All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac. It sounds confusing, doesn’t it? How can two liquors be alike but different at the same time? Can you tell the difference between Cognac vs brandy?
Let’s end the confusion today!
How Is Cognac Different From Brandy?
Cognacs follow a strict regulation implied by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in France. The main ingredients of Cognac must come from a very specific region in Cognac, France.
On the other hand, brandy does not have a limitation on this. Moreover, the two spirits differ in distillation, aging process, tasting notes, and originating regions.
A Closer Look At Their Differences
Distillation & Production Process
Both Cognac and brandy undergo the distillation and production process, but each liquor’s production and distilling process varies. Cognac is considered a brandy because it is a distilled spirit from fermented fruit juice. It is required to be distilled twice in pot stills or special alembics .
On the other hand, brandy is distilled twice but first with a heated gourd, then a glass gourd in a double boiler. The modern brandy is now distilled twice but with modern techniques and materials.
Blending & Aging
Blending and aging give complex flavor to the aged spirits, and its process allows manufacturers to combine flavors of different ages before bottling.
Before blending, cognacs are Eaux de vie, and then the blended flavors will depend on the wood barrels used for aging and its age; at least two years in French oak barrels. Cognacs types are as follows: VS, Hors d’age, VSOP, Napoleon, XO, and Extra.
On the contrary, there is no required aging for brandies, but since it is harsh, aging helped get it mellowed. Brandy types are as follows: Very Special (VS) is the youngest brandy with months to two years, Very Superior Old Pale (VSOP) is not less than four years, and Extra Old (XO) is not less than six years. But what are our favorite brandy brands?
The brandy’s taste depends on the grape varieties and other fruits used. And since it is made from fermented fruit, it is generally sweeter than whiskey and wine. It also has tasting notes of fresh and dried fruit, citrus zest, and flowers.
On the other hand, Cognac’s tasting notes substantially depend on the master blender. It has a rich taste of warm spices, dried fruit, nuts, cigars, and toffee.
The main ingredients of brandy and Cognac are the biggest difference between the two. While there is grape-based brandy (like the Calvados, an apple brandy from the Normandy region), in order to be called Cognac, the specific grapes grown in the Cognac region must be used.
Ugni Blanc (White Grapes) from Petite Champagne, Grande Champagne, and other terriers in the Cognac Region in Southwest France should only be used.
On the contrary, brandy must be made from fermented fruit juices and not just grapes. It can be made from a fruit juice base of apples and pears.
Cognac came from the Cognac Region in Southwest France, while brandy originated in the Armagnac region in Southwest France.
While both distilled spirits share an almost common originating region, they are different because the Ugni Blanc grapes used for making Cognac should be from Cognac Region only to be considered a true cognac.
How They Are Drank
French brandy is enjoyable to be sipped neat, but other types of brandy can be enjoyed with mixed drinks like soda water, lemonade, or coke. There are classic brandy cocktails on the internet like Brandy Alexander, so prepare your sugared rim glass and get ready to drink.
However, a good bottle of Cognac is most enjoyed neat. If you add a drop of water, the tasting notes will be revealed, making it a smoother-aged drink. There are classic cocktails for this spirit, but we recommend drinking it neat.
Cognac is more expensive because of its strict regulations that it must be aged for a minimum of two years. This spirit is double distilled in a copper pot still and uses specific grapes from a specific region of France. Martell, Hennessy, and Rémy Martin products are pricier than E&J, Christian Brothers, Pomace Brandy, and other American Brandies.
Are They Similar In Any Way?
The two spirits have a similar history because they came from Southern French Regions and are made by distilling wine. They also share the same aged classifications (VS, VSOP, XO) and have almost the same profile, so they are often interchanged.
Can I substitute brandy for Cognac?
Yes, you can substitute brandy for Cognac. However, don’t expect that it has the same taste and quality. Cognacs are aged for at least two years and use whole grape fruits from the region, with a distinct taste.
Which brandy is closest to Cognac?
Armagnac is the closest to Cognac in both location and taste. The brand is also labeled the forgotten younger sibling because they almost taste the same.
Cognac and brandy are related to each other, but they are clearly not the same from main ingredients to originating regions. Cognacs are brandies; however, not all brandies are considered Cognacs. While they share some similarities, the two spirits are completely different.
But one thing is clear; they are both great-tasting spirits you must taste. Which of the two is your favorite? Share it with us in the comment section below!
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!