Churchill’s Brandy? Not Really….

Churchill’s Brandy? Not Really….

brandyBrandy Ban­ter: The Evening Stan­dard described ArArAt Armen­ian brandy, once reserved for Com­mu­nist par­ty elite. It was “the brandy that Stal­in served Churchill” accord­ing to con­sumer busi­ness edi­tor Jonathan Prynn:

The prime min­is­ter enjoyed ArArAt brandy when it was served by Stal­in at the Yal­ta con­fer­ence in Feb­ru­ary 1945. After the Sec­ond World War, the Sovi­et leader arranged for Churchill to be sent 400 bot­tles every year.

This seems high­ly doubt­ful. There is no record in the Churchill Archives Cen­tre of even a bot­tle of brandy being sent to Churchill—although he did com­pli­ment Stal­in on an Armen­ian brandy served at Yal­ta. Also, by 1946, Churchill was say­ing things about the Rus­sians that they prob­a­bly didn’t think mer­it­ed gifts. I am indebt­ed to archivist Lynsey Dar­by at the Churchill Archives Cen­tre Cam­bridge, who writes:

I’ve looked at a num­ber of files in the Churchill Papers, and at Cita Stelzer’s book, Din­ner with Churchill. The evi­dence points towards Churchill enjoy­ing a range of dif­fer­ent (but always high-qual­i­ty) brandies, not just Armen­ian cognac. Mrs. Stelz­er does men­tion Churchill pick­ing up a bot­tle of Armen­ian cognac dur­ing a din­ner giv­en by Stal­in in 1942. Oth­er brandies men­tioned in the book are l’Hertier de Jean Fremi­court (which Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne said was Churchill’s favorite in his lat­er years) and Prunier (which Churchill served at Pots­dam). In the Churchill Papers, frus­trat­ing­ly the name of the brandy is often not giv­en. In accounts from his wine mer­chants, the brandy is usu­al­ly described sim­ply as “fine old liqueur.”

ArArAt Brandy

ArArAt is pro­duced by the Yere­van Com­pa­ny, whose Armine Ghaz­aryan queried me about their brand “Dvin.” She asked for the ori­gins of the Churchill sto­ry.  I have found no record of cas­es of either brandy being shipped to Churchill, either at his request or Stalin’s. But Ms. Ghaz­aryan kind­ly explains how “Dvin” relates to “ArArAt”:

Dvin is a part of the Ararat range (includ­ing Ararat 3, Ararat 5, Ani 6-year-old, Otborny  7-year-old, Akhta­mar 10-year-old, Tonakan 15-year-old, and Nairi 20-year-old. There are also some exclu­sive brandies: Ere­buni 25, Kilikia 30, Spara­pet 40, Arme­nia 20 and Dvin. The lat­ter is 10 years old but 50% alcohol.

My own con­tri­bu­tion to all this is that the stan­dard brandy Churchill served at Chartwell was Hine (which is quite agree­able). A Lon­don wine mer­chant, hired to appraise the cel­lar at Chartwell in the 1950s, pro­nounced it “a sham­bles.” The only con­tents worth men­tion­ing were a col­lec­tion of vin­tage Hine, and of course Pol Roger Cham­pagne.


Churchill drank a still white wine on occa­sion. The only such type men­tioned by the apprais­er was a case of’ “per­fect­ly dread­ful” Chardon­nay. Churchill had per­son­al­ly bot­tled this with his long­time friend Hilaire Bel­loc. He for­bade throw­ing it out.

It was report­ed years ago that Churchill agree­ably paid all the liquor accounts except for his wife Clementine’s gin, which he insist­ed she pay for her­self. I referred this sto­ry to Sir Winston’s grand­son, the late Win­ston Churchill. He replied: “I nev­er saw my grand­moth­er drink gin; her tip­ple, at least in lat­er life, was Dubon­net.” Equal­ly short shrift was giv­en by Churchill’s daugh­ter, Lady Soames, who thun­dered.  “Absolute b—-; and you may quote me! Of course they would have had the odd Mar­ti­ni, espe­cial­ly when stay­ing with the Roo­sevelts. FDR mixed a mean one. But they were cer­tain­ly not gin-drinkers by habit.”

12 thoughts on “Churchill’s Brandy? Not Really….

  1. It’s a known fact that Rus­sians did make this ship­ping a dis­creet one due to the war and the rela­tion­ship between the 2 sides.
    Au con­traire, it was in the inter­est of both sides (dur­ing the war) to pro­fess great affec­tion and cor­dial­i­ty, which they large­ly did. Stal­in proved tough and obdu­rate in per­son­al meet­ings but even there he often backed off (as at Teheran) when he thought he’d pushed too far.
    Nev­er in the course of imbib­ing alco­hol have so many words been spent over a bot­tle of brandy. In the words of gen­er­a­tions of edi­tors, bar­ring any sol­id new infor­ma­tion: “Cor­re­spon­dence on this sub­ject is now closed.” R

  2. (1) You write below: “In order to estab­lish that Stal­in sent ‘400 bot­tles a year,’ you need to pro­vide a legit­i­mate cita­tion from Sovi­et archives….If you have such doc­u­men­ta­tion, state it, with the dates and quan­ti­ties sent. I’ll be glad to amend my post, and noti­fy Ms. Ghaz­aryan, who will be delight­ed at the news.” For some­one claim­ing legit­i­mate quotes, you should pro­vide us same. (2) Can we see your legit­ime [sic] cita­tion from Ms. Lynsey Dar­by? Because all we read, is you say­ing that she said that Churchill not often talked about that brand. (3) “This seems high­ly doubt­ful” How? What makes this “HIGHLY” doubt­ful? Noth­ing, only your inter­pre­ta­tion. You claims [sic] that it is “HIGHLY” doubt­ful, while you have absolute­ly no evi­dence. Some­one want­i­ng to be right would just write: “This seems weird” or “this seems doubt­ful”, as there is no evi­dence about it. (There is no evi­dence for a lot of things we do accept.) (4) “I don’t see any­thing in my post knock­ing this famous brandy” Well, the whole post is about it. (5) Did any­one proved [sic] that lying to kids by pre­tend­ing San­ta is real is a good thing ? No. Well, you still do it.
    (1) With respect, it is not my respon­si­bil­i­ty to prove Stal­in sent Churchill ‘400 bot­tles a year.’ That’s up to the writer who made the claim, who nev­er offered proof. Absent evi­dence, one can only apply com­mon sense: Did Stal­in send Churchill “some” cas­es of Armen­ian brandy? Seems rea­son­able (there are 12 bot­tles to a case). Did he send 400 bot­tles a year? No proof, let alone for how long.

    (2) Ms. Darby’s com­ments were reprint­ed in full. Do we need an affi­davit? (3) I wrote “seems high­ly doubt­ful,” but if you pre­fer “seems doubt­ful,” I am hap­py to go along with your impor­tant refine­ment. (4) If there is a point here, sor­ry but I missed it. (5) My Dad gave me a let­ter in Santa’s own hand­writ­ing when I was five. (“There is no evi­dence for a lot of things we do accept”). RML

  3. I can con­firm that send­ing high qual­i­ty Armen­ian brandy from Sovi­et embassies to host country’s lead­ers, min­is­ters and friends of the embassy on spe­cial occa­sions, espe­cial­ly New Year, was a tra­di­tion that last­ed until the late 1980s. This is also con­firmed by Churchill’s daugh­ter in the arti­cle. So it could well be that the Sovi­et embassy in the UK was send­ing these gifts on their list of addressees, includ­ing Churchill for a while, as it was send­ing to oth­ers here in the UK. 

  4. There is a kind of ambi­gu­i­ty about that sto­ry, but it was a part of the top glob­al pol­i­tics of that time, there­fore it might be hard to find answers. Armen­ian brandy is real­ly one of my favorites, but to avoid any coun­ter­feits, you can use the guide where to buy it, and then order it online.

    I have no way of know­ing if their claim is true, but it is cer­tain­ly fine brandy. RML

  5. I recent­ly vis­it­ed the Ararat Brandy Com­pa­ny in Yere­van. They claim that they sent Churchill 300 (not 400) bot­tles a year of Dvin. I did a tast­ing and, fwiw, the Dvin has the most heav­en­ly nose of all–but that extra 10% alco­hol mKes it just ‘too aggres­sive’ on the tongue. Again, fwiw, the 10 year old seemed the best com­bo of nose and taste of those I tried–preferable to the 20 year old Nairi. But I did not try the Ere­buni, which our guide hint­ed was her favourite.
    Agree with you. I must get hold of some Dvin. RML

  6. With or with­out Sir Win­ston, Armen­ian brandy is a very inter­est­ing, unique type of spir­it, pre­ferred by many over French cognac and some oth­er spirits.
    Beware of numer­ous coun­ter­feits, par­tic­u­lar­ly poor qual­i­ty prod­ucts by Dozort­sev & Son (e.g. Dia­mond X.O. so-called “Armen­ian” brandy). This con­tributed sig­nif­i­cant­ly to destroy­ing good name of Geor­gian wines and now is busy with demol­ish­ing rep­u­ta­tion of Armen­ian brandy. True Armen­ian brandy comes only from the Yere­van-based Ararat fac­to­ry. Akhta­mar, Ani, Nairi, Dvin (in order of my per­son­al pref­er­ences) are my top choic­es. French cognac is too “girly” for me, but it’s all a mat­ter of per­son­al taste.

  7. Does it real­ly mat­ter whether it was Churchill’s favourite or not? The fact is Armen­ian brandy is of excel­lent qual­i­ty and taste and it’s con­quer­ing more mar­kets. Just avoid the fake ones. I’m sure there is a way to deter­mine before you buy.

  8. Obvi­ous­ly this is a real­ly big deal, at least to some­body. As I explained to Ms. Ghaz­aryan of the Yere­van Com­pa­ny, there is no record of Stalin’s ship­ment of brandy in the Churchill Archives, which pre­serves every doc­u­ment from state papers to Churchill’s hair­cut bills. And Churchill was always care­ful to log for­eign gifts. After Churchill’s “Iron Cur­tain” speech in 1946, it would seem high­ly unlike­ly that he would receive gifts from “Uncle Joe.” In order to estab­lish that Stal­in sent “400 bot­tles a year,” you need to pro­vide a legit­i­mate cita­tion from Sovi­et archives. So don’t spout like an over­heat­ed tea ket­tle. If you have such doc­u­men­ta­tion, state it, with the dates and quan­ti­ties sent. I’ll be glad to amend my post, and noti­fy Ms. Ghaz­aryan, who will be delight­ed at the news. 

    I don’t see any­thing in my post knock­ing this famous brandy, but I’m not sure how Stalin’s ship­ping cas­es of it to Churchill could be regard­ed as a “pro­pa­gan­da coup against the West’s giant.” It’s also a lit­tle sil­ly to claim that Armen­ian ArArAt brandy is ignored by the West “to pla­cate Mus­lim Turkey and Azer­bai­jan,” since it’s on sale all over the web. Hav­ing tried it myself, I would say the Turks and Azer­bai­ja­nis are depriv­ing themselves.

  9. You have researched Churchill’s papers and his­tor­i­cal archives, but not the Sovi­et archives of the times. I have seen that par­tic­u­lar request when in Moscow in 2013. Stal­in did indeed send cas­es of Ararat brandy to Churchill. Some, due to pol­i­tics of the Cold War, did indeed sup­press this fact. The West did not want a “pro­pa­gan­da” coup favor­ing Stal­in against the West’s giant, Churchill. And the fact was either ridiculed or sup­pressed. Armenia’s brandies (cognacs) are top notch. But then pol­i­tics is once again is play­ing its dirty games, and the West to pla­cate Mus­lim Turkey and Azer­bai­jan, sim­ply ignores Armen­ian cognacs. As for you, you did not do your home­work. There you go Churchill historian.

  10. I just had a Nairi brandy, prob­a­bly a 45-year-old, with a friend of mine who received the bot­tle from a Russ­ian client of his. The brandy was bot­tled in a 2.5 liter crys­tal bot­tle. I am curi­ous of the val­ue of such a bot­tle today. It was full-bod­ied, with a long after­taste with a slight nut­ty fin­ish. Superb

  11. I’m sip­ping on an ArArAt brandy right now. I bought a bot­tle of the young stuff, but it’s eas­i­ly the best I’ve had for the price range. Tastes like they used a cop­per still.

    I want­ed to try the Churchill brandy since I like his­tor­i­cal food and drink. Looks like the sto­ry of “Churchill’s brandy” may have been exag­ger­at­ed but the ArArAt brandy still does lead to a link between two famous world lead­ers at an espe­cial­ly impor­tant time and place.

    I also have enjoyed try­ing out Kvanchkara and Kindz­ma­rauli, Stalin’s favorite Geor­gian wines.

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