Touring the Armenian Brandy factory

Yerevan Travel Blog

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In Armenia, cognac refers to Ararat, the premium Armenia brandy developed in 1887. The developer of the brand was far-sighted not only in bringing French brandy making to Armenia, but also in making use of stealth marketing tactics, hiring handsome and rich men to travel around Europe and to try ordering Armenian brandy in all the most expensive restaurants. The tactic obviously worked, as Armenian brandy developed a following in the best circles. Winston Churchill was a famous proponent, ordering 360 bottles of aged brandy every year, which he attributed to his longevity. During Stalin’s reign, Churchill reportedly noticed a drop off in the quality of the brandy. On ringing the factory he found out that the chief distiller had been sent to the Siberian gulags, whereupon he promptly phoned Stalin and insisted on a reprieve.

Medals for Ararat
The chief distiller was not only released from the Gulags, he was granted a medal of “Socialist Hero”. He first task back in the job was to blend a “Siberian strength” brandy, smooth and 50% alcohol, to warm his colleagues left behind in the Gulags.

The Yerevan Brandy Factory has had some very notable tourists on its premises. One of the traditions of the factory is to reward any visiting Presidents with their own personal barrel and their own weight in bottled brandy. According to our guide, when Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, visited, the President’s bodyguards used their feet to weigh down the scales of the President, to ensure a little bit of extra brandy. The owner wisely decided to treat it as a complement to the brandy.

Saved from the Gulags by Churchill's drinking habits
Boris Yeltsin took a great interest in the personal brandy barrel reserved for him (the tradition is to preserve a full barrel, from which the President or any of their future descendents can request bottles at any time), asking about its age. When informed of the tradition to start a fresh barrel, he mournfully complained that he’d die before it was worth drinking - and he was right. A final barrel is the “Peace Barrel”, reserved for opening on the day that a peace treaty is finally signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

We finished up with a brandy tasting session. Unfortunately, I think I agree with Tsar Nicolas of Russia, who started the Russian tradition of drinking brandy with a slice of lemon - not to accentuate the flavour, but rather so that everyone would assume the sour face he was pulling was due to biting into the lemon, rather than distaste for the decadent drink.

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Medals for Ararat
Medals for Ararat
Saved from the Gulags by Churchill…
Saved from the Gulags by Churchil…
photo by: herman_munster