I remember the first time I was introduced to whisky. I was 22, a prude and unlike most of my friends, not much of a party animal. People took it as a weakness. I didn’t think so, but when I got invited to this one birthday party, I caved in. I happily knocked back shots of cheap whisky, which quickly left me stumbling home, smelling of regret.
Two things I should have known before I went to that party. One, don’t ever shoot your whisky. You want to appreciate it slowly for all its fiery nuances. Two, if it’s bad, don’t drink it at all.
But there’s so much more to it. Should we go for Scotch, American or Japanese? Single malt or grain? And should we have it neat, with water or over ice just because Anthony Bourdain says so? Whisky connoisseurs tend to get vocal about this, and their advice is often conflicting.
The Auld Alliance’s private bottling of a 25 Year Old Littlemill. Photo by Ronald Leong
Eager for intel, I find myself at the Auld Alliance, a whisky bar that’s tucked between a karaoke joint and steamboat eatery at the Rendezvous Hotel. The exterior doesn’t say much, but behind its glass doors is a room full of old world charm, handsome Chesterfield couches and a treasure trove of whisky. The bar gets its name from the alliance signed between France and Scotland in 1295, and the brains behind it is co-founder Emmanuel Dron, a middle-aged Frenchman with an immense love for the spirit.
His story began in 1995. He was studying to become a teacher, but as fate would have it, one trip to a bar changed it all. “There was a jazz bar in Lille that offered 150 single malts by the glass,” he recalls fondly. “My friend Sylvain and I would swing by three days a week for four months, and we tried them all.” He’d caught the whisky bug, and by 1996, he had written a 10-page newsletter on whisky, which he sent to La Maison du Whisky (LMDW), one of the largest specialists in the distribution of rare whisky. They came back to him with a job.
He loves whisky for its unique diversity of style and aromas, and wanted to spread the whisky gospel.
He relocated here in 2008, still with LMDW, and soon quit to pursue this passion alone. Whisky tends to carry itself with a whiff of cultural elitism, but he never sought to seem upper class. He loves whisky for its unique diversity of style and aromas, and wanted to spread the whisky gospel. He continued his spirited ambassadorship, launching the Auld Alliance in Singapore. “I have always been impressed by how dynamic the city is with its cultural and religious diversity,” he tells me. “It is an opportunity to be situated at the crossroad of countries that interest me. Europe has had its time, the United States too. And I believe that it is Asia’s time.”
Since the opening in 2011, he has amassed a staggering collection of over 4,000 bottles, with 1,500 types of whisky stocked at the bar. This includes his private casks — the 25 Year Old Littlemill and Caol Ila 1995 are a hit — and rare vintages that go as far back as 1863. He travels monthly, not for the numbers but for whiskies that call out to him.
Here, more than 40 tasting flights are offered, and its range of Japanese whisky is far more impressive than most bars in Japan. You want it, he’s got it. The most expensive bottle he ever sold was a Karuizawa 1960, and for over $100,000.
It was a great bottle, but to him, quality has nothing to do with price. Value to him is instead the taste and story behind. Ask him what he loves and he’d talk great lengths about holy grails like the legendary Port Ellen. You can dig a little deeper in his recent publication, Collecting Scotch Whisky, An Illustrated Encyclopedia, a classification of the old and rare.
But he’s a walking whisky encyclopedia himself – his thoughts are well-put, painstaking but never pedantic. Last year, he called out on a Swiss hotel that unknowingly sold half a shot of fake 1878 Macallan Special Reserve to a Chinese guy for USD10,000. Any connoisseur worth his salt would have predicted this.
“People come because we are crazy enough to open all these great museum bottles by the glass. It has become our trademark.”
Emmanuel Dron, co-founder of the Auld Alliance
He’s no easy sell either. He sold his Yamazaki Sherry Cask stock by the glass and not the bottle, frustrating collectors and investors. All he wanted was for as many whisky lovers as possible to try it; he hates it when people buy good whisky only for investment and not drink it. The Auld Alliance has thus become the destination bar for many across the world. “People come because we are crazy enough to open all these great museum bottles by the glass,” he remarks. “It has become our trademark.”
As to how to appreciate whisky in its full glory, he insists on the following: No ice, no water and preferably single malt. “Whisky tastes best single malt,” he says. “Unlike grain, a lot more time is needed to distil single malt, which is why there’s a lot more flavour.
“And if you want to drink really good whisky, you never add ice or water. It wouldn’t make sense. This will only destroy the structure and the cold will shut the aromas. If you must, have it as a highball, but do it with a young whisky. You don’t do this with a special bottle. No.”
9 Bras Basah Road, 02-02A, Rendezvous Grand Hotel. Book a table via the Keyyes Membership App