Brandy and Whiskey.. What’s the difference? And Cognac and Whisky?

While Cognac is made from grapes (the brandwijn), Whiskey is made from grains. Both are fermented, and convert sugar to ethanol.. One thing that whisky and cognac have in common is that they are aged in barrels: They get more and more smooth.

The spirits pick up quite a lot from the wooden barrels: Color and taste of course. And scotch and cognac share the method of distillation in pot stills. Both spirits are distilled at low proof.

Grapes vs. grains

But let’s be honest: There are quite some differences between whiskey and brandy. It begins with the raw materials, over methods and how to consume the actual product.

Whiskey is made from grains, normally barley. That is then mixed with water and yeast, then it gets distilled. The spirit then is aged in oak barrels.

Now what is the difference between Whiskey and Whisky? One word with the “e” and the other one without it. The spelling referrs to the location of distilling: Whisky comes from Scotland, Japan or Canada – and whiskey comes from Ireland and the United States.

 

The name “brandy” comes from Dutch “branwijn”, burnt wine. And that is quite a good name, as wine is distilled for brandies and of course Cognac.

The raw material of cognac is grapes: A juice is fermented and we get a very acid wine as a result – perfect for cognac production. The juice is fermented about 5 days before distilling, after a double distillation process, the eaux-de-vie is stocked in oak casks.

What about age? Is Cognac older than Whiskey?

Both Cognac and Whiskey is aged in casks. The age of brandies can be below three to six years, and Cognac at least 2 1/2 years. Most of the brandies are below six years, but can also be a hundred years old.

While cognac and brandy uses age terms such as VOP, VS, VSOP or XO, Whiskey shows the exact age of its content: for example 3, 5, 10, 12 or 15 years. There are also Whiskies at 18 years, but older seems to be rare.

Whisky Barrels

Whisky Barrels

While brandy is seen as a digestif, after dinner spirit – perhaps with some coffee – Whiskey doesn’t have such an “old” and “conservative” image, and is also consumed in bars or nightclubs. Cognac is about to (re)become more and more a cocktail drink. Slowly. Even when it used to be an important cocktail ingredient some time ago.

Regarding the drinking: You may drink a whiskey with water, some people think you would never add water to brandy, even when it was done hundreds of years ago. Why? Because Cognac is made from fruits and Whisky from grains – that means it has a different structure. We are not sure if that’s true, at least it’s just an opinion. There are also Cognacs where you can add a spash of water.

Cognac is better than Whisky?

So, brandy and whiskey differ in quite some points. Sorry to disappoint you, but we will not tell you that cognac is better than whisky, or whiskey is better, or tastes better than cognac, or brandy… that, we cannot do.

And what is the difference between a brandy and a cognac? Well… all Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac.

Barrel pic: Wikipedia

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21 Responses

#1 Andrew on Feb 25, 2011, says:

I’m a big Scotch Malt Whisky drinker and enjoy many varietes of whisky at various strengths. Why though is it so hard to get cognac at cask strength? I have only ever seen at cask strength twice (both around 50% ABV) and both of these examples were bottled by Scottish Independant Whisky bottlers.

I enjoy cognac but often feel it would benefit from just a little higher ABV. Can you direct me to any sources of higher strength cognacs or any particuarly good examples? There is plenty of cognac avaliable in the UK but as I said I’ve only found two above 40% ABV (which is the Legal minimum for Scotch Malt Whisky).

#2 Gman on Feb 28, 2011, says:

This article is utter nonsense. Your lack of whisky/whiskey knowledge clearly shows.

Author wrote: “While cognac and brandy uses age terms such as VOP, VS, VSOP or XO, Whiskey shows the exact age of its content: for example 3, 5, 10, 12 or 15 years. There are also Whiskies at 18 years, but older is rare.

So basically one could say Cognac is older than Whiskey.”

“Whiskey is much more social and often consumed in bars or nightclubs. But Cognac is about to become more and more a cocktail drink. Slowly.”

#3 Cognac Expert on Feb 28, 2011, says:

Thanks Gman. Could you be so kind to tell us what exactly you mean?

It’s true we are not whiskey specialists, but we talked to one – so this article is based on an exchange with a person who seemed to be quite informed.

The second sentence you quote might be a bit misunderstandable: we were trying to point out the difficulties of the ageing topic with cognac grades. It’s always quite complicated. Verdict: consumers don’t understand VS, VSOP but numbers are easier.

The third sentence you quote we modified. We were trying to say that whiskey is more present in in social life, with young and old people, mixdrinks and neat. Cognac remains a spirit that is considered “old” “expensive” and grandpa’s drink. Slowly the cognac cocktail culture is (re)inventing itself.

#4 The Trad on Mar 8, 2011, says:

I’ve been a whisky and whiskey drinker for 30 years. Rye, single malts, bourbon, you name it. Recently I discovered Hine Rare cognac as well as some of the dirt cheap French brandy out there. I was impressed by the Hine and the brandy and my doctor tells me cognac and brandy are better for me than whisky(ey). That’s health wise. He’s also a single malt fan. Great blog you got.

#5 Mic on Jun 16, 2012, says:

Hi

COGNAC is Better than Brandy and Scotch or Whiskey

Bcos Cognac Source is Grapes / WIne

Which is Better for Heart

Whisky / Whiskey / RUM will have Side Effects – Liver Damage

#6 Lino Nshimba on Jun 20, 2012, says:

Great info! am myself a wine lover and it’s good to have these various thoughts since I am a new learner of cognac and whiskey. Cheers

#7 henrihenry on Aug 9, 2012, says:

in a spirit world where nothings seems holy anymore, one can use wooden wine and port casks, but you can easily combine just the 2 spirits, especially a few spoons or drops of a smooky peated islay combined with a french XO brandy will be really surprisingly good.

a real cognac is made of champagne, brandy can be seen as a step higher than port-wine and lower than cognac and the good ones also come from france.

#8 elavapullo on Dec 30, 2012, says:

The author couldn’t reply to a very good question: why there isn’t cognac in cask strength? When you wrote that you can add some water to the whisky but rarely to cognac, the reason is clear: the cognac distillery has already added the water for you. The most appreciated whiskys are bottled cask strength and there sometimes a drop of water can bring out aromas.

#9 Henry on Jan 14, 2013, says:

To at #7: Cognac is not ‘made of ‘champagne’. It is made in a different geographical area and from different grapes to those used in Champagne (the wine) production.

#10 Johan on Mar 24, 2013, says:

Hi there,
There is a little typo; Brandy comes from the Dutch word ‘Brandewijn’.

#11 Paul Mason on Mar 25, 2013, says:

Hi,
Firstly can I say what a great site, as a cognac drinker, I had no idea that so much information was available.
I have a question i hope you can help me with.
A good friend noticed I was enjoying a Remy Martin on my birthday, she then told me that her Grandfarther bought her 2 bottles as a keepsake when she was Born 32 years ago, they are still sealed and in the original boxes. They are REMY Martin VSOP In the old green frosted bottle.
Firstly will it be ok to consume, I said that it would probable get better with age, but wasn’t sure.
Secondly would it be worth any more than a bottle bought today.

Hope you can help
Kind regards
Paul Mason

#12 Richard on Apr 27, 2013, says:

Hi Paul the aging stop when it is bottled it could be worth slighly more but not as an investement just go ahead and enjoy those bottles

#13 Jonas on May 7, 2013, says:

To #8 elavapullo: When Cognac has been aged it will have about 40% alcohol from the cask.

#14 Bob on Jun 30, 2014, says:

Hi I heard a longtime ago from an old cockels man inYork City that brandy is good for a bad heart, and bad for a good heart. he lived on it made with an egg staind through a tea strainer to make sure it was smooth, he had heart problems and lived till an old age probably into late 80’s However since then I have also heard it’s a myth can you posibly shed any light on it as far as it being a fact ect kind regards Bob.

#15 Scott on Aug 15, 2014, says:

THANKS – For your Input – It’s Was Very Helpful.

#16 John on Sep 8, 2014, says:

What is the sugar content of brandy (I’m thinking more of US brandy than French Cognac) compared to Scotch Whiskey, Canadian Whiskey, or Bourbon?

Thanks.

#17 Sao Vanthen on Oct 10, 2014, says:

Dear Madam, sir,

I wish to learn & know more about whisky brandy cognac amagnac and liquea

thanks for more detail.

Best regard
Vanthen

#18 kagiso on Dec 5, 2014, says:

well i think that both whiskey and cognac are unique in their own right its just a matter of individual preference

#19 Faye on Dec 5, 2014, says:

Is it OK to replace Brandy with Whiskey in recipe?

#20 JAFO on Dec 10, 2014, says:

In lay mans terms: Beer vs Wine, lol. I’m a beer drinker so I pick Whiskey. Where as a wine drinker might drink brandy, haha. Different strokes for different folks. If you a nose in the glass kind of person, go for the brady and wine, lol.

I see these yuppies all the time at the bar with their nose in the glass, lol. Just drink it and enjoy it. People act like: Oh my God!! I can smell cherrys, banana, sunflower oil, and a hint of mint. Oh my God, it’s a hint of mint!!!!!!

Bottoms up!!!!

#21 JAFO on Dec 10, 2014, says:

I truly hate people when they’re trying to be intellectual wine or whiskey drinkers. Especially at eh bars. With their nose in the glass acting like they’re professional drinkers. I think a simple whiff is okay, but putting your nose in the glass is somewhat silly and it makes you look like a tool.

Oh my God, like whatever!!! I can like smell grapes and water, oh my God!!! With a hint of cherry, wait a hint of orange dipped in cream at my mother ranch in Texas. Oh my god and I can also smell butterscotch from that old drug store right around the corner where I lost my virginity in 1995.

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