In 2010 my brother-in-law married a British girl and their wedding gave us the opportunity to meet her family from across the pond. One thing we remember about her father, Bob, is that he talked about Winston Churchill and WWII. Churchill isn’t as well-known in the US, we might think of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instead. But Churchill is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century. As a boy growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, Bob admired Churchill, who lived until 1965.
Fast forward to 2015 and we are invited to Bob’s birthday party. How do you choose a gift for someone you don’t know very well? We’re watching “The Armenian Trail” episode of Booze Traveler while the question of a gift is percolating. Host Jack Maxwell visits the Yerevan Brandy Company in Armenia and while he is tasting, learns of the Churchill connection to Ararat Brandy. The story goes that Churchill developed a taste for Ararat when it was served by Stalin at the Yalta conference in February 1945. After the war, Stalin arranged for Churchill to be sent 400 bottles every year.
After a bit of research, there is no evidence to support the Churchill/Ararat connection, but the myth is so widely known that it still makes a great gift idea!
Ararat brandies have been around since 1887. The line includes 3 Stars, 5 Stars, Ani, Otborny, Akhtamar, Vaspurakan, and Nairi. We’re doing a tasting comparison with Ararat 5 Stars, Hennessy VS Cognac, Jacques Cardin VSOP Cognac, and E&J VSOP Brandy.
Of the four, Ararat has the most vanilla taste, while the Hennessy tends toward oaky. Both can be appreciated neat as well as mixed with Cointreau in a Sidecar cocktail. Jacques Cardin, a moderately priced cognac, is best when sipped in a brandy snifter to enhance the nice nutty nose, and toasted, spicy flavor. Mixing Cointreau or other triple sec with JC creates an unpleasant aftertaste so it’s not our cognac or brandy of choice for a Sidecar. E&J is a lower priced brandy with a sweet caramel flavor. There isn’t much complexity to it when sipped neat, but it works well with a syrup-y triple sec like Hiram Walker, especially if you like the sugar level of a mixed drink bumped up a notch. (Tasting notes with Hennessy and different triple sec can be found in my Sidecar Drink Lab post.)
In retrospect, Remy Martin would have been a valuable addition for our cognac and brandy tasting so expect an update after our next trip to the liquor store!
May 20, 2016 Update:
Not long after this post we tried a bottle of Remy Martin V.S.O.P. and have been drinking it ever since. It became our cognac of choice for a premium Sidecar.
Premium Sidecar Recipe (makes 2 drinks)
- 4 oz. Remy Martin V.S.O.P.
- 2 oz. Cointreau
- ½ oz. lemon juice
- ½ oz. simple syrup
We tasted each of the brandies neat to verify and update our tasting notes. Jacques Cardin is full of toasted nuts and oak on the nose but loses out on the finish when the flavor turns to an alcoholic burn. Impressions of Hennessey and Ararat were about the same as our last tasting, Henny being oaky with a few caramel notes, and Ararat showing the most vanilla. It wouldn’t surprise me if the sweet caramel taste in E&J is added flavoring.
The star is Remy Martin. Now we know why it’s the most popularly stolen item in a liquor store. The nose has aromas of oak and fruit. The palate is well-balanced with oak, raisins, vanilla, spices and roasted nuts. Remy has a long smooth finish that demonstrates its dry champagne origins.