Emmanuel Dron, author of Collecting Scotch Whisky In Conversation With: Emmanuel Dron, Author of Collecting Scotch Whisky

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Emmanuel Dron is a whisky expert, owner of The Auld Alliance bar in Singapore and author of “Collecting Scotch Whisky”, the most comprehensive book on old and rare Scotch Whisky ever written. The book profiles more than 2,500 rare bottles by independent bottlers as well as official bottlings.

We are delighted to be working in partnership with Royal Mile Whiskies to raise awareness of the unique opportunity to now purchase a reprint of the originally sold out book. At present, Royal Mile Whiskies is the exclusive retailer for the UK, Europe and U.S. To coincide with this, we sat down for an in-depth conversation with Emmanuel about his life in whisky and the colossal project of authoring this encyclopedia on old and rare whisky.


“My passion is always for old whisky” says Emmanuel Dron. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Dron’s first encounter with Scotch must have been from a young age or the fond memory of a dram sneakily offered by a parent or grandparent, however, this isn’t the case.

A French native, Dron grew up in close proximity to the Champagne wine region in Northern France (another great passion of his) and his family were always more interested in wine than whisky.

He had never been properly introduced to whisky, and even when he was a student he emphasises that he would never choose to drink high alcohol strength spirits. But, a bottle of Glenfiddich gifted one birthday struck a chord that would go on to set the course for Dron’s career in spirits - a significant pivot from his lifelong aspiration to become a teacher until this point.


I still remember smelling the [Glenfiddich] whisky and thinking, now that’s interesting.


I remember picking out some pear notes and to this day, I can still see myself exactly where I was when I was drinking it. I wanted to know more about it, and so I bought the Malt Whisky Companion by Michael Jackson.


Armed with a newfound thirst for knowledge on the topic, a lot of time to kill and a growing number of whisky bottles, Dron put pen to paper and created a 10-page newspaper about whisky called La Part des Anges. In 1996, he sent a copy of his writings to Thierry Benitah, CEO of La Maison Du Whisky, and he was quickly offered a job.

Dron found himself wearing many hats at the specialist spirits retailer, importer, and distributors. "At that time, the company was very small. I remember when I arrived, we were just nine people"  he recalls. "We had lots of things to do, we did a bit of everything from invoicing to travelling to visit brands and select casks. It was very different at the time, it was just the start of the whisky revival." 

There may have been many demands on his time, but he never grew tired of the whisky business and Dron stayed with the company for nearly 15 years.

[Photo copyright: Marcel van Gils]


When Dron started collecting whisky in the mid-1990s it was a completely different landscape. He recalls that you were able to find incredible vintage bottles for the equivalent of just $30 a bottle.

At the beginning it was not a collection, for me it started when I was buying more than I could drink. The first whisky that I really started to collect was Port Ellen. I discovered my first Port Ellen when I visited Milroy’s Greek Street London in 1995. At the time I visited London a lot, because I like music and I was buying records and guitars there.


I tried a 1977 Port Ellen 18 Year Old Milroy’s label and I loved it. I was really impressed by it, and once I realised that the distillery was closed I started to buy some bottles and keep some bottles. That’s how I would say I started collecting whisky.


Emmanuel was with La Maison du Whisky until 2010 at which point he opened The Auld Alliance bar in Singapore. "The idea was to say, okay we will open all the crazy old and rare bottles and offer everything by the glass,"  Dron says, "at the beginning, it was possible to do it, we could almost open everything."

The Auld Alliance is famed for its offering of rare whiskies by the glass, and in 2016 open bottles of Samaroli’s legendary 1967 Laphroaig and Bowmore Bouquet drew visitors from all over the world for a rare opportunity to sample the liquid gold contained within them. 

Silvano Samaroli at The Auld Alliance signing bottles for Emmanuel Dron


We opened Karuizawa 1960, Yamazaki 50 Years Old - we had ten years of golden times, but with increasing demand and prices, opening these legendary bottles has become difficult.


When I opened The Auld Alliance, no other place was opening special bottles like this. We had so many people travelling, flying from Hong Kong for one night just to try a special bottle.


As Emmanuel fondly recalls some of these great moments at the bar, we move on and I ask about special or high-profile visitors. “A big moment for us was to have Silvano Samaroli in the bar and to drink some of his bottles with him" he tells me with a reminiscent smile, "we would cheers and say maybe you haven’t tried this for a long time, let’s try it again and it was great that he was able to drink some of his old bottles."

"Silvano was still always interested to try things that he didn't know" Dron enthusiastically tells me, before fondly recalling one moment,


I remember that I told him, you should try this Irish whiskey that we bottled for The Auld Alliance, it was a 1988 vintage and I was really proud of it.


At first he said, “Oh no, I’m not interested in Irish whiskey”. Indeed, he had never bottled any Irish whiskey, because in the ‘80s and ‘90s it was more difficult to find a special cask of Irish whiskey.


I really insisted, and said "no you need to try that." He did, and he was amazed at how pure and fruity the whisky was. He was really so impressed and the last email he ever sent me, was to tell me that he had requested some samples and was trying to find a cask of Irish whiskey to bottle.

A reprinted copy of Emmanuel Dron's Collecting Scotch Whisky Volume 1 (available at Royal Mile Whiskies)


Published in 2018, Emmanuel’s groundbreaking book, Collecting Scotch Whisky Vol.1, dedicated more pages to Samaroli than any other topic. An illustrated encyclopedia standing at over 800 pages, it is filled with records of every old and rare bottle you can imagine, accompanied by photographs, interviews with independent bottlers and a guide to dating and authenticating older whiskies.

The origin of my book was to thank the independent bottlers, because I noticed there were thousands of books about whisky, but nobody was talking about people like Giaccone, Samaroli, Nadi Fiori and Mongiardino. They did so much for the whisky industry, leaving us a trace of the peak in terms of quality of the Scotch whisky industry.


I always thought they deserve to have a recognition, they had it among the connoisseur, but there wasn’t really a book about it in English. To me, the Scotch whisky industry never recognised them as important. If you take Giaccone - in the 1960s he was buying casks directly from the distillery, bottling amazing whiskies like Clynelish, Glen Albyn and Dalmore.


My first motivation to write the book was about this, to meet all these people, interview them and show their bottles. We have to leave something for the future generation, so that they can remember what they did. Because if nobody did it, maybe in 20 or 30 years time people can rewrite their stories a little bit, but it’s important to hear from them and remember these people because to me they were in advance of their time.


Inside the pages of Emmanuel Dron's Collecting Scotch Whisky 


When you talk about negociant bottlings in the wine business it is maybe not a sign of quality, it's maybe the second category in terms of quality. But I think in whisky, independent bottlers have a huge draw and had a huge influence on what the whisky industry became today.


Distilleries were producing whisky for blending, and who made people realise that single malt could be great bottled on its own? I would say that this was mostly the independent bottler who created this huge trend and revival.


Emmanuel tells me that the book is an accumulation of everything he has learned over his whisky career. The project took over five years of strong sole focus and research with the goal to compile an archive of old and rare bottles. "You can find a lot online but it is difficult to find all the information in one place organised and classified" Dron explains, "I tried to work on a lot of things to help people on their journeys, like researching all of the glass codes which was a bit of a mystery for people before. I think the book's a great tool to allow people to go further in their research, or their passion or collecting."

This research included interviewing several renowned Italian independent bottlers and exchanging information with connoisseurs and experts around the world. Many whisky collectors opened their homes and shared their collections with him: Giuseppe Begnoni, Patrick de Schulthess and Diego Sandrin to name a few. 

One of the most rewarding and surprising outcomes from the research, was the discovery of new bottlings that until this point, nobody had written about or photographed.

I think the things that really surprised me were discovering bottles that I’d never heard of. Like the Port Ellen by Samaroli, distilled in 1970 and bottled at cask strength. 


I managed to find special whiskies bottled for specialist restaurants and labels I’ve never seen. I went to Japan and found amazing whiskies in bars that were exclusive to the Japanese market. I discovered a lot of things I didn’t know, many German independent bottlings and incredible whiskies that were bottled by The Gillies Club in Australia in the 1970s. That was amazing to see, because sometimes we think people have only been interested in this over the last 20 years, but in fact there was already a whisky club in the 1970s, choosing casks and bottling cask strength whiskies like a 1966 Caol Ila. 


I chose the Port Ellen label as front cover of the book because that was something very special. I knew that even the most hardcore whisky collector in the world would never have seen that Samaroli label with Port Ellen.


Throughout my conversation with Emmanuel, his affection for these older, and as he fears lost, styles of Scotch whisky is evident. Whenever he is asked to choose his favourite whisky, he tells me that he will always pick the Laphroaig 1970 Samaroli - and that this is one of the meaningful bottles he has kept in his collection today (alongside a bottle of the Milroy's Port Ellen that started it all for him). 

A selection of Samaroli and Corti Brothers whiskies from Emmanuel Dron's collection sold in 2021 at Whisky Auctioneer


It has to be a passion for me, and it’s true that in recent modern whisky cask samples I receive, I was losing a bit of that passion. I got it back by going to different places, there are some amazing spirits out there, like Cognac or Rum, that are good value. For instance, three weeks ago I visited Normandy and a Calvados company that I love.


When I see how these people work, the traditions and outstanding quality of things they can do, that gives me my passion back to choose good spirits and amazing casks. It’s true that sometimes in whisky it is difficult, and it’s not like before.


 If you were to come and look at my collection now, I have more Calvados than whisky!


He’s quick to reassure me that he’s definitely not tired or jaded by whisky though, and that old whisky will always remain his great passion, "when I open bottles I always save a sample of things that I can try 5 or 10 years later, so that I can keep an archive of the legendary bottles. I will always keep a passion for this.”

As we finish up, Emmanuel shares some of his best memories in whisky. He enthusiastically recalls a series of trips with a group of likeminded whisky collectors and drinkers on a mission to bring old and rare bottles back to their birthplace. "The main idea was to always go back to the distillery, bring some old bottles and open them at the distillery" he tells me, "these were my best memories in whisky, moments of sharing and pure passion." 

Before we finish up our conversation, Emmanuel shares some final comments and takeaways,

I will say, go to whisky bars or fairs around the world and try to drink these bottles. You still have a lot of people opening these old bottles. Do it, and taste, before it’s too late because there will be less and less of these bottles.


We are still lucky, of course the prices are raising high, but definitely we still have the opportunity to try a style of whisky that I think has disappeared. It’s a different world, so keep an eye on it and taste what you can.