Churchill’s Brandy? Not Really….
Brandy 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 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….”
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.” RML
(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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for the report. Sounds like pretty good stump pressings.
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
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.