Many people have questions when it comes to brandy vs cognac.
They seem very similar, and they are, but some important differences make cognac stand out as the higher quality spirit. Keep reading to learn the truth about cognac vs brandy.
What Is Brandy?
Brandy is a strong liquor made by distilling or fermenting wine, giving it a bolder and more potent taste. It’s typically 35% to 60% alcohol by volume and has a dark, caramel color.
Brandy is usually served as a post-dinner digestif, similar to alcohols like Sherry or Grand Marnier.
There are many varieties of this distilled spirit coming from different parts of the world, each having a unique taste.
Any fermented fruit juice can be considered brandy. It is an umbrella term for any liquors that use fermented fruit as the base, usually red or white grapes.
Where Is it Produced?
French brandy is typically the most common and popular variety of brandy.
The best French brandies come from the Charente, Gers, and Charente-Maritime regions.
Charente and Charente-Maritime are best known as cognac regions, but technically, also produce brandy by distilling wine. Brandy can also come from parts of other parts of Europe, Spain, South America, and America.
How Is it Made?
As mentioned, brandy is made from fermented fruit, using a fruit juice base to create bold and rich flavors.
The fruit juice base is distilled on low heat, concentrating the alcohol and flavors for a more intense experience than wine.
High-end brandy may be distilled multiple times, usually in old oak barrels, infusing the liquor with an earthy and robust taste. Not all brandy ages in oak barrels, but the best ones do.
The fruit juice base or wine base is the essential brandy ingredient.
As mentioned, brandy often uses red or white grapes as the base, but there is also apple brandy, pomace brandy, apricot brandy, pear brandy, and cherry brandy.
If a brandy does not use grapes, it says so on the bottle, but grape-based brandy will not specify the grape base.
Types of Brandy
Below are five common brandies available at most liquor stores.
Armagnac is a very distinct variety of brandy produced in the Armagnac region of Gascony in southwest France.
It has a profound flavor with chocolate, caramel, and dried fruit notes. Armagnac ages in French oak barrels or casks for at least one year to deepen the flavor profile.
The most expensive Armagnacs are aged longer, sometimes 20+ years.
Calvados is easily one of the most well-known French apple brandy varieties, made from a combination of apples and pears.
The brandy may also feature notes of prunes, peaches, apricots, or grapes.
It comes from the Calvados region of Normandy in France and has a mild and sophisticated flavor. Calvados is first fermented into a dry fruit cider, then aged in oak barrels for about three years.
Pisco is a light brandy from South America, specifically from regions in Peru and Chile.
It uses grape juice as the base and ferments into one of the stronger varieties of brandy. It has a pale greenish yellow and has been around since the 16th century.
It has a slightly smoky flavor that melds with the sweet fruit base to create a harmonious taste. Pisco can be funky or smooth, sweet or dry, and earthy or fruity.
Applejack brandy is the most apple-forward variety, offering a robust apple flavor that is undeniable.
It’s a very smooth and rich flavor with hints of spice that elevate the apple taste.Applejack brandy takes inspiration from French apple brandy but is wholly American, with a biting but supple flavor.
You may find this brandy in specialty mixed drinks, as the flavor pairs well with mixers and bitters.
Poire Williams is a unique brandy because it’s colorless, like vodka or tequila.
Also called eau de vie, it has a dazzling aroma and hails from France and Switzerland, where the Williams pair is a native fruit.
Along with the obvious pear flavor, each bottle also contains a whole Williams pear, adding to the whimsy of this liquor.
As you can see from the sections above, not all brandy has the same flavor. They can be bold or refined and light.
It all depends on the main ingredients and the fermentation process. But people generally describe brandy as a fruity and subtly sweet taste with woody notes.
What Is Cognac?
Cognac is a type of brandy but has a more specific distillation process.
It comes from the Cognac region in southwest France and uses white grapefruit juice, so the flavor is more consistent across brands.
This liquor is of higher quality than most brandy as it adheres to strict standards.
Where Is it Produced?
Cognac only comes from the Cognac region of France, following strict guidelines for production and standards of quality that have been in place for centuries.
Unlike brandy, cognac cannot be found anywhere else.
How Is it Made?
Like all other brandies, cognac is made by distilling wine, but the recipe and process are far less flexible.
Cognac is only made from white grapes and must ferment twice to be considered brandy. The wine base is highly acidic and dry, made only from white grapes grown in approved regions of France.
After pressing the grapes, the juice ferments for a few weeks, converting the sugar into alcohol. The fermented wine then distills in traditionally shaped Charentais copper alembic stills.
Then, the liquor ages in Limousin oak casks for a minimum of two years. The longer the liquor ages, the more robust and velvety the taste,
Cognac ingredients are exclusively white grapes from the Cognac region of France, and there are only three kinds: Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard grapes.
Types of Cognac
Below are five common cognacs available at high-end liquor stores.
V.S. stands for Very Special.
This liquor is the standard for cognac, meaning it uses the correct grapes and ages for at least two years in the proper barrels. It has a smooth and toothsome flavor that is distinct and pleasant.
V.S.O.P. stands for Very Superior Old Pale.
This cognac ages for at least four years, creating a deeper and more complex flavor that is extraordinary. It may also be labeled as Old or Reserve brandy, indicating it’s been aged longer than lower-shelf cognacs.
Napoleon cognac also ages for four years, just like V.S.O.P. But Napoleon is typically aged over six years, so the name is an unofficial age indication.
Napoleon cognac was only introduced in 2018, creating a new cognac age category to consider.
The X.O abbreviation means Extra Old, meaning the cognac has been aged in oak barrels for even longer.
This remarkable cognac has an intense and lush flavor and ages for a minimum of ten years.
Paradis is a cognac from Hennessey and is one of the oldest eau de vie cognacs, aged up to 130 years.
It’s one of the most expensive cognacs on the market and is unbelievably dense and flavorful.
The flavor profile of cognac is more consistent than brandy, as the ingredients and process are always the same with only slight variations in aging.
The complex flavor of cognac is sweet, fruity, bitter, and spicy all at once. The most notable difference between cognacs is the level of smoothness and the potency of the taste.
How to Drink Brandy
You can drink brandy neat, on the rocks, or in mixed drinks.
It’s most popular as a digestif following a meal. Experts recommend enjoying brandy neat at room temperature, so you can get the full flavor experience.
How to Drink Cognac
Cognac is also best as a digestif, served after dinner as a nightcap or beside a tasty dessert.
Traditionally, cognac should be served neat at room temperature with a drop of distilled water to bring out the sweeter notes.
Below are a few common brandy and cognac questions.
Can a spirit be cognac and brandy at the same time?
Yes, all cognacs are brandy, but not all brandies are cognacs.
Is cognac the same as bourbon?
No, cognac is made from grapes while bourbon is made from corn. Also, cognac only comes from France and bourbon only comes from the USA.
What are the best brands of brandy?
The top brandies on the market not including cognacs are 1865 Manoir de Beraut Comte de Goyon Armagnac, Louis XIII Black Pearl, Lecompte Secret Calvados, Hennessey Paradis, and La Diablada Pisco.
What are the best brands of cognac?
The best cognacs are Hennessey Black, Remy Martin X.O, Hine Antique X.O Premier Cru Cognac, Ferrand 10 Générations Grande Champagne Cognac, and Courvoisier X.O Cognac.
As you can see, there are many similarities between cognac and brandy. The major difference comes down to where the liquor is produced.
Brandy can only be considered Cognac if it is made from white grapes in the Cognac region of France. Brandy can be made all over the world, and produced from plenty of fruit juices.
Comment below and let us know what spirit you prefer – brandy or cognac?
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