Brandy Vs. Cognac: What’s the Difference?
Cognac is a subset of brandy that distills white wine twice over, creating a luxurious French liquor. While the spirit is aging, they are sometimes referred to as “eau de vie,” which translates to “water of life.”
If you think back to Geometry class, you may recall the phrase “All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.” This thought-provoking conditional statement can be translated directly to the world of Cognac and Brandy. The new statement might read, “All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac.”
In fact, most brandy is not Cognac— brandy is only required to be made from fermented fruit juice, not grapes. Common alternate fruits used for brandy include apples and pears. The aging process also plays a big role in classification— brandy is held to the same strict aging requirements as Cognac.
Read on for more info on the defining characteristics and differences between Cognac and other forms of brandy. À ta santé!
How Is Brandy Made?
Brandy first gained popularity as a beverage in the 15th century. It was originally conceived as a way to preserve wine and other fermented beverages for a longer period of time.
The 1728 book Cyclopaedia records the first recipe for distilled brandy. Folks of that time distilled wine using many different techniques than we do today. A gourd was filled with wine and held over a fire until it was distilled once and referred to as the spirit of wine.
Another round of distillation was performed in a glass gourd in a double boiler, producing a crude version of what we know as brandy.
Modern brandy is still distilled twice but uses modern materials and techniques to achieve a consistent product. After distillation, brandy is placed into wood casks, usually oak, to mature.
The quality of brandy is usually influenced by the amount of time it is left to age, with more mature varieties fetching high prices and praise.
Types Of Brandy
There are a variety of brandy types, often classified by the region of the world where they are produced. A few of the popular varieties are listed below.
Pisco is a South American brandy produced in the winemaking regions of Chile and Peru. The beverage is distilled from white grapes of the region and usually ends up colorless or light amber colored.
Pisco, unlike some of the other brandies, is not required to be grown in a specific region— only the aforementioned countries.
Pisco is only required to be aged for a minimum of three months. Pisco is not aged in wooden barrels as most other brandies are. Instead, it rests in a solid container, such as glass, stainless steel, or clay pitchers.
Calvados is a French brandy produced in the Calvados region of Normandy. Calvados Brandy is distilled from fermented pear or apple juice.
Calvados producers have been known to combine dozens of varieties of apples to find the perfect blend of sweet, tart, and bitter.
Applejack is a close American cousin of Calvados brandy. Popular in 17th and 18th century America, the drink’s popularity has declined in recent decades. The production method is an unusual one.
The process of “jacking” involves freezing fermented apple juice and periodically removing the ice. This ingenious distillation process was usually performed naturally by leaving apple cider out over the winter.
Grappa is a “pomace brandy,” or a brandy that has been crafted from the whole grape, containing the skin, pulp, stems, and seeds. Brandy can only be considered “Grappa” if it is produced in Italy or the Italian region of Switzerland. In addition, the beverage must be fermented and distilled from the “pomace” only— no water can be added.
The liquor is not usually aged in wood casks.
Therefore, it usually ends up colorless and clear. Grappa is known to be fragrant and aromatic, displaying the characteristics of the specific grapes used to produce the drink.
Armagnac brandy hails from the Pyrenees Mountains of Southern France. A defining characteristic of Armagnac brandy is the lack of a second distillation. Brandy can only carry the “Armagnac” name if it is produced in the Armagnac region of South West France.
How Is Cognac Made?
Cognac is usually considered the most popular and luxurious form of brandy. There are six terroirs, or grape growing regions, around the commune of Cognac, France.
The velvety smooth beverage is at its best (and most expensive) when it is produced from grapes from the Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and Borderies regions.
Cognac is made from white grapes of the region. After fermenting into white wine, the liquid is distilled twice into a colorless liquid that is referred to as the “water of life.” After distillation, the liquid is placed into French oak barrels to age.
Cognacs, especially well-aged varieties, are best sipped neat with a few drops of water. Less mature Cognacs are often used as a base for classic cocktails or added to a splash of soda water or ginger ale.
Types Of Cognac
Cognac is further classified by its age. Very Special (V.S.) Cognac must be aged for a minimum of two years. Very Superior Old Pale (V.S.O.P.) Cognac is aged for at least four years. Extra Old (X.O.) Cognac is the premium variety, aged for a minimum of six years.
Classic Cognac Cocktails
The Sidecar is a well-known cocktail crafted from a base of Cognac. Orange liqueur and freshly squeezed lemon juice are added to the Cognac. A garnish of orange twist and a sugared rim complete a simple, elegant beverage. For an in-depth Sidecar recipe, check out our full sidecar video recipe.
Between The Sheets
Between the Sheets is similar in “spirit” to the Sidecar. In addition to the Cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice, a hefty portion of rum is added to create a “higher octane” version of the Sidecar cocktail.
The French Connection is a 1970s concoction made famous by the Gene Hackman movie of the same name. The simple recipe consists of 1 part Cognac and 1 part amaretto liqueur. It is usually served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass.
Classic Brandy Cocktails
The simplicity of the Metropolitan is similar in vein to the classic Martini or the Manhattan. To craft a Metropolitan, brandy, sweet vermouth, and simple syrup are combined for a straightforward, elegant drink.
If you are looking for a delicious dessert cocktail, this is the one. This is another simple cocktail that uses only three ingredients: brandy, crème de cacao, and cream.
The result is a rich and decadent beverage that can satisfy any sweet tooth.
Champagne cocktails are a timeless celebratory drink. Whether it’s New Year’s Eve or your birthday, a champagne cocktail can always bring a hint of elegance to your night. Champagne, brandy, and angostura bitters are combined for the base of the drink. Add an orange peel twist for garnish and drop in a sugar cube to make it bubble!
Now that you’re an expert on the differences between brandy and Cognac, it’s time to invite your friends over and have a tasting party! Check out Saucey.com for freaky fast delivery to your door.