The secret to a happy life? “Havana cigars, Armenian brandy and no sport.” –Winston Churchill.
Churchill, predictably, was one of the most demanding, yet favourable, connoisseur of rich beverages. He appreciated the unique qualities that go hand in hand with the Armenian liquor, granted to him by Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference in 1945. He appreciated it so much, in fact, that he had it shipped to his London residences until he died in 1965.
What made Armenian brandy so entrancing to the two-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? What has brought generations of brandy lovers to the sweet, soft liquor for centuries? Let us explore the history and culture of the delicious drink, and through it, the history of the oldest brandy producer in Armenia, the Yerevan Brandy Company.
History and legends
According to tradition, the first of Armenia’s vineyards was planted by Noah on the sloped of the Ararat Mount. This tradition, as well as the delicious taste of both grapes and brandy, has allowed the Armenian brandy industry to thrive and flourish in the country’s rich farmlands.
In 1887, the first wine and brandy company was established by Nerses Tairyan. 12 years later, the Russian company Shustoy and Sons purchased the company, and became the only Armenian brandy supplier to Tsar Nicholas II.
While in Armenia, stop off at the Ararat Museum along the Zangu River, housed in the Armenian brandy factory, painted the colour of fresh cognac. It is well worth the visit, as the building is one of the oldest in Yerevan.
After the collapse of the USSR in the latter half of 1991, Armenian brandy became less of a highly-sought-after commodity. Seven years later, when Pernod Ricard purchased the factory, they returned production to a much higher volume, restoring Armenian brandy to its original place amongst the leaders of the free world.
What makes classical Armenian brandy unique?
Despite the sophisticated tastes of French cognac, the Armenian variety boasts a superior flavour, “because the most tasty and sweetest grapes are Armenian-grown,” as the locals say.
Armenia’s grape varieties are the sweetest, with delicious forms such as Voskehat, Garan Dmak and Kangun leading the way. These varieties have acquired their unrivalled flavour, texture and colour through the ‘blessing’ of the summer sun, beaming down on the hills of grapevines for a gorgeous 300 days a year. Location and climate play a large part in the uniqueness of Armenian brandy, with the mountainous landscapes allowing locals to use fresh spring waters for irrigation, as opposed to the distilled water used by the French, while the Armenian climate favours the creation and distillation of Armenian brandy.
However, don’t be surprised by the fact that brandy makers won’t fully reveal their recipes for their delicious spirits. In visiting the brandy museum, you’ll learn the different distillation methods used in the creation of our brandy, including the oak barrel aging, and the additions of chocolates, vanillas and dried fruits to the aging liquids.
Varieties of Armenian (“ArArAt”) brandy
Dvin Armenian brandy is the kind presented to Churchill at the Yalta Conference, but this is far from the only variety of Armenian cognac produced within the county. It is part of the Ararat Excusive Collection, one of the most delicious, limited-distilled varieties produced.
There are a variety of ‘budget’ Armenian cognacs to take home as souvenirs, including the “Ordinary Brandies”, aged for up to 6 years. Older 10- to 18-year aged brandies, darker in colour and stronger in flavour, make a very exquisite gift to a loved one, or as a great keep-sake.
If you’re not interested in alcoholic beverages, visiting the Ararat brandy museum should he on your bucket list. Contact us and we’ll assist you in creating an unforgettable visit to our Armenian shores, a country rich in vibrant history and culture.