Wu Dram Clan - a now legendary bottler from Germany, at home worldwide. Boris, Taksad and Seb have set themselves the task of selecting only the best casks and bottling them under the Wu Dram Clan brand in cooperation with the producers.
We are very pleased that we have been a dealer for your Armagnac and Cognac since the latest Christmas bottling. To start with, Sascha interviewed Sebastian to get to know the project and its members.
On Friday you announced your latest bottling: your first Christmas bottling. Parallel to the first snow in Stuttgart, good timing! What particularly fascinated you about this barrel?
Well, the best casks can always be found locally, and that was the case with this cask from 1986. After a wonderful evening, we decided to hike back to the Aurian cellar and during a spontaneous tasting this cask stood out. You often hear that the last rehearsals are always the best ;)
How did you come up with the idea for the “prettiest” label of the year? ;)
Yes, there is a very funny story about that, our Indy Bottler friend Jens Unterweger from Whiskey Fässle always wears an XMas sweater that catches your eye. Long Story Short, when Jens changes his profile picture to this masterpiece including sweater, everyone around him knows "now it's winter" - so his sweater was the spark for this idea.
It has been about three years since the Wu Dram Clan started. Who is behind the Wu Dram Clan and how do you three know each other?
Boris from Munich, Taksad from Kyoto (Japan) and me, Sebastian from near Strasbourg.
We've known each other for a few years from the scene, at some point the idea came up to found a trio and to start bottlings on behalf of the taste, which we enjoy.
How did you start as an independent bottler?
After the LAGAVULIN 21 project as OB (original bottling) by Diageo, it was clear to us that this shouldn't be a one-hit wonder, but that we had tasted blood when it came to "bottling" samples we had chosen ourselves.
Does everyone on the team have a specific role or does everyone do “everything”?
In fact, Boris and I do a lot to keep Japan's Taksad out of the line of fire because of the distance. It's much easier for us to talk to the (mostly) European producers. As soon as our Japanese series starts, the weight will shift towards Taksad. In the end, that's probably just pragmatic thinking.
How long did it take from the idea to the first (official) publication?
Good question, in retrospect, a past/older period of time usually doesn't seem as long as it did in the process itself. But it often depends on the producers. You probably know that all too well 🙂 Almost a year passed with the Lagavulin.
How long have you personally been involved with spirits? Was Scotch whiskey your first passion or were there other favorites before that?
Probably far too long, my doctor would want to hear now.
No, nonsense, since my youth I have dealt with tastes and was always on the hunt for further sensory tips. What often bothers me about alcohol is the alcohol - as silly as that may sound, I would love to spend the whole day comparing samples and making new sensory experiences. Unfortunately, due to the effects of alcohol, caution is required and of course limits the whole thing.
After the first Scottish whiskeys, you were one of the very first bottlers to switch to cognac and armagnac. What made you take this step?
We knew Brexit would be the phylloxera of whiskey. Our passion for the French Spirits has long been anchored. The only thing that wasn't quite there was the confidence to be able to get such things off the ground. At the end of 2019 at the beginning of 2020 we started with our first cognac bottling and we had incredibly positive feedback, so that we launched several cognac & armagnac bottlings in 2020. Yeah and the rest is history.
Do you remember the maltheads' first reaction? Was everyone equally fired up?
With Cognac it was, Armagnac went more into the rum scene and was very successful even back then. The whiskey nerd likes it more balanced and without sensory peaks - I would rather concede these extremes to rum friends. So it was almost an equivalent of the two scenes: Whiskey x Cognac and Rum x Armagnac. This formula is crumbling a little, as many have "drinked their way" to the taste and thus understand this spirit better.
When did you try your first Armagnac and what was it?
Oh, I don't remember that, because I live on the French border, I would have to ask my mother :) Our “Havana-Cola” was already Clement back then :)
Which Armagnac made this category more of a focus for you?
There are many styles that I love, but what always picks me up anew: the 70s Chateau de Gaube vintages. I love white wines from Burgundy and if I had to attach such elegant and mineral characteristics to an Armagnac style, it would be a Gaube.
What is your philosophy when choosing casks? How do you decide what gets bottled and what doesn't?
It's all or nothing, if anyone objects, there won't be any bottling. We usually test independently and then deal with the individual results. The rule is that he must achieve at least 90 points for everyone in the mental evaluation sheet.
Isn't it an enormous effort to always send the samples to Japan to get feedback on the samples from all three?
Yes, the effort should not be underestimated.
You are also often on the road in France and visit the producers directly. How does a visit like this usually go and what was the funniest moment you've experienced so far?
Sieg & Destroy, you know that :) There are countless!
Do you have a preference when choosing casks (cask strength vs. diluted, single cask vs. blend, etc.)?
CS and SC, but this is not always feasible. The policy of the producers was trimmed to a different focus for years.
Do you only choose casks that are "natural" or do you sometimes bottle something that has added sugar, coloring or boisé?
We distance ourselves from additives, even if it is part of the tradition of the regions.
How many casks do you have to taste before you find one you want to release as a Wu Dram Clan bottling?
Sometimes one is enough. I can't generalize. That is why on-site visits are so important. If we were to request samples by post, the selection would generally be limited.
Which barrel was the hardest to get? Have you tried kegs that you loved but the maker didn't want to sell?
Yes, this has happened to us before. Especially in the whiskey area. Now it is the price that forces us to defeat. The feeling of having found the perfect whiskey but never being able to offer it to the customer is not a great feeling. However, the price spiral for old, exciting whiskeys is beyond good and bad. With the French Spirits, that's still within limits - it's playing with fire, it's going to be super hip and the prices will of course also rise due to the limited stocks on the part of the producers.
At Armagnac you have so far focused on your favorite houses Baraillon and Aurian. When will you pull the next underdog out of the hat?
Aurian buys barrels from many underdogs, so Aurians are not single estates of Aurian itself. This is super exciting for us because we are going into a cellar and have 30 domains to choose from. A lot of people don't see that.
Since this year you have also been regularly bringing out cognac and armagnac under the Grapediggaz brand, together with Kirsch Import. How would you differentiate the two brands? How do you decide what goes on the market as Grapediggaz and what goes on as Wu Dram Clan?
At GrapeDiggaz we want to convince the large community of whiskey and rum fans. This means that the bottlings should be so price-stable that even the “cautious” drinker will reach for an alternative. Nevertheless, the quality has to be right. At WU, we like to bottle off-the-beaten-track things that can also evoke that “love it or hate it” moment in you .
Some of your labels you design completely yourself, some come with your logo in the design of the producers. Are these two lines for you or does it happen more on a whim?
We like to give the credit to the house so that the producers with an original bottling (their design and our logo) are more in focus. These producers spend their lives doing it and we just buy in. That's why it's important to us that the houses get the full "ALL EYES ON".
What does your design process for the labels look like with your designer?
Inquiry, mock-up, GO - just like men make calls
Do you have a favorite among the previous (Armagnac) releases? If so, which?
Yes, the brand new 86 XMAS - I really enjoy bottling it.
How do you see the current market for Armagnac in the EU and in general?
On the rise. The volume is small, the enthusiasm is growing. These are not bad parameters.
Do you see a bigger difference between Armagnac and Cognac (regarding the market)?
Cognac houses have racehorses like Hennessy - these big boys basically work for the COGNAC brand worldwide. Armagnac has nothing like it. That's why Armagnac is of course an underdog worldwide. In terms of taste, I dare not make any comparisons because the distillation process is different.
More and more whiskey drinkers are curious about Malternatives. Do you notice this in your communication with the producers, the availability and the prices of the casks?
We started so early that we “still” enjoy a kind of pioneering position with the producers. This can of course change. I'm very happy for the producers that they're getting such an influx.
What do you like to drink privately for enjoyment when no barrel samples end up in the glass?
White wine from Burgundy and a decent glass of "Baden" beer in summer 🙂
What Armagnac anecdote do you still need to share?
“Is that cask strong?
-Yes we just diluted it a little”
"But then it's not strong anymore
- Yes, it's still in the barrel”
Says a lot about how differently we think about it!