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.
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