To say that Armenian brandy has a lot to offer those who enjoy their spirits smooth, fully flavoured, and bursting with seductive aromas, would be a seriously heavy understatement. This wonderful drink, which hails from a corner of the world which has been cultivating grapes for thousands upon thousands of years, is finally beginning to find a truly global audience of fans… and it really isn’t difficult to see why.
Armenian brandy, known locally as kanyak, is a real treat for those seeking new taste sensations and a sensory journey into rich flavours, elegant and seductive bouquets, and a set of characteristics which put most other brandies (and even fine French Cognac) in the shade. If you’re keen to take your exploration of this drink to a whole new level, then knowing how to correctly taste your Armenian brandy is absolutely key. As such, we’ve put together a brief guide to brandy tasting that should help you really make the most of your kanyak, and allow you to uncover its depths and subtleties in a truly satisfactory manner.
As with all tasting guides, this rundown of steps for tasting Armenian brandy is one which should act primarily as a foundation onto which you can further build your brandy encounters. After a while, you’ll be figuring out your own style, and tasting in whichever way best suits your palate. As a beginner’s guide, however, this ten-step process really does make a big difference, and should allow you to eke out even more enjoyment from this remarkable and historic spirit. Cheers!
Obviously, the first step of this process concerns choosing your Armenian brandy, and the glass from which you’ll be doing your tasting. There are a number of different brandies out there for you to try, which range from the fresh, young, and vibrant, all the way to the impressively aged, deep, and complex. If you’re tasting multiple brandies, we’d naturally suggest starting with the youngest and moving upwards in age, as this will allow your palate to gradually get used to the deeper layers of flavour which the years lend to the spirit.
As for glasses, there are two types of glasses best suited for brandy tasting. These are the traditional ‘tulip’ glass, and the wider, more bowl-shaped brandy snifter (also known as the balloon glass). Both are perfect for tasting Armenian brandy, as both have the wide bowl and narrower rim which allow the aromas to be captured and intensified. If you don’t have access to a proper brandy glass, you can use a regular wine glass which is similarly shaped for the same effect.
Few sounds are more pleasing to the Armenian brandy fan’s ears that the elegant ‘plink, plink, plink’ sound that kanyak makes as it leaves the bottle and hits the base of the glass’s bowl. For tastings, we’d recommend pouring around 25ml (that’s 0.85 oz) as an optimal amount. However, if you’re tempted to pour more, we wouldn’t blame you.
The next step when tasting Armenian brandy is to warm the bowl of the glass with your hands. Some modern brandy drinkers would claim this is unnecessary, and that kanyak can be enjoyed straight after being poured… but most people would recommend sticking to the traditional process of cupping the glass with your hands, and allowing the liquid to warm slightly towards body temperature. You certainly don’t want to drink the brandy at anything lower than room temperature, as this would inhibit the aroma and flavours, and not allow you to enjoy the drink at its full potential.
Armenian brandy is a beautiful drink, which gives off a range of truly stunning colours. From pale straw gold to deeper, bronzed and amber hues, and from honey-coloured to reddish in appearance, there’s a surprising amount of variation in each brandy from different years or from different producers.
We’d always recommend spending some time appreciating the colour of your brandy, either by raising your glass to the light, or by looking at the halo of colour which is reflecting through the brandy onto the base of the glass. Why? Well, partly because it looks wonderful, and the first taste should always be via the eyes. However, it’s also important to look carefully at your brandy because our brains associate colour with flavour, and the colour of the kanyak will give us some idea of what to expect upon tasting. In essence, using your eyes primes your palate, and some claim it is a simple way of sharpening your senses before the next step in the process.
Armenian brandy is known for its deeply aromatic qualities. Unlike with fine wine, where you’ll stick your nose right into the glass, you sniff brandy by placing your nose on or close to the edge of the glass, and gently inhaling. You want to capture all of those lovely fruit and spice aromas, rather than getting a headful of alcohol fumes, after all.
Hedgerow fruit, spice, leather, tobacco, flowers, dried grasses… there is a wealth of aromas present in Armenian brandy, which is one of the reasons it is so highly regarded by fine spirits fans. The smell is, of course, somewhat subjective in nature, meaning there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to sniffing brandy – it’s a moment of enjoyment which exists between you, the spirit, and the heritage and history which led it to your glass.
Holding the glass bowl in the palm of your hand, give the brandy a good swirl for a couple of seconds. This will slightly oxidise the spirit (allowing it to ‘breathe’), and will also allow more of the aromas to become uninhibited and be released in the glass.
On this second sniff, you should be more able to detect the secondary and tertiary layers of aroma, released by the swirling process. Close your eyes, and experience them as they hit your mind’s memory centres one by one.
Lift the brandy to your lips, and take a small sip. Allow the silky spirit to roll its way over your tongue, and coat your palate from the roof of your mouth to the sides of your cheeks. Don’t make any effort to swill it around your mouth – and certainly don’t spit it out – just let it do its thing, and enjoy the different flavours which arise as it hits different parts of your palate.
You should be able to start identifying different primary, secondary, and tertiary flavours as it reaches all the areas of your mouth. Parts of your tongue, for example, are more primed to experience sweetness, while others might pick up a slight salinity. Once your palate has encountered the brandy in all its glory, then swallow, and head in for another little sip. The second time around will most likely be even more satisfying, as your mouth will have become accustomed to the alcohol and you’ll be able to pick up even more subtle flavours.
The ‘finish’ is another name for the aftertaste of the kanyak – those flavours which linger (often for a very long time) after you’ve swallowed the brandy. This is a moment for meditation, for detecting even more subtleties and notes, and for real brandy fans, it’s the best part of the tasting.
If you’re hosting an Armenian brandy tasting for your friends (or indeed if you’re doing it alone), we’d recommend having a platter of foods and nibbles out for everyone to dip into. Armenian brandy pairs remarkably well with a whole number of different foods and flavours, and ensuring that there are moments of contrast and harmony in your tasting is never a bad idea. Fresh and dried fruits are always recommended, as are pieces of charcuterie, aged Armenian cheeses, olives, and even pieces of dark chocolateelicious!
There you have it – our quick guide to taking your Armenian brandy tastings to whole new heights of meditative pleasure and sensory enjoyment. There’s a whole world of flavour and aroma to discover in each bottle of this wonderfully refined and distinguished spirit, and by following these steps, you can really make the most of every single bottle.