Armenian brandy, especially the Ararat brand, holds a special place in the world of spirits. It is known for its rich, complex taste, which can include notes of dried fruit, vanilla and spices. Ararat is produced by the Yerevan Brandy Company, which was founded in 1887. The brand is named after the biblical Mount Ararat, which is a symbol of Armenia, even though it is currently located in Turkey. The mountain is deeply rooted in Armenian culture and history and serves as a strong symbol of the brand.
The brandy is primarily made from native Armenian grape varieties, such as Voskehat and Garan Dmak. The grapes are fermented and then distilled. The distillation process is crucial for achieving the desired alcohol content and flavor profile. The distillate then matures in oak barrels for a long time. The maturation process can last from three years to several decades, depending on the specific product. Before bottling, the brandy is usually blended from different barrels to create the desired flavor profile.
Ararat has received numerous international awards and is exported to many countries. It gained international fame when Winston Churchill reportedly became a fan. During the Yalta Conference in 1945, Joseph Stalin introduced Churchill to Armenian brandy. Churchill was so taken with this spirit that he reportedly arranged for regular shipments to be sent to United Kingdom. The brandy thus became not only a drink but also a diplomatic tool that bridged the differences between various political ideologies.
Is Ararat cognac or brandy?
Armenian brandy is often referred to as the “cognac of the Caucasus“. While cognac is a designation exclusively associated with the Cognac region in France, Armenian brandy earned this nickname due to its high quality and similar production methods. Both are distilled twice and aged in oak barrels, but Armenian brandy differs in grape varieties and, of course, terroir. Therefore, the question of whether cognac is better than brandy or vice versa cannot be simply answered.
Simply put, every cognac is a brandy, but only brandy from the French Cognac region is a cognac. In Armenia, however, they strive for their brandy to receive an exception and be officially labeled as cognac. Unofficially, this spirit has been called this by all Armenians for time immemorial.
Ararat Brandy Museum in Yerevan
A great opportunity to get to know Armenian brandy Ararat up close is the museum of the same name in Yerevan. The well-prepared tour provides plenty of information about this iconic Armenian alcohol. The museum is located in the attractive building of the Yerevan Brandy Company and is a prominent landmark at the eastern gate of the city.
Ararat Museum tour options with brandy tasting
- The basic tour costs 4,500 AMD (about 10.80 EUR), and you will taste Ararat brandy “***” and 7-year-old “Ani”.
- If you choose the advanced option for 10,000 AMD (about 24 EUR), after the tour you will taste three types of Ararat brandy – 10-year-old “Akhtamar”, 15-year-old “Vaspurakan” and 20-year-old “Nairi”.
- You can also choose a flavored brandy tasting for 7,500 AMD (about 18 EUR), after the tour you will taste three types – 7-year-old unflavored “Ani”, apricot and coffee brandy.
- On offer for 12,000 AMD (about 28.80 EUR) is a comparison of three different ten-year-old types of brandy – “Akhtamar”, “Armenia” and “Dvin”.
All types include the same tour; they only differ in the type of tasting at the end. I chose the advanced tasting option, as did most of the participants in my group. I was very satisfied.
The museum is brand new, superbly renovated and it’s evident that the distillery has been owned by the Western company Pernot Ricard since 1999.
During the tour, you will go through the entire Ararat brandy production process and familiarize yourself with all the details.
Some information is very interesting, such as how the level of charring a barrel with fire affects the final color of the brandy.
I’ve been on many tours of wine-producing companies, yet this demonstration of how much of the grapevine plant is underground captivated me.
In the museum, you will find a barrel of brandy that was filled and archived after the start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The brandy from this barrel will only be opened when the conflict ends. And as the guide added: “They would like to open all the brandy they have here as late as possible, so it’s of the highest quality. But they would like to open this one barrel right now.”
Part of the exhibition is a collection of archive bottles of Ararat brandy with their original content. If you understand the Cyrillic alphabet, you will surely recognize the word “cognac”.
The tour itself then ends with a tasting. This can vary depending on which type you chose for tasting. All glasses are clearly marked, so you know exactly which brandy you are drinking.
Guided tours of the museum are available in Armenian, Russian, English, French, and German. You can book online in advance, but there should also be availability on-site. Tours are very frequent, always in one chosen language. The museum also has a company store with the distillery’s complete range. The Ararat Brandy Museum in Yerevan is definitely worth a visit.
Cheers and enjoy the tour!
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