When it comes to choosing a spirit to drink, the choices are plenty. Choosing the best one can be a daunting task thanks to the many options available. Today, the comparison between French Cognac vs whiskey (from the States) dominates a majority of late-night conversations. The fight between the two drinks is older than the drinks themselves.
Let’s recap the 4 differences between Cognac vs Whiskey:
- Distillation process
- Base product
- Production area
Are you confused between Cognac vs whiskey? Are you wondering how they are different and/or similar? If yes, then read further to find out everything you need to know to appreciate their differences.
- Cognac is a special brandy from the town of Cognac in France (not far from Bordeaux, and an easy add on to our Bordeaux Wine Tours). It comes from a unique blend of grapes: Ugni Blanc, Colombard Varietals, and Folle Blanche. Much like Champagne, Cognac is made only in authorized regions of France.
- Once the brandy is ready, it distills in copper pot stills twice and then aged in oak barrels for two years.
- The barrels must be French Oak that comes from Troncais and Limousin.
- There are official quality grades for Cognac –
- V.S. Cognac has spirits whose youngest brandy component is at least two years old.
- V.S.O.P. doubles the requirement to four years,
- X.O. requires that the youngest brandy be at least 10 years.
- Since 2019, there is also now a new Cognac grade XXO (Extra Extra Old) for eaux de vie aged over 14 years in casks.
- Whiskey gets its name from a Scottish language, Gaelic. The natives call it Uisce Beatha, which translates to the water of life. It originated in Scotland for medicinal usage. It was used as an external antibiotic and an internal anesthetic. Whiskey is made from fermented grain mash, which can include wheat, barley, rye, and corn grain.
- Distilling techniques originated from Scotland and Ireland during the year 1100 and 1300 by monks. Wine was not available there, so they distilled barley beer into a liquor, that became whiskey. Until the 15th century, only monasteries could manufacture distilled spirits.
- Whiskey ages only in wooden casks or barrels and stops aging once bottled.
- There are two major types of whiskeys – malt and grain. Spelling variations denote where the whiskey comes from (see the spelling differences between countries in our video and further down this post).
The eternal battle: Cognac vs Whiskey
When it comes to the two spirits, there are many similarities. But they are different from one another as follows:
1. Age terms
- The manufacturers of both whiskey and Cognac use casks to age the spirits.
- But the terms used to describe the age of these drinks are quite different.
- In the case of whiskey, the age of the spirit is recognized by the number of years. When it comes to age-specific whiskey, the manufacturers denote the age in direct numbers. For instance, you can get a bottle of whiskey aged 3, 5, or 10 years old.
- When it comes to Cognac, the terms used to describe age are a little complex. They don’t use numbers; rather, they use words. V.S. Cognac has spirits whose youngest brandy component is at least two years old. V.S.O.P. doubles the requirement to four years, and X.O. requires that the youngest brandy be at least 10 years. The first X.O. is said to have been produced by Hennessey. Since 2019, there is also now a new Cognac grade XXO (Extra Extra Old) for eaux de vie aged over 14 years in casks.
- So it can be difficult to compare the age of two bottles of Cognac or even with whiskey.
2. Distillation process
- The distillation process of whiskey and Cognac can also vary.
- The manufacturers of whiskey distill the spirit once (although in some countries it could be twice or three times-refer to the video for details).
- Cognac has to undergo the distillation process twice. First, distillation takes place when the wine is fermented. The second fermentation makes it a colorless concentrate. Then it is left to age, after which it turns into Cognac.
3. Base product
- The most notable difference between the two spirits is the base product.
- When it comes to whiskey, the manufacturers use grains, primarily barley. The manufacturers then mix it with water and yeast and then distill the whiskey. They use oak barrels to age the whiskey. The difference between whiskey and whisky is simple and noteworthy. Whisky usually denotes Scotch whisky and Scotch-inspired liquors. Whisky can also come from Japan or Canada. Whiskey denotes the Irish and American liquors. Yes this is confusing, perhaps by design!
- Brandy comes from the Dutch word ‘brandewijn,’ which means burnt wine. It is also a right name for Cognac, which comes from distilling wine. The raw material for Cognac is grapes, and its juice is fermented to create an acidic wine. The juice ferments for five days before the distilling process and then ages in oak casks for years.
4. Production area
- There are no geographical limitations when it comes to the production of whiskey. It can come from any part of the world.
- But Cognac can only come from the Cognac region of France. The authorized areas for Cognac production are Bon Bois, Bois Ordinaire, Petite Champagne, Grande Champagne, Fins Bois, Borderies.
Both whiskey and Cognac are widely popular today. There are similarities in how they age in wooden barrels, and the longer they age, the smoother the taste. But, the spirits can differ in terms of the base product, terms used to define the age, the distillation process, and even the geographical boundaries. While people’s preferences may differ, you can enjoy whiskey and Cognac equally once you know what type of each you prefer.