Differences Between a Cognac and a Brandy

One of my favorite nightcaps is brandy — especially during the winters. Although, what I am actually drinking is a Cognac. Technically speaking, there are a couple of differences between a Cognac and a brandy. Follow along, to learn what they are.

Cognac vs. Brandy

Hennessy Cognac
Hennessy is one of the most commonly recognized Cognac/Brandy.
Photo by Igor Lukin.

Difference 1: Location

This one might be a little obvious, but the primary difference between the two here is that for a brandy to be coined as a Cognac, it has to be made in the Cognac region of France. Whereas, brandy, in general, can be made anywhere in the world.

Difference 2: Price

All things being the same, Cognac can be more expensive than a brandy. Why? Because factors such as time, region, quality, and the distillation processes are more nuanced than a regular brandy. As an example, using high-end barrels is extremely important for a well-defined Cognac, and Cognac barrels cannot be called as such if any other liquor was used before. For instance, according to Cognac Expert Blog, if you take a bourbon barrel, and then try to age Cognac inside of that, it cannot earn the name designation. On the other hand, other liquors can be aged inside a barrel even though a different one was in it before.

Difference 3: Classification & Grape Varieties

All Cognacs can be referred to as a brandy; however, the opposite is not true. Further, as it relates to grape types, cognacs can only use Ugni Blanc, Colombard, or Folle Blanche.

Other Interesting Notes About Cognac

  1. All Cognacs are blends. However, before it can be officially called a Cognac/a.k.a before it’s blended, it’s referred to as “eaux de vie.” An interesting tidbit about Hennessy is that the tasting committee samples 40 different eaux de vie.
  2. Most Cognacs will usually have one of the three (below) age level designations.
    • VS (Very Special): If you see these two letters on a bottle of a Cognac, it would mean that it’s aged for at least two years.
    • VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), refers to a Cognac that’s aged for a minimum of 4 years.
    • XO (Extra Old): Having this designation on a bottle indicates that the Cognac is aged for at least 6 years.
  3. A Cognac will typically undergo at least two rounds of distillation — that need to be completed between October 1st – March 31st.

Also, in most instances, the higher the aging, the more expensive the Cognac will be.

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In everyday usage, one may not necessarily know of the differences between a cognac and a brandy; nevertheless, they differ in delicate ways. Commonly speaking, Cognacs may be considered a bit higher on the sophistication spectrum.

If nothing made sense in this post, just remember that a Cognac can only be called as such, if it originates from that region in France.