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The Difference Between Brandy and Bourbon

Going out for drinks is a popular activity for groups to do. Whether it is a friend group or workgroup, relaxing with some brandy or bourbon makes for an enjoyable time. No matter the alcoholic beverage, it has a specific distillation process.

Some spirits are made in charred oak barrels, and others develop their flavor in wooden casks. 

Bottle of Jim Beam bourbon vs brandy

This article will discuss brandy vs. bourbon. What is the difference between these two spirits? Are they made out of the same ingredients? Is straight bourbon whiskey in French oak barrels or wooden caskets? Keep reading to answer your questions!


What Is Brandy?

Whether you have grape brandy or apple brandy, the alcohol content will be high. A Brandy is distilled wine with 35-60% alcohol by volume, or 70-120 proof. Brandy originated in France when it was distilled in 1313 as a medicine.

Bottle of brandy and two glasses and grapes

Physicians were amazed by its strengthening and sanitizing powers, calling it “the water of life.” Brandy retains this name today.

Brandy is a distilled fruit wine made from fermented fruit juice. Brandy comes from grapes. Other fruits like apples, peaches, apricots, and pears make varieties of the spirit.

The name comes from a Dutch word meaning “burned wine.” Brandy gets the term burned wine because the fruit goes through the process of being made into wine first, then it is distilled.

Fermenting the fruit into fruit wine starts with introducing yeast to the fruit mash. Apple brandy uses apples to make a sour mash.

The sour mash is fermented with yeast, turning the natural sugars into alcohol. The mixture is then distilled in a copper pot until it is a concentrated alcohol. 


What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a fermented grain mash that distills under strict regulations. Bourbon is strictly an American spirit. One of its rules is that it has to be distilled in America.

Bottle of Jim Beam Bourbon and a glass with ice

Some people think bourbon whiskey cannot be distilled anywhere but Kentucky, but that is not true. It can be distilled in any United States state if it follows all the rules and regulations. 

At least fifty-one percent of the grain mash must be corn for the bourbon whiskey to be considered bourbon. The rest of the mash is barley, rye, and wheat.

The percentage of these grains does not matter. Corn can make up more than fifty-one percent of the mash, but it has to be at least that much.

Another regulation for Tennessee bourbon whiskey is that it must age in new charred American oak barrels. This rule is crucial for distinction because most American whiskeys age in a used oak barrel.

The whiskey grabs flavor from the port, sherry, wine, or other previously aged whiskeys in those oak barrels. Bourbon can only distill until it is 160 proof.

After the distilling process, bourbon enters the barrel with proof no higher than 125 and enters the bottle with a proof of 80 or higher. 


Brandy vs. Bourbon: How the Icons Compare

Let’s dig deeper into brandy vs. bourbon and learn about the similarities and differences between the two spirits. 

glass of brandy in the cellar with old barrels stacked in a row

Origin

Brandy is found back in Europe in the 14th century. French physicians distilled fruit to make a medicine for strength and sanitary uses.

scotch Whiskey Bourbon in a Glass with Ice

In the United States, George Washington began commercially producing brandy in 1797. His Scottish farm manager who had experience distilling grain in Scotland urged him to pursue brandy. 

The abundance of fruits in the new world made for good business. The laborious task of growing grains was no longer needed to make a delicious spirit.

Clear fruit brandies are unaged, but apple and grape brandy are an exception. They age in oak barrels which gives them a complexity of flavor. 

Bourbon is an American spirit. When European settlers came to North America, they were not ready to give up their favorite alcohol.

Native Americans had fermented fruits but did not distillation of grains like the Europeans did. Grain thrived in New England soil, proving to be a promising way to distill alcohol.

The lack of peat fuel made it hard to dry malted barley, so the settlers opted for a corn-based mashed. Corn, wheat, and rye take the place of malted barley. 


Taste and Flavor

The next thing to compare brandy vs. bourbon is the flavor. The two spirits use different ingredients, which give them different flavor palettes. Their similar distillation process lumps them into the same category.

Bourbon barrel

Brandy is made from fruit. It is a distilled wine that has fruity and slightly sweet notes. Imagine a sweet, fruity wine with hints of oaky flavor from the oak barrels.

The un-aged brandy will have less oak than the brandy that ages in French oak barrels for two years or more. The longer the brandy ages, the more mellow and oaky the flavor becomes. 

Bourbon is a strand of whiskey. It has strong oak flavors from its aging process in new charred American oak barrels. The corn, rye, and wheat give it a classic grain liquor flavor.

Other notes in bourbon are vanilla and caramel. These flavors make bourbon a great spirit to mix cocktails or enjoy straight. Most bourbon tastes similar because of the strict regulations put on distilling the alcohol. 


Production Methods

The production method of brandy vs. bourbon has some similarities. Both spirits are distilled and aged in oak barrels. What is done before distillation and the time of aging differs between the two spirits.

Barrels of Bourbon Whiskey in an aging cellar

The process of making brandy begins like any other wine. A fruit mash is combined with yeast and fermented until a low wine is made.

The wine goes through the distillation process, traditionally in copper pots. After the alcohol distills, it enters oak barrels to age. The time of aging depends on what kind of brandy is produced.

The alcohol is diluted with plain water until it is around 40% alcohol by volume. Bourbon is made similarly. Instead of fruit, bourbon is made with a combination of grains.

The mixture has to be at least 51% corn for it to be considered bourbon. Corn, rye, and wheat are fermented. The mixture is strained and distilled in copper pots.

Bourbon is aged in new charred American oak barrels anywhere between two to twenty-five years. The bourbon is diluted and bottled. 


Cocktails

Brandy and bourbon are commonly enjoyed on the rocks or mixed in a cocktail. No matter your preference, you are sure to enjoy these two spirits. The cocktails made with brandy vs bourbon have different feels. 

old fashioned craft cocktail of sweet bourbon whiskey garnished by orange peel and rosemary sprig

The fruity, boozy flavor of brandy blends well to make every kind of cocktail. A brandy Alexander is a creamy cocktail made with brandy, creme de cacao, and heavy cream.

The sweet brandy blends well with the cream for a dessert-like cocktail. A sidecar cocktail is a classic brandy cocktail. Cognac is mixed with Cointreau and lemon juice for this sweet and tart cocktail.

The whiskey flavor of bourbon gives a different vibe to cocktails than brandy does. An old-fashioned is a classic bourbon cocktail that combines sugar, bitters, water, and bourbon, and is garnished with an orange twist. 


Food Pairings

Brandy is a common drink enjoyed at the end of a meal. The lack of acidity with strong liquor allows it to pair well with rich desserts like chocolate mousse and ice cream.

Whiskey in a glass and an appetizer for whiskey (blue cheese and Camembert cheese)

If you are not in the dessert mood but still want some brandy, try a glass paired with strong cheese. The strong cheese will enhance the floral flavors of the brandy.

Bourbon pairs well with anything dressed with maple. Pecan pie and chocolate are great accompaniments to a glass of bourbon on the rocks.

Berries and fruit also pair well with bourbon by offsetting the complex smoky flavors. Savory snacks to try with bourbon are Manchego cheese and meat sticks like venison jerky.


Non-Drinking Uses

The original use of brandy was as a medicine. It has antibacterial properties and its high alcohol content helps rid colds, throat pain and coughing.

Close up Whisky or whiskey or bourbon with ice

Along with medicinal properties, brandy is a great sleep aid. Mix a shot of brandy with warm water before bed to enhance your sleep. Brandy is also commonly used for flambeing desserts in cooking.

Bourbon has multiple uses that do not involve drinking. Many people use bourbon as a mouthwash because of its antibacterial properties.

It is used as a medicine for coughs and colds. It eats odors and is great for starting fires. Bourbon is an all-in-one item! 


Noted Brands

Kentucky is known for its high production of bourbon. Some of the most note-worthy bourbon brands include Wild Turkey, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Old Forester, Maker’s Mark, and Barrell Bourbon.

Jim Beam Bourbon Kentucky Straight Whiskey

The most well-known brand of brandy is Hennessy. Other note-worthy brands include Asbach, Germain Robin, Bertoux, Martell, Camus, and Giffard. 


Drinking Brandy and Bourbon

Now that you know the details of making brandy and bourbon, learn how to drink it like a professional. 


How to Drink Brandy

Brandy is enjoyed in multiple ways. Try all of the ways and decide which way you like best! Bourbon is commonly drank neat, meaning it is straight in a glass without any ice or mixers. It is served neat in a Snifter glass.

brandy in snifter glass on old wooden barrel

Some consumers enjoy brandy on the rocks, meaning it is enjoyed straight in a Snifter glass on top of large chunks of ice.

Finally, those who do not want as sharp of a flavor enjoy brandy in a cocktail. Mixers bring out different flavors of brandy that are layered into the spirit.


How to Drink Bourbon

Bourbon is most commonly drank either on the rocks or neat. If you drink bourbon neat, it will be in a Glencairn glass without any added water or ice.

bartender pouring bourbon whisky in a Glencairn glass

It is unaided and gives you the most authentic flavor. Bourbon on the rocks is straight bourbon in a Glencairn glass on top of large chunks of ice.

Bourbon is also used in mixed cocktails like an old fashioned. If you are a big bourbon fan, you typically drink it neat or on the rocks, not in a cocktail. 


Brandy and Bourbon Cocktails

Brandy and bourbon are both great on their own, but some people love them mixed into a cocktail.

Brandy Manhattan Cocktail with Vermouth and Cherry Garnish

Brandy Cocktails

Brandy Daisy

A Brandy Daisy is a simple cocktail made with rum, curacao, simple syrup, lemon, and soda.

Metropolitan

A metropolitan is a brandy mixed with sweet vermouth and simple syrup for a satisfying drink.

Vieux Carre

Layers of flavor are in the Vieux Carre with cognac, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and bitters

Brandy Alexander

The brandy Alexander is a creamy dessert drink made with brandy, creme de cacao, and cream.


Bourbon Cocktails

Bourbon Manhattan with a Cherry Garnish

Manhattan

A Manhattan is a classic bourbon cocktail made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, and garnished with an orange peel or Luxardo cherries. 

Old Fashioned

An old-fashioned is a classic bourbon cocktail made from bourbon, simple syrup, bitters, and an orange peel to garnish. 

Mint Julep

A mint julep is a refreshing bourbon cocktail made with bourbon, simple syrup, fresh mint leaves, crushed iced, and mint sprigs.


Frequently Asked Questions

If you are still having questions about brandy vs bourbon, check out some of the most frequently asked questions below.

What’s the best kind of bourbon?

The Henry Mckenna Single Barrel is the winner of the best bourbon.

Which countries are brandy and bourbon most popular?

Brandy is most popular in India while bourbon is most popular in Spain.

Was brandy really introduced to the US by the Spanish Missions?

Spanish Missions brought brandy to the United States on the West Coast. It is still unsure if they started there or if the Dutch and French settlers on the East Coast were producing brandy first.


Which One Do You Prefer?

You are now a professional on the differences between brandy and bourbon! Each spirit has a rich history and is well-loved today. Whether you enjoy spirits straight on the rocks or in a cocktail, explore some of the drinks in this article to expand your knowledge!

Comment your favorite alcoholic beverage using bourbon or brandy! Determine whether you are a bigger fan of bourbon or brandy!

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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