It’s a question that’s been asked many a-time; What’s the difference between Cognac and Brandy. So here’s a simple explanation to easily understand why the two are different.

Is it Cognac? Or is it brandy?

The first thing to understand is this: ‘All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac’. Or, to put it another way, Cognac is a specific type of brandy.

So what makes Cognac different? Well, it boils down to a variety of aspects, as follows:

1. Cognac can only be made from grapes grown in the strictly defined Cognac region of France.

2. It must be made from the juice of particular grapes, the most common being the Ugni Blanc and the Folle Blanche.

3. To qualify as being Cognac, the whole creation of the drink must follow very strict production methods. These are very tightly regulated by French Law (the Appellation d’Origine Controlee, or AOC).

4. Cognac is twice distilled in copper stills, and then aged in French oak barrels.

5. The Cognac must be aged for a minimum of two and a half years.

So while Cognac is a brandy–in other words it’s a distilled spirit made from fermented fruit juice–what makes it stand out from other brandies made from grapes are the strict rules governing where the grapes must be grown, and how the spirit is then produced.

Other types of brandy

There are many types of brandy. You might have heard of Armagnac, which has many similarities to Cognac. Again it’s made in France, but this time in the Armagnac region, in Gascony. Armagnac, unlike Cognac, is single distilled, and tends to be somewhat more rustic than Cognac. It’s not as well known, or as well distributed either, and there’s none of the hard push into other regions of the world that we’ve seen with Cognac.

It’s also worth giving the drink, Calvados, a mention, which is also made in France. True to form, it’s made in the Calvados region of Northern France, but this brandy is made from apples.

The world’s top 10 best-selling brandies and Cognacs

#1: The number 1 top bestseller (in terms of the amount of bottles sold worldwide) is Emperador Brandy.

Selling 27.1 million cases, this Philippines produced brandy has been the global best seller for the past 2 years (2017 & 2017)

#2: The world’s number two favorite is Hennessy Cognac

The Hennessy range sold 7.6 million cases around the world in 2017 – not half bad for a drink that can only be produced in our tiny corner of SW France. Check out all of the delights of Hennessy in our online shop.

#3: Dreher Brandy

From Brazil, Dreher sold 3.4 million cases of their home grown brandy last year.

#4: Old Admiral Brandy

Sold 3.1 million cases in 2017.

#5: Martell Cognac

The oldest of the ‘big 4’ houses, Martell sold 2.2 million cases in 2017, increasing their sales by an admirable 4.8%. The house has a range to suit all tastes and pockets. Find out more about the brand and their products on our Martell dedicated shop page.

#6: Remy Martin Cognac

Fans of Remy won’t be at all surprised to hear that the Cognac brand increased on it’s 2016 sales by 7%, selling 2.1 million cases in the year 2017. Check out the delights of Remy Cognac in our online shop.

#7: Paul Masson Grand Amber Brandy

Sold 2.0 million cases last year.

#8: McDowells No. 1 Brandy

Sales of 1.7 million cases in 2017.

#9: Torres Brandy

Spain’s top-selling brandy boasted sales of 1.4 million case last year.

#10: Old Kenigsberg Brandy

And last, but not least, Old Kenigsberg sold 1.3 million cases worldwide.

The name of Cognac is protected–and with good reason

As we’ve already mentioned, Cognac can only be called Cognac under certain, very strict rules. The name itself adds that certain air of luxury, and as with anything that’s perceived as ‘expensive’, so there are many attempts to cash in on the name.

Armenia, for example, is a classic case of (some) companies in another country trying to pass off their brandy as Cognac. But the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac) soon put a stop to that. And actually, Armenian brandy is perfectly good enough to make sales on its own merit, without trying to steal the identity of Cognac. And don’t even get us started on the laughable name that is ‘konyak’.

In a nutshell

Cognac can only be made in France, and in the strictly defined Cognac region. The producers have to follow extremely rigid processes that are monitored by French law.

A Cognac cannot be made anywhere else. So there are no Russian Cognacs, no American Cognacs, no Armenian Cognacs. In other words, there is only French Cognac–from Cognac.

So actually, it’s not that complicated at all. Cognac is Cognac, period. Whilst others might imitate, they can never replicate, that’s what makes the brandy that comes from this tiny region in France so very special. And, we have to say, long may it continue.

Want to learn more about Cognac? Check out our ever-growing educational articles on everything to do with our beloved eaux-de-vie.


Jacki has been with Cognac Expert from virtually the beginning. She's the senior editor of the blog, and has spent much of her life living in rural France. Today she's based back in the UK, where she splits her working life between writing for Cognac Expert and working as a Paramedic at a large regional hospital.

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