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Yerevan Brandy Company

The Ararat distillery sits high on a hill above the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. It’s named after the mountain that towers over the city, apparently where Noah landed following the flood. The country’s modern brandy industry dates back to 1877 when Nerses Tairyan introduced Cognac-style stills to Armenia. The most celebrated products, however, were produced in Yerevan by a Russian called Nikolay Shustov. One of his brandies won a gold medal, beating its French rivals, at the Paris Expo of 1900. The French were so impressed that they allowed Shustov to call his product ‘Cognac’. This was disallowed following World War II, but Armenian brandy is still known in the Russian-speaking world as konjak. In 1912, Shustov’s product got the official seal of approval from the czar.

During Soviet times, Armenia was designated as the brandy producer to the USSR. The magnificent Ararat distillery was built in 1953, featuring a communist-neo-classical-meets-Armenian-monastic style dates back to this period. Whereas wine quality suffered greatly under communism, the reputation of Armenian brandy remained high. It functioned as the Johnnie Walker Black Label of the Eastern Bloc. A bottle to the right person could cut through yards of Soviet red tape.

The economic turmoil following the fall of communism hit the industry hard. As Becky Sue Epstein writes in her book Brandy: “When the USSR disbanded distribution networks disappeared overnight and the market for Armenian brandy collapsed.” Nowadays, however, the industry is more stable. The two successor companies to Shustov’s are Noy, meaning Noah, and Ararat (aka The Yerevan Brandy Company) which since 1998 has been owned by Pernod Ricard.

To make the konyak, they use wine made from local grapes which is double-distilled and aged in East European oak casks. Ararat has its own on-site cooperage. It’s a huge concern, producing around 5.5 million bottles per year, that’s nearly the entire production of the Armagnac region. The master blender has a huge palette of brandies to make his blends from. They are generally sweetened, the Armenians tend to drink their brandies with dessert. The cheaper ones are very pleasant but once you get to 10 years and above, that is where the excitement starts.

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