Scheer are not a bottler but supply the rum in bulk, undiluted, uncoloured and,yes, unsugared. Those decisions are down to the individual client. While there are more strings to Scheer’s bow** this is their core business and certainly that most of interest to all you rum fanatics.
Yeah, I told you it was dark and wet. Proof company vehicle, illegally parked, bottom right.
Meanwhile back at the rain-soaked docklands we move on to the storage and bulk blending facilities. It’s incredible. From huge wooden casks to a towering forest of stainless steel tanks each inscribed with not-too-indecipherable product codes that hint at their contents: Barb.8, ThaiB, St.L.5, Phil2yo, Wor.Pk. I’m Charlie and this is The Chocolate Factory. But then after that spectacle, hidden away in a dingy corner of the facility is the most fascinating little room of all. E&A Scheer’s archive contains a little bottle of every blend they’ve sold. Row after row of lovingly created individual blends, stored for eternity so that any can be re-created or checked for consistency. As well as documents and ledgers going back hundreds of years, a result of Scheer being a family business for almost its entire history. It reminds me of the closing scene in the first Indiana Jones film. And you know what? Maybe January isn’t so bad after all.
If you want to start your own rum brand, you’d better talk to E&A Scheer.
The Ark of the Covenant is in here somewhere. This is just some of it…
A few more pictures for the curious:
Scheer luxury. This is just their private in-house bar yet it would make some Tiki bars weep in shame. Some clues here so I’ve left the resolution quite high 😉
Like to try a sample? Don’t mind if I do.
All there in black and white. If you can read that spidery 19th century handwriting…
Endless rum. I told you there was more…
*And damn, I wish I could get my hands on a bottle of Denizen Merchant’s Reserve. A Dutch based company, with Dutch blended rum that doesn’t sell their product in Europe. It makes me crazy (reader: “You were crazy already!”)
**Supplying the flavour and fragrance industries and dealing in rare casks of rum via their subsidiary The Main Rum Company, Liverpool to name just a couple.