ArArAt brandy is just one of many the tasty drinks you’ll try on the Caucasian Challenge.
After a long day driving on the Caucasian Challenge, whether participants have been racing along Turkey’s Black Sea Coast; driving through Georgia’s stunning mountain regions; or searching for ruins in remote Armenia, we like to celebrate in traditional style. The locals of the entire region are famous for their hospitality, which means warm welcomes and offerings of delicious cuisine. And, of course, everywhere we go we try our host’s beloved alcohol. In Armenia this means drinking ArArAt brandy. Here’s its story.
How ArArAt got its Start
The Yerevan Brandy Company was founded in 1887 and by the turn of the century had a burgeoning reputation for quality. The product was so good that at the Grand Exhibition in Paris in 1900, the company won the Grand-Prix, and with it, earned the right to call their brandy “cognac”. As if that weren’t prestige enough, when Churchill met Stalin at Yalta, the communist leader chose ArArAt as the tipple to charm the Brit, famously fond of alcohol. It is said that Churchill regularly ordered crates of ArArAt for the rest of his life. Armenia made 25% of the brandy consumed within the Soviet Union, and the empire’s decline saw the Yerevan Brandy Company fall into peril. However, the company’s purchase by Pernod Richard in 1998 has reinvigorated the industry, despite efforts by the European Union to once again limit the descriptor “cognac” to brandy made within France.
In the Shadow of Ararat
ArArAt the brandy is named after the Ararat the mountain, which is the national symbol of Armenia, despite now being located across the border in Turkey. On a clear day, the mountain can be seen easily from Yerevan. Said to be where Noah’s Ark landed, the mountain is regarded as crucial to the history of Armenians, and was the center of their territory until the Western portion of Armenian land was lost to Turkey in the period after the Armenian genocide. Therefore, the name Ararat is a rather emotive name, but the brandy more than lives up to it.
Making Ararat Brandy
Armenia is well suited to brandy production, thanks to a sunny climate and high altitudes, which explains why Yerevan has more brandy factories per capita than anywhere else on earth. All the brandies are made with local grape varieties and fresh Armenian spring water, unlike in France, where cognac is produced using distilled water. There are various brands of ArArAt brandy, ranging in price and quality: the most commonly offered options are aged for between three and thirty years.
The ArArAt Factory
When you visit the city on the Caucasian Challenge, it’s easy to get confused: though ArArAt is produced by the Yerevan Brandy Company, nearby there is the Yerevan Ararat Brandy-Wine-Vodka Factory, which makes rival brand Noy. The ArArAt factory, pictured above, offers tours, with guides who speak Armenian, Russian, English, French and German. In an imposing location on the Hradzan river, a fairly short walk from the Tsitsernakaberd memorial complex, it would be worth a visit even if it weren’t for the free tasters of ArArAt they provide!