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Sir Winston’s Libations Part 2: Armenian Brandy
But no Cigar walk in London would be complete without including Sir Winston Churchill, the Greatest Englishman of the last Century, who bought his cigars from two of the stores on our walk (Alfred Dunhill and J.J. Fox).
Churchill once said: “When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.”
In addition to Pol Roger Champagne Sir Winston was also partial to a glass of Brandy and it came from an improbable source.
Lunch and dinner at Chartwell was always accompanied by Champagne. Sir Winston was also fond of Port, claret, Scotch and brandy. As I mentioned in part one Pol Roger was his favourite Champagne house. Johnnie Walker Red Label was his favourite Scotch, and then there was brandy.
South African Prime Minister Jan Christian Smuts once brought him a bottle of South African brandy. Churchill sipped it and said, “My dear Smuts, it is excellent.” And then added, “but it is not brandy.”
At the end of the second World War Sir Winston was at the Yalta Conference with the other Allied leaders and it was there that Joseph Stalin introduced him to ten-year-old Dvin Armenian Brandy and this 52% proof spirit quickly became the favourite brandy of the British wartime leader.
Stalin anticipated that the pungent, chewy Dvin would make a good match for Churchill’s prolific cigar habit. Among those who have sampled it I have read reports that “Dvin is unusually light due to its complex bouquet of vanilla tones, harmonious aroma of woody flavours with a strong hint of vanilla, suggestions of dried fruits and hazelnuts, and its fruity-caramel taste.”
It is reputed that Churchill enjoyed Armenian Brandy so much that he asked for several cases of it to be sent to him each year. It is calculated that up to 400 bottles of Dvin were shipped to Sir Winston every year.During my research for this article I came across a lovely article from Cigar Clan which combines tasting Armenian Brandy with three Cuban cigars; Punch Corona, Hoyo de Monterrey Churchill and a Montecristo No2 Torpedo.
At this point I have to acknowledge the generous help of Edward Sahakian the owner of the Davidoff cigar store in St James’s street in London. Edward, himself an Armenian, brought this story to my attention and has provided some great photographs and a video from his own personal travels.
The history of Brandy making in Armania goes back to 1877 when a local Merchant and Philanthropist Nerses Tairyants started to produce wine and ten years later he expanded his production to include Brandy.
In 1898 Nerses Tairyants leased the factory and in 1901 became confident enough of his product to send samples to an exhibition in Paris. But he didn’t reveal the origin of his Brandy and the French tasters unanimously gave the Brandy a Grand Prize. In addition when the judges found out the Brandy was from Armenia they gave the distillery permission to use the name Cognac rather than Brandy.
Following a period of exhaustive testing Shustov’s brandy was honoured by becoming a supplier to the Russian Court.
There are a number of stories about the period of supply of Brandy to Sir Winston Churchill. It is reported that on one occasion Sir Winston noted a change in the quality of the Brandy and this was reported to Stalin. It turned out that the chief blender in the distillery, Margar Sedrakyan, had been exiled.
On learning this Stalin had him reinstated so that Churchill could continue to receive brandy of a suitable quality. In fact, in recognition of his work Margar later received a medal as a ‘Hero of Socialist Work.’
Today the Distillery produces 3 Brandies:
Noy Araspel: 3 & 5 years old
Noy Classic: 7, 10, 15 and 20 years old
Noy Tirakal: 25 year old
Brandy Noy Tirakal is a unique brandy which is reputed to be superb when drunk with dessert, fruits, tea, coffee and cigars!
One barrel at the distillery however is not for sale. Churchill’s personal supply of Dvin still rests dark and cool where it has been for many decades. It is only rarely disturbed by the occasional privileged visitor.
Today tours of the EREVAN ARARAT distillery are available and visit the Distillery, Cooperage, Museum, and the catacombs which have been preserved as wine cellars from the times of Farad Pasha.
The tour finishes with an opportunity to taste some of the distilleries product.
As ever there are a wealth of Churchill quotes on the subject of ‘strong drink:’ Field Marshal Montgomery told Churchill: “I neither drink nor smoke and am a hundred per cent fit” Churchill responded: ” I drink and smoke and I am two hundred per cent fit.”
Churchill was lunching with the King of Saudi Arabia who informed the Prime Minister that his religion forbade drinking and smoking. Churchill responded: “I must point out that my rule of life prescribes as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars, and also the drinking of alcohol before, after, and if need be, during all meals and in the intervals between them.”
However, we all have our favourite Churchill quote and this is mine, often quoted but none the worse for repeating once more:
Labour Party M.P. Bessie Braddock once had the misfortune of accusing Churchill of drunkenness in public. “You’re drunk!” she scolded. “Yes,” he retorted, “and you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober.”
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Reprinted by permission. The original article can be found at Sound Advice – Nic’s Blog.
About the author
Nic Wing is the owner of CitiesinSound.com, producers of city audio walks. Audio guides are the best way for travelers to get to know a city. Whether you are new to a city or you think you know it well, before planning your next trip, visit CitiesinSound.com to get the inside track. To learn more about the “Cuban Cigar Walk – London,” click here.