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Emmanuel Dron’s collection of centuries-old spirits

The Auld Alliance founder and author of Collecting Scotch Whisky shares highlights from his bottle collection.

With his reputation as a whisky scholar as well as founder and co-owner of one of Singapore’s foremost whisky bars, Auld Alliance, one would expect Emmanuel Dron’s collection to be chock-full of rare Scotch and Japanese whiskies. And it is. He recently auctioned off a collection of Samaroli and Corti Brothers bottlings that included the cult 1966 Bowmore Samaroli Bouquet.

What I did not expect, however, was for Dron to pick four unassuming bottles, three of which didn’t even have labels, as highlights of his collection. There was no special bottling with a crystal decanter and no hand-carved wooden case. Even then, these two rums, one calvados and one Scotch – all with amazing stories to tell, thanks to a combined age of over 750 years – are as precious as they come. “I think I lean towards bottles like these because I love history. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was young, and each of these spirits is a time capsule. History in a bottle,” says Dron.

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Emmanuel Dron

Dron’s pick of four prized bottles from his collection.

SINGULAR MALT

Mortlach, bottled in the early 1900s

Although it might be hard to imagine this in today’s single malt-obsessed market, there was a time when virtually all whiskies were blended. It’s extremely difficult to find single malt whisky from this era that’s been bottled, much less for commercial sale. A bottle like this Mortlach – still a component in the blend for Johnnie Walker – would have only been available under special circumstances. Here, it’s likely a private bottling by Wm Sheed of Dufftown (as shown on the wax seal) for George Cowie, the Mortlach distillery licensee from 1854 to 1923. This unlabelled bottle was the property of Cowie’s son, Dr Alexander Mitchell Cowie, and one of eight found in the cellars of the Cowie family home in Glenrinnes Lodge, near Dufftown in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

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LOST AND FOUND

The Harewood Rum, 1780

This is the oldest-known rum in the world and Dron owns two bottles – one light and the other, dark. The labels may have rotted off in the two centuries they spent sitting in the cellar, but records give us a clear idea of their provenance. For a start, the rum was found in Harewood House on the historical estate of the Lascelles, one of Britain’s wealthiest families in the 18th century. A cellar book entry dated July 1805 lists “226 bottles, dark and light 1780” of “cane spirits” and tells us about the bottles’ contents and age, and the fact that the Lascelles owned the estate that is today Mount Gay Rum tells us the rum was probably produced in Barbados. Recorked and resealed with wax, 23 bottles were put up for auction to support the Geraldine Connor Foundation in the UK.

FIRST IN LINE

Adrien Camut Calvados, 1858 vintage

What Dron calls the “Rolls-Royce of calvados makers”, Adrien Camut is one of Normandy’s most respected producers – with many of the world’s top French restaurants receiving allocations. This bottle is one of the first-ever vintages produced by the Camut estate, which has 46.5ha of apple trees in the Pays d’Auge that is recognised as one of the prime growing regions for calvados, a brandy made from apples. Although a highly under-appreciated spirit, it’s by no means lower quality. Dron, who has a great love for the Camut estate, even worked with the brand to bottle a 100-year-old expression for Auld Alliance.

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