Brandy vs. Cognac: Similarities and Differences

Brandy is a staple in the world of spirits. Just as there are various types of spirits, there are different types of brandy. Cognac is also a type of brandy, so what is the difference between the two?

What is the difference between Brandy and Cognac?
Brandy can be manufactured anywhere in the world, from grapes cultivated anyplace in the world. Cognac; on the other hand, must be manufactured from grapes cultivated in Cognac, France.
You may also have noticed the “appellation d'origine contrôlée” or “AOC” label on the bottles of Cognac. This shows that Cognac has a “controlled designation of origin”, which is a certificate required to authenticate the region of origin of a product. In the case of Cognac, it is a way for Cognac’s manufacturers to certify that their spirit is from Cognac in France. A bottle of spirit cannot take the name “Cognac” if it is not produced in the Cognac area.
In other words, brandy manufactured in different parts of the world has different names; for instance:

  •  Spanish Brandy is manufactured in Spain;
  •  Calvados is produced in Normandy;
  •  Cognac is produced in Cognac; and
  •  Armagnac is produced in other parts of France.

Just like all Champagne is wine, not every wine comes from Champagne in France; every bottle of Cognac is brandy, but not every brandy can be referred to as a Cognac.

What is brandy?
The “discovery” of brandy dates back to the 16th century. Brandy was manufactured commercially when a Dutch tradesman planned to distill French wine to transport large quantities of concentrated wine to the Netherlands.
Initially, his plan was to concentrate the tanks of French wine with water on arrival; however, later he chose to add distilled spirit into the tanks of French wine. Thus, the Dutch gave the name “brandewijn” or “burnt wine” to distilled French wine.
Over the years, burnt wine was shortened to brandy.
The term “brandy” however is loosely classified. Originally, brandy was manufactured from French wine, which was made up of grapes; however, that is not the case today. Now, the term “brandy” refers to any type of distilled spirit made up of any type of fruit.
As per their regions of origin, here are a few common types of brandy:

  • Calvados - Calvados is a brandy manufactured in Normandy and is made up of fermented apples.
  • Pisco - Pisco is a brandy manufactured from grapes in Peru.
  • Palinka - Palinka is a Hungarian brandy made up of a combination of popular local fruits including apples, apricots, and plums.
  • Grappa - Grappa is an Italian brandy manufactured from the pulp, seeds, stems, and skins of various fruits such as olives, grapes, and more.
  • American brandy - As the name suggests, American brandy is typically popular in the U.S. It is not as good as its French counterparts; however, it is not as expensive as a regular brandy.

What is special about Cognac?
You must know that Cognac is expensive as compared to brandy; the price of an average bottle of brandy is around $35, whereas the price of an average bottle of Cognac is around $65. But what is so special about Cognac?
Well, Cognac makes up only about 1% of the total production of spirits in the world, which makes a bottle of Cognac one of the rarest wine types in the world. Thus, the high price of Cognac is typically associated with its scarcity.
And obviously, Cognac is delicious as well. It is manufactured from three different types of white grapes, which include Colombard, Folle Blanche, and Ugni Blanc. However, the vast majority of Cognac bottles are produced from one of the three types of grapes; that is, “Ugni Blanc”.

Ugni Blanc grapes are perfect for the manufacture of a highly acidic wine. This wine is distilled two times with the help of copper pots, then aged using oak for at least two years. Then, it is blended with another wine batch. This rigorous blending maintains the consistent flavor of Cognac and defines the taste profile of the bottle.

Once two batches are blended together, they are either bottled or blended again; however, it depends on the manufacturer and the type of Cognac they prefer.
As per the age of every bottle, there are three general categories of Cognac, which include:

  • XO - Extra Old - This category refers to the blend of brandy where the youngest bottle of brandy has spent at least six years inside the oak barrel.
  • VSOP - Very Superior Old Pale - The category refers to the blend of brandy where the youngest bottle has spent a minimum of four years in the barrel of oak.
  • VS - Very Special - This category is the most common for brandy as it refers to the blend of brandy where the youngest bottle has been kept in the barrel of oak for at least two years.

Do brandy and Cognac differ in taste?
The unique fact about brandy is that there is a lot of room for experimentation. There are different types of brandy, and every brandy is unique. Different fruits can be used to manufacture brandy, and different flavors can be blended together to create a unique flavor.

As described above, the taste of brandy depends on the type of fruit it is manufactured from. Since brandy is manufactured from different fruit types, the flavor of one brandy differs from another. Calvados does not taste like Armagnac, Grappa does not taste like Calvados or Armagnac, and similarly Cognac does not taste like Calvados, Armagnac, or Grappa.

Cognac; on the other hand, has common flavors such as vanilla, apricot, cinnamon, etc. Some older and rarer bottles typically taste like spices or chocolates, as they spend more time in the barrels of oak.

So, which bottle should you purchase?
No matter if you love a certain type of brandy or Cognac, you should purchase from a premium collection of good quality spirits. At Vyno, we curate only high-quality spirits from around the world. Our best-selling bottles are based on the reviews and ratings of experts and customers, so rest assured, we only sell the best of different brands, ages, and styles. Here are the bestselling Brandy and Cognac brands.

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