27 Oct Brandy vs Cognac: What are the Differences?

You’re likely familiar with the taste of both brandy and cognac, even if you don’t think so. The likelihood is, however, that you don’t know one from the other. So, let’s be clear: brandy and cognac, while sharing certain similarities i.e. they’re both pungent, smooth, silk, and traditionally refined spirits made from distilling wine, aren’t actually the same. On the other hand, they are. Read on.

Brandy

Brandy is a spirit that results from distilling all types of fermented fruit juice or fruit mash. Of course, should the fruit be grapes, then technically it would be wine. It’s also quite strong for a liquor with a sweet taste. Traditionally, it was served after dinner to help settle the gut. Typically dark brown, brandy has often been mistaken or whisky. It isn’t. To go into the lengthy and dense history of brandy would require something closer to a novel than an article. For now, just rest assured that it’s been around for a long, long time. When beverages began to undergo distillation, sometime around the mid-1500’s, people the world over started to distil fruit juice and wine, creating brandy in the process.

Much modern brandy is aged in oak barrels post-distillation. As you’ll discover further down the page, the term “brandy” refers to a number of different subsets, with each having their very own specifications. Before we continue, just remember that brandy is distilled fruit juice. That will make understanding the rest of this easier.

Cognac

While all cognac is brandy, the reverse isn’t true. As brandy is a broad term meaning fermenting fruit juices, naturally, there are numerous liquor subsets existing within that framework, of which cognac is one. It’s also the most commonly known. Cognac is created in the region of Cognac in Southwest France’s Charente and Charente-Maritime departments. It isn’t genuine cognac if it originated from anywhere else. In order to be regarded as the real deal, however, it must also satisfy other criteria.

The fruit juice base, for example, must come from white grapes from one of six different terriers. The primary grape, however, is called ugni blanc. Cognac then undergoes two distillation rounds, with each required by law to occur within certain dates. Despite these specifics, there are three distinct cognac qualifications, signified by certain symbols seen on barrels and bottles, and based on ageing: XO (Extra Old), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), and VS (Very Special). Anyway, essentially, yes, cognac is a type of brandy made in a region of France and from distilled white wine.

What about Hennessy?

Yes, Hennessy is both brandy and cognac. In fact, it’s the world’s most popular cognac, making up close to 50% of all cognac production and sales. It is also very, very old, with its origins dating back to 1765. Brandy is made the world over, and like cognac, brandy from certain regions and countries have their very own names and specifics. Examples of other brandies include Calvados, Grappa, Pisco, and Armagnac.