In my opinion, unless you’re a teetotaler, you can’t visit Armenia without bringing home a bottle of brandy. I’ve written posts about using our ArArAt brandy to make Brandied Cherries, and commented that it was our beverage of choice when we’ve celebrated adoption milestones (before we adopted and since).
On our last trip in 2012, I was so committed to bringing a bottle back that I frantically repacked our carry-on bag at Heathrow Airport so we could check through one more bag with our duty-free 20-year ArArAt brandy inside. Otherwise our precious cargo would have wound up in the in the dumpster rather than at our home. Who knew? Even duty free wasn’t safe (if it wasn’t EU).
But–until now–I haven’t written much about the brandy itself. Armenian brandy is made from white grapes and spring water according to a traditional method. Depending on how long it’s aged and where the grapes and spring water are sourced, every brandy has its own distinct color, aroma and flavor. When making Armenian brandy, only endemic grape varietals are used, such as Voskehat, Garan Dmak, and Kangun.
I also want to point out that while all cognac is brandy, all brandies are not cognac. Legally, a brandy cannot be called ‘cognac,’ unless it was produced in the Cognac region of France. However, in 1900 Armenian brandy won the legal right to be labeled cognac after it won the Grand-prix award at the Universal Expo of Paris. Although calling Armenian brandy cognac is no longer legal (and ceased to be the case after WWII), you will still hear hear Armenian brandy being referred to as cognac in Armenia, Russia and other former Soviet Union countries.
The roots of the Yerevan Brandy Company, where ArArAt brandy is made, go back to 1887 when Nerses Tairian, a merchant who built the first wine and brandy factory in Armenia. In 1899 the company was acquired by a Russian industrial company “Shustov and Sons.” At the beginning of the 20th century “Shustov and Sons” acquired the status of Armenian brandy supplier to the court of His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II.
The first bottle we brought home was ArArAt 15 year Prazdnichny made by the Yerevan Brandy Company. It was delicious. Unfortunately, it was so good that it is now gone, and I’m not sure they even make this particular brandy anymore because it isn’t listed on their website.
Next we brought home another ArArAt, also aged 15 years, but called Vaspurakan, which is Armenian for “noble country.” This brandy, as described on the company’s website: Intense amber color with a tinge of “old gold”. Bright, elegant and complex aroma with shades of spices, oak bark and dried fruit. At the end one can feel tinges of balm. Rich, complex, complete, astonishingly mild and rounded taste. Light sharpness at the end is smoothed by clearly expressed sweet notes. Long and noble aftertaste.
I heartily agree with their description. We have really enjoyed it but, as you can see, we have a only a few shots remaining. So sad.
Our sole remaining bottle is Ararat Nairi, aged 20 years. The Nairi people inhabited the Kingdom of Urartu that stretched along the shores of Lake Van, which is now the largest lake in Turkey. According to ArArAt, this brandy is: Beautiful deep dark amber color. Pleasing glow and spotless transparency. Harmonious, silky, complex and refined texture. Balsamic fragrance and transition to cedar tones. Rich and complex taste with a pleasant long-lasting aftertaste. Refined combination of fried bread and cloves is counterbalanced by tinges of cinnamon and honey.
Nairi sounds divine. I can’t wait to try it, except that it is our very last bottle of Armenian brandy.
One thing I’ve never done is take a tour of the Yerevan Brandy Company, and I’d really like to. I am also interested in broadening my Armenian brandy horizons by trying Amenian brandy made by other companies–Yerevan Brandy Company isn’t the only maker of brandy in Armenia.. With that in mind, and our supply dwindling, maybe it’s time to go back and get more.
Take the road less traveled, Beth