It’s almost taken for granted, the abundance of alcohol we have available to us today.  But do you ever stop to think about the differences between Cognac and Vodka?  After all, why do some people reach for the vodka bottle as their spirit of choice, and others (including us and probably most of you, as you’re reading this), reach for the cognac?

For example Hennessy as the most popular Cognac in the world, versus Grey Goose as the most profitable vodka in the world (even when Smirnoff has higher sales in quanitity).

However, we decided to do a little tongue in cheek experiment and pit the mighty sophistication of cognac against the glitzy world of vodka.  Which do you think will come out on top…?

Okay, so going right back to basics, let’s look at the most fundamental difference between the two spirits.

Vodka Cognac

What are they made of?

Cognac, as you most likely know, is the product of grapes. Vodka, on the other hand is produced from grains such as wheat and rye.  It can also be produced from potatoes.  However, Vodka can also be made from grapes, indeed Ciroc is even from Cognac. Nonetheless in most cases Vodka is made of grains or potatoes, but not of grapes.  And in our humble opinion, grapes are far superior over grains, meaning cognac scores a point in this section.

What do they look like?

The amber hues of cognac make it a really interesting drink to look at.  In general, the older the cognac, the darker the colour.  You can tell a lot about a cognac before you even begin to appreciate its nose or taste on the palate.  Vodka is clear – like water.  In fact, before you smell or taste it, who knows what is in the glass; it’s simply a clear liquid.  Cognac wins hands down in this section…

Where are they made?

Cognac, by geographical definition, can only be produced in the region of Cognac.  Vodka can be produced absolutely anywhere – you can even make your own at home.  Guess who takes the prize in this section?  So far, Cognac 3 – Vodka 0.

Cognac Vodka

How long do they take to produce?

Well, with cognac, this is like asking how long is a piece of string.  Cognac is produced only by aging in a wooden barrel.  The youngest of cognacs must be aged for a minimum of 2 year, and some cognacs are aged for over a century.  Read more about aging here.  Vodka, on the other hand, can be produced in a very short amount of time – days if you so wish.  Even premium vodkas, such as Grey Goose, take only days for the wheat to be milled, fermented, distilled and bottled.

Cognac Vodka

Now, depending on your definition of ‘better’, which spirit takes the points in this section?  You might say that quicker is better, in which case vodka wins the day.  But if you like the fact that cognac can only be produced with the slow march of time, then that should have the points.  We’ll hedge our bets here, and award a point to both spirits…

What do they cost?

Ah, now we really are getting to some big differences.  Because whilst it’s possible to purchase a bottle of cognac for as little as 30 odd Euros, you can easily add a string of zeros to that when it comes to purchasing a very old or rare cognac.  When it comes to cognac, there is no typical price for a bottle.  The cost depends on many factors.

But with vodka, even the most expensive bottle won’t set you back more than a few hundred Euros.  And that’s because the stuff is so readily available.  Even though manufacturers are attempting to produce vodkas that compete on a par with other, more traditional spirits, the fact that time cannot be rushed, and therefore cognac cannot be produced in bulk, means that vodka will never be able to compete.  And remember, cognac can only be produced in finite amounts, thanks to its geographical status.  But vodka can be produced anywhere, in any country.

Once again, depending on your point of view, is more affordable better?  We’re going to be fair here, and again award a point to each.

What do they taste like?

Well, this is probably a bit of a personal thing, but in our humble opinion, cognac wins hands down here.  There’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ tasting cognac.  Each is different.  It depends on the age, the blend, the year, the weather, the harvest, the blending process and a million other aspects.  Vodka, on the other hand, tends to taste like vodka – which is why it’s such a popular drink to be mixed.  Sure, there are premium vodkas that are designed to be drunk neat, or on the rocks, but in general, most folk enjoy their vodka diluted with a mixer.  So once again, we’re awarding a point to cognac…

And the result?  Well, it seems that cognac has won hands down: Cognac 6 – Vodka 2.  But then it only makes sense that a cognac website is going to come down on the side of cognac.  What do you think?  Were we fair in our marking?  Or should we have taken other aspects into consideration?

Either way, both spirits have their merits, and both are going to have their fans.  It’s just interesting to look at the differences between the two.  After all, they are completely different drinks, and should be viewed as such.  And whichever is your favourite tipple, the important thing is to enjoy.  After all, that’s what’s life’s all about…

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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.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Giselbert

    It is a bit biased – and it doesn’t take smoothness into account. A premium vodka (e.g. Snow Queen, Belvedere, Ketel 1, Grey Goose) has much less alcoholic burn than most cognacs. Out of all the XO cognacs I’ve tried, only Remy Martin is what I’d call smooth.

  2. Avatar

    It is truly astounding how little you know about vodka and yet attempt to “express your opinion” here. What you are talking about here is comparing a finely aged spirit i.e. cognac vs what is essentially an industrial spirit, smooth or smoother depending on a number of distillations. Try comparing freshly distilled ugni blanc spirit with vodka as that would put them on the same plane. Now, having set that straight, there were old, oak aged vodkas (“Starka” comes to mind) in existence over centuries in Polish Commonwealth and surely even you in your anglophone-centric ignorance can deduct why that product is no longer around. How old Starkas used to be when drunk? An English nobility tradition of buying cases of fine port when their firstborn arrived and consuming it when he turned the age of majority is copied and/or based on old Polish landed gentry custom of buying barrels of Starkas when blessed with a newborn son. Is Starka gone forever?
    Hmm, perhaps not. It might be coming back sooner than you think and when it does, you might want to do a rematch with a proper heavyweight in the same ring against your cognac.

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