“Havana cigars, Armenian brandy and no sport” – this is the recipe of a happy life as suggested by British wartime leader Winston Churchill.
It’s no mere chance, that Churchill – most demanding connoisseur of premium beverages- would appreciate unique qualities of the Armenian drink gifted to him by Joseph Stalin at Yalta Conference. According to the evidence, the British Prime Minister liked the drink so much he had it shipped till the end of his days.
So, what made the Armenian brandy (“cognac” as dubbed by locals) so enticing to Churchill and brandy lovers before and after him? Let’s explore Armenian brandy-making culture and history of the Yerevan Brandy Company, the oldest producer of the drink in Armenia.
History and legends
The biblical legend has it that the first vineyard in Armenia was planted by Noah on the slopes of Ararat Mount. Owing to the unique taste of Armenian grapes wine and brandy making have flourished in the country so far making it a renowned national brand.
However, it was only in 1887 that the first wine and brandy company was established in Armenia by merchant Nerses Tairyan. In 1899, Russian “Shustov and Sons” purchased the company which later got the honorary status of the Armenian brandy supplier to Russian Emperor Nicholas the Second. By the way, the brandy factory’s cognac-colored building beautifully perched upon the Zangu River is one of the oldests in Yerevan and it houses ArArAt museum worthwhile visiting during your trip to Armenia.
Unfortunately, after the Soviet Union collapse, brandy-making volumes declined in Armenia, and it was only in 1998 when French Pernod Ricard purchased the company and revved up the production.
What makes classical Armenian brandy unique?
Without belittling the delicious and sophisticated French cognac, Armenians boast that their brandy is a bit…different (if not superior). “Because the most tasty and sweetest grapes grow in our country”, locals will argue.
Truly, Armenia abounds in sweetest grape varieties, like Voskehat, Garan Dmak, Kangun and others which acquire their unrivalled qualities by the “blessing” of the summertime sun. Here comes the second reason for the uniqueness of the brandy – location and climate. With over 300 sunny days in a year, Armenian climate favors winery and brandy-making. Besides, the mountainous landscapes allow the locals to use spring water (unlike distilled water used by the French) which is yet other benefit.
Of course, brandy makers don’t fully reveal the recipe for exquisite brandy. But visiting the “brandy museum” you’ll learn that the brandies are aged in oak barrels and the liquor is then “endowed” with enticing aromas of chocolate, vanilla and dried fruits.
Varieties of Armenian (“ArArAt”) brandy
Yalta Conference witnesses claim it was Dvin brandy that Stalin presented to Churchill. Nowadays, this brandy makes part of Ararat Exclusive Collection yet it’s not the only variety of this spirit.
The “budget” options to bring home as a souvenir from Armenia include the so-called “Ordinary Brandies” aged from 3 up to 6 years. 10, 15 or 18-year-old “Aged Brandies” can be a premium gift on a very special occasion. They stand out by more exquisite taste and darker coloring.
Even if you’re not keen on alcoholic drinks and brandy in particular, visiting the ArArAt brandy museum should be on your to-do list in 2016. Contact us and we’ll organize your unforgettable trip to Armenia – an ancient country with rich cultural heritage.
Images: royalbeveragesgroup.nl, araratbrandy.com, edgar.marukyan.com, Artem Avetisyan
Text: Sirvard Amatuni