Looking for something to give a liquor connoisseur may prove to be a hassle if you’re unfamiliar with the world of alcoholic spirits. Whiskey and brandy are just basic terms, but their variations like cognac and bourbon are hard to discern.
Our comprehensive research will quickly explain the key differences between cognac vs bourbon.
Bourbon & Cognac Compared
The main difference between cognac and bourbon is the base ingredients. Cognac is made using distilled wine from grapes produced specifically in the Cognac region of southwestern France.
In contrast, bourbon is a type of whiskey made of fermented grain mash produced in the United States, but mostly in Kentucky. Cognac’s longer aging period using Limousin oak makes it more expensive than bourbon.
How They Differ
The origin of these two distilled spirits is unclear as there are no official records regarding their history. For instance, distilling wine in Europe dates back to the 1600s. But the oldest continually operating Cognac house is Martell, established only in 1715.
On the other hand, the earliest colonists brought the whiskey distillation techniques to Bourbon County in the United States in the 1700s. And the Guinness World Record listed Maker’s Mark as the oldest operating bourbon distillery since 1805 .
These two alcoholic drinks must go through fermentation, double distillation process, maturation, and blending. However, single barrel bourbons do not undergo the blending process. The Master Distiller will hand-pick one barrel to produce these bourbons, making each batch different every release.
In addition, cognac is subject to the yearly five-month distilling season to maintain the grapes’ quality. It starts from November to March, right before the warmer season.
Bourbon whiskey follows the set of guidelines by the United States regarding its mash bill. It must contain at least 51% of corn, while the remaining percentage of fermented grain mash can be malted barley, rye, and wheat.
Comparatively, cognac is made from grapes grown mostly in the Petite Champagne and Grande Champagne districts. Any cognac produced from grape varieties grown in these districts bears the “Fine Champagne” or “Fine Cognac” label on its bottle.
Cognac is a brandy produced from double-distilled eau de vie using Alembic pot stills, while bourbon is a whiskey made mostly from fermented grains using column stills.
Copper pot stills produced a spirit with more flavorful compounds or congeners, making it the ideal choice for brandy, single malt Scotch, Rhum Agricole, and mezcal. However, whiskey, vodka, gin, white rum, and Armagnac use column stills capable of higher production.
While bourbon is a whiskey, not all whiskies are bourbon. According to the laws, bourbon is a whiskey produced in the United States. Most supplies of this American whiskey came from Kentucky, particularly Bardstown or the “Bourbon Capital of the World.”
On the other hand, cognac is a brandy that came particularly from the Cognac region of France. It uses white wine grapes composed of Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard for its production .
The barrels play the key element in the production of every alcoholic drink. Cognac uses French oak barrels from Limousin, Tronçais, and Alliers, while bourbon uses new American charred oak barrels.
Cognac usually goes through at least two years of aging using Limousin oak. In comparison, bourbon does not have a minimum aging requirement. But to have the straight bourbon label on the bottle, it must be aged in oak barrels for at least two years.
Both bourbon and cognac have different aging requirements, but they have a common bottling proof of 40% ABV. However, cognac has an alcohol content of 120 proof after its second distillation, while bourbon must enter the charred oak casks at not more than 125 proof.
There are overproof bourbon brands bottled from 100 to 125 proof, or the maximum proof of the spirit to enter the barrel. Old Grand-dad 114 and Wild Turkey Rare Breed are some overproof bourbon brands.
In general, cognac has more fruity and floral notes than bourbon whiskey. But both liquors contain the barrel flavors of leather, vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon.
Cognac has sweeter aromas of lychee, peach, and orange blossom than bourbon, with the smell of toasted vanilla and warm caramel.
The aging process makes the cognac taste smoother in the finish, but it can also have bitter notes like in bourbon.
Cognac usually has a dark brown appearance, while bourbon has amber, orange, or copper colors.
Both Cognac and bourbon have labels for more information about the liquors. Other variations of cognac based on aging period are the VS label indicating two years of aging, VSOP means four years, and XO for at least six years.
Bourbon labels include small batches, single barrels, and blended bourbon whiskey. The manufacturer has to indicate the age of the bottle label if the bourbon is less than four years old.
Both alcoholic beverages contain certain antioxidants like ellagic acid. Antioxidants are essential molecules in the body that combat free radicals, preventing multiple diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
Despite that, cognac is the healthier distilled spirit because its process produces fewer congeners. Bourbon is a whiskey made up of corn and other grains. The majority of the corn planted in the United States are genetically modified, which can trigger allergies.
Brandy vs Whiskey
Brandy is a distilled beverage made from distilled fruit wine, while whiskey is from grains. Not all brandies are cognac. Brandy has eight more variations, including cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados, with alcohol content ranging from 35% to 60% ABV.
Similarly, not all whiskies are bourbon. There are other varieties of whiskey like Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey produced with 40% to 65% ABV. Jack Daniels is the most famous Tennessee whiskey bourbon subtype produced using Lincoln County Process.
How To Drink It
We recommend drinking any distilled spirit neat and savoring each signature flavor drawn from the barrels. However, you can also have these liquors in your favorite cocktails.
Among the most famous cocktails for cognac are Sidecar, French 75, and Morning Glory. On the other hand, bourbons are famous for Kentucky Mule, Bourbon Manhattan, and Old Fashioned.
The use of corn mash makes bourbon cheaper than cognac. Cognac’s long aging period and its limited supply of fermented grapes make it more expensive.
Martell and Hennessy are two of the oldest cognac houses, with products available for more than $35. Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam are famous whiskey bourbon brands with prices ranging from $20 to $30.
Can you drink cognac straight?
Yes, you can drink cognac straight. With a high age statement, it has complex flavors that you can enjoy better if you drink it neat.
Is cognac more special than bourbon?
Yes, cognac is more special than bourbon. Its limited production due to season change makes cognac more special than bourbon.
So, Which is Better, Cognac or Bourbon?
Cognac is the better distilled alcoholic beverage because of its complicated taste profile and health benefits. Drinking cognac neat will make you taste all the complex production methods to craft the spirit and its long maturation process. Although it is more expensive, it still makes an impressive gift to any alcohol enthusiast.
However, a cheap bottle of Tennessee whiskey bourbon like Jack Daniel’s is ideal if you’re preparing for a huge party or looking for a daily sipper. There is also a special and expensive type of whiskey like Pappy Van Winkle that you can hardly see at your local liquor stores.
Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds!