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What is the Different Between Brandy vs. Cognac?

Learn about the differences and similarities between brandy and cognac.

Brandy and Cognac are two popular liquors and both are some of my favorites. They share similar traits but are definitely not the same.

Glass Of Cognac And Old Oak Barrel

Naïveté on the subject can lead to embarrassing slip-ups at dinner parties or just an unsatisfactory drink. How can an aspiring connoisseur tell the difference? Well, several things set them apart. 

Brandy is a broad term that refers to many different types of alcohol. Cognac is distinct in how you distill it and what you use to make it. As a general rule of thumb, all Cognacs are brandy, but not all brandies are Cognac. 

This close relationship can make them difficult to tell apart, but a few simple rules will help you understand the difference. If you want to become an expert on the differences between brandy and Cognac, check out some of these defining factors.


What Is Brandy?

Brandy, like wine, is a distilled fruit juice. Although flavor profiles can vary, this can be any fruit and is typically sweet.

Cherries, raspberries, and apples are all common fruits used to make this spirit. I highly recommend giving Pear Brandy a try. Sometimes, though rarely, people even consider wine to be brandy. 

You age brandy in wooden containers, which give it its rich brown color. Once it reaches the bottle, it is typically 90 to 100 proof.

Distilleries label brandy with whatever type of fruit was used to create it. If unmarked, they likely distilled the brandy from wine. 

Brandy is often used in baking, for example in some Italian desserts like tiramisu!


What Is Cognac?

Cognac, by comparison, is a brandy that must meet specific qualifications. 

Cognac must originate and be distilled in the southwestern Cognac region of France. Distillers make this drink from three specific types of grape, all of a white grape variety.

The Trebbiano Toscano, Folle Blanche, or the Colombard Must be used in order for Cognac to be Cognac.

All Cognac must go through two rounds of distillation between October and March. Then, each bottle is rated alphabetically between VS (Very Special) and XO (Extra Old).

Check out our favorite cognacs here to try them for yourself!


How Are Brandy and Cognac Different?

Keeping in mind that all Cognacs are brandy, what are the specific differences between these drinks?

Brandy and Cognac are set apart by the types of fruit used to make them, the distillation process, and their origin location.

Brandy can be any fruit juice, whereas a Cognac must come from the three aforementioned white grapes.

While you can distill brandy in several methods, a genuine Cognac must be distilled twice in copper pot stills and aged in French Oak barrels for at least two years.

If it is not distilled and aged in the Cognac area of France, it isn’t considered Cognac, regardless of the distillation and aging process. 

In contrast, brandy is made worldwide, especially in areas where wine is also popular.


Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about the differences between brandy versus Cognac.

Is Brandy Better Than Cognac?

Because Cognac is a brandy, this question is a moot point. However, most people agree Cognac is finer alcohol than traditional brandy.

Because it goes through such a stringent selection, distillation, and aging process, the quality of this beverage is guaranteed.

It is typically dry and thin, and if you aren’t a fan of white wine it probably won’t be your favorite drink.

On the other hand, brandy can be made by anyone with the means to distill fermented fruit juice. People who prefer sweet alcohol with a wide selection of flavor profiles will likely enjoy brandy.


Is Cognac a Brandy?

Yes, Cognac is brandy. Brandy can be defined as any alcohol created by distilling fermented fruit juice.

Although Cognacs are created to certain specifications, it still meets the criteria of being a distilled fruit juice.

It’s important to know the correct questions to ask regarding your brandy so that you aren’t duped into thinking it’s Cognac.

With a little research, you will be able to determine if your brandy is, in fact, a Cognac.


Is French Brandy the Same as Cognac

French Brandy might be a Cognac, but coming from France doesn’t automatically make it one.

French Brandy can be created with any fruit juice using different distillation methods.

If, however, the brandy did not come from the Cognac area, was not distilled correctly, or aged for at least two years in French Oak barrels, then it is not a Cognac.


Final Thoughts

Both brandy and Cognac are fine drinks for serving at any party or cocktail hour. Armed with the knowledge of what sets Cognac apart as a specific type of brandy will allow you to impress any fine drink connoisseur, and ensure every cocktail you mix is up to scratch.

From the vines of its fruit to the casks which age it, knowing your spirits is a telltale sign of an absolute master.

Learn more about wines, spirits, and more, like the best tasting liquors to sip or non-alcoholic spirits you might enjoy!

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.