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Cognac vs Bourbon: What’s the Difference? (2024 Updated)

Cognac vs Bourbon

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Lydia Martin

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

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 [1].

Read: How Did Bourbon Originate?

Production Process

Cognac Production Process

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. But is cognac good for you?

Fermentable Mash

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.

Still Type

Cognac Still Pot

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 [2].

Maturation Requirements

Bourbon Oak Barrels

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.

Alcohol Content

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. 

Flavor Profile

Tasting Notes

Glasses of Bourbon

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.


Bourbon Bottle with glass

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.

Label Terms/Variations

Martell XO Cognac

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. 

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Health Benefits

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. Here’s how to make cognac at home

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 could trigger allergies. [3]

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. 

Price Point

A glass of Brandy

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. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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. But is cognac great as an after-dinner drink?

Is Hennessy a bourbon or whiskey?

Hennessy is neither a bourbon nor a whiskey. Hennessy is a type of brandy known as Cognac. Brandy is a distilled wine or fruit juice, and Cognac is a specific type of brandy produced in the Cognac region of France.

It undergoes a unique distillation and aging process, which contributes to its distinctive flavor profile.

Is cognac a liquor or whiskey?

Cognac is a type of liquor. The term “liquor” is a broad category that encompasses various distilled alcoholic beverages, including brandy, vodka, gin, and whiskey.

Cognac specifically falls under the brandy category, as it is made from fermented fruit juice, predominantly grapes in the case of Cognac.

Can I use bourbon instead of cognac?

While bourbon and cognac have different flavor profiles, you can substitute bourbon for cognac in certain recipes. Keep in mind that the substitution may alter the taste of the dish or cocktail.

Bourbon tends to be sweeter and have a different set of flavor notes compared to the fruitier and more complex taste of cognac.

It’s advisable to adjust the quantities based on personal taste preferences when making substitutions.

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon?

No, Jack Daniel’s is not a bourbon; it is a Tennessee whiskey. The key distinction lies in the additional step known as the Lincoln County Process, where the whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before aging. This process imparts a unique flavor profile to Jack Daniel’s, differentiating it from bourbons.

Which is more expensive, bourbon or cognac?

The cost of bourbon versus cognac can vary widely depending on the specific brands, aging processes, and rarity of the bottles.

Generally, there are both affordable and high-end options in both categories. Some bourbons, especially rare and aged releases, can be quite expensive.

Similarly, Cognac, particularly from well-known houses and with extended aging, can also command high prices. Comparing the overall cost would depend on the specific bottles being considered.

It’s essential to explore different brands and expressions within each category to find options that align with your budget and preferences.

What type of alcohol is cognac?

Cognac is a type of brandy. Brandy is a distilled wine or fermented fruit juice, and in the case of Cognac, it is specifically made from white wine grapes. Cognac originates from the Cognac region in France and is known for its distinct production process, including double distillation in copper pot stills and aging in oak barrels.

Why is cognac so expensive?

Several factors contribute to the expense of cognac. These include:

Aging Process: Cognac often undergoes extended aging, with designations like VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), and XO (Extra Old) indicating different aging periods. The longer the aging, the more expensive the cognac.

Quality of Grapes: The use of high-quality grapes, especially from the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne crus, contributes to the flavor and complexity of the cognac.

Craftsmanship: Cognac production involves skilled craftsmanship, from harvesting and distillation to blending. Expertise and meticulous care throughout the process can increase the cost.

Limited Editions: Some cognacs are released as limited editions or from rare vintages, making them more exclusive and costly.

Branding and Packaging: Established brands and luxurious packaging can also add to the overall cost of cognac.

What does VSOP mean?

VSOP stands for “Very Superior Old Pale.” It is a quality designation indicating that the youngest eau-de-vie (the distilled wine) in the cognac blend has been aged for a minimum specified period. For VSOP cognac, this aging period is typically around four to six years.

The designation signifies a higher level of maturity and complexity compared to standard VS (Very Special) cognacs.

What does XO mean in cognac?

XO stands for “Extra Old.” It signifies that the youngest eau-de-vie in the cognac blend has been aged for a more extended period than VSOP.

The specific aging requirement for XO cognac can vary, but it often ranges from six to ten years or more.

XO cognac is known for its richness, depth, and complexity, making it a premium and often more expensive choice.

What kind of alcohol is Hennessy?

Hennessy is a type of Cognac, which means it is a brandy made from white wine grapes, primarily from the Cognac region in France.

The production process involves distillation, aging in oak barrels, and blending, resulting in a high-quality and renowned spirit.

Hennessy is known for its various expressions, including VS, VSOP, and XO, each offering different aging characteristics and flavor profiles.

Final Verdict: Cognac Vs 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 or 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.


  1. Oldest operating bourbon distillery

  2. What is cognac?
  3. Allergies and GMOs
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