The author of the Maggie Hope Mystery series
writes about KBO, cocktails, code-breaking, and red lipstick.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mr. Churchill's Brandy

Hello kittens! One of my birthday presents to myself this year was the gorgeous book, MixShakeStir: Recipes from Danny Meyer's Acclaimed New York City Restaurants. It's the gift that keeps on giving, believe me.

I was looking for a good brandy to use in their recipe for a classic Brandy Crusta, when I came across Astor Wines & Spirits's  Eniseli Georgian Brandy. Their copy says it was a favorite of Winston Churchill's.


I was not convinced. First off, Churchill was a known Francophile — why would he favor a Russian brandy? And it's a clever marketing tactic, of course, linking a luxury good, such as a brandy, to Winston Churchill. But after a bit of research (all right, googling. But still....), it turns out to have a bit of evidence on its side. From Russian Cigar Clan Magazine:


The history has it that the first brandy distillery appeared in
Armenia in 1887. Then first-guildmerchant Nerses
Tairyan built on the territory of the ancient castle Sardar
Khana a smalldistillery and equipped it with devices for
creating brandy under classical French technology.

However, the enterprise reached its hey-day in 1898,
when it was acquired by Nikolay Shustov, well-known
in Russia vodka and liqueur producer and seller. Soon
“Shustov and Sons” partnership became appointed
supplier of His Imperial Majesty’s court. Although,
Shustov’s brandy was officially acknowledged not
only in Russia, but in France, too, when at the
International Exhibition in Paris in 1900 after a blind
tasting it got the Grand-Prix and the legal tight to be
called ‘cognac’, not ‘brandy’.

The brandy glory did not diminish in the Soviet time.
It was incredibly popular with statesmen. Winston
Churchill was known to be a great admirer of the
‘Armenian cognac’, he first tasted the drink at the
Yalta conference. The British Prime-Minister ordered
up to 400 bottles of brandy per year, stubbornly calling
it “Shustov’s”, which made Stalin hit the roof. Agatha
Christie and Frank Sinatra loved this brandy, too.

Love the image of Churchill calling it "Shustov's" — just to tick off Stalin.

P.S. Here's the recipe for Brandy Crusta:

1.5 oz Brandy
0.25 oz Maraschino liqueur
0.5 oz Cointreau
0.25 oz lemon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lemon peel spiral and sugared rim for garnish

Cut a lemon in half and moisten the rim of the glass with the lemon. Then heavily coat the rim with sugar. Completely peel one of the lemon halfs in a ½ inch wide piece of lemon peel. Fill glass with ice leaving enough room to place the peel in glass. Cut one of the lemon halfs in half again in order to get a quarter of the lemon. Juice the lemon quarter and add the juice to the brandy, maraschino, Cointreau, and bitters. Shake with ice for 10 seconds and then strain into prepared glass.


  1. I am sure he tried it, but its just a legend that it was sent to Mr. Churchill annually. Stalin being a Georgian most probably offered Georgian brandy rather than Armenian. As Armenians point out themselves it is probably all a myth:

  2. Stalin associated himselt with the Russian culture, which he had often declared under various circumstances. Although he was Georgian by origin and mother tongue, his political uprising had been closely connected with Russian and European literature. Being a Soviet leader, he annualy sent Mr. Chirchill a box of renown Armenian Cognac ( not at all brandy )called "Dvin".

  3. I'm reading that his preferred brandy was a vintage Hine brandy. I even saw a bottle of it posed on TV in the famous tunnels of WWII they let tourists visit in London. So where is this Armenian thing coming from? I'm curious to try it, so I may get a bottle, but Hine seems to be the one he factually preferred.