You hear about whiskey and cognac all the time. People enjoy drinking them all over the world. But we often consider them to be the same drink. What is the difference between the two? Cognac vs. whiskey, which one should you choose?
First, the Similarities
Before we go into details on how brandy, whiskey, and cognac are so different, we should take a look at all the similarities they share. The first similarity is that all three drinks are fermented, which is an ancient process of creating beverages.
Fermentation converts sugar to ethanol, and then the producer puts the drink in wooden barrels for aging. The general idea is that the longer they age in oak barrels, the better the taste will be. Over time, the oak will release tannins, and the spirit will absorb the aroma and flavor from it to get a recognizable taste.
While there are many different types of whiskey, brandy, and cognac, they all follow the same principle. The primary reason we always compare these three drinks is that they have a similar vibe to them. A person that enjoys having a few glasses of whiskey will undoubtedly love brandy and vice versa.
Even though the taste, texture, and the process behind them are different. The similarities they share are barrels for aging, color, and the process of fermentation.
Grape Versus Grain
Let’s take a closer look at the production process, starting with whiskey. As you might know, there are two types of spelling you might encounter — whiskey and whisky. Some people claim that the difference is just in the letter e, while for others, it shows the region and quality of the product.
The whisky spelling suggests Canada and the United Kingdom (more importantly, Scotland). Whiskey, on the other hand, says Ireland and the United States. There are also specific regulations for each country, and according to the U.K. laws, whisky made and bottled entirely in Scotland gets to be named Scotch.
However you spell it, it comes from grain. Most commonly, it uses barley with yeast and water. After that, the mixture is distilled and left in barrels for aging. Naturally, the manufacturer might decide to use wheat, corn, rye, barley, or other types of grain.
That leads us to the second part — brandy. Brandy is made from grapes by fermenting wine. So, based on the process and materials used, the difference between whisky and brandy is obvious. But what about Cognac?
Well, as people say, all cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac. It is a specific version of brandy, and it also uses grapes for production (or fermentation). The real cognac is made from grapes arriving from the region of France named cognac.
The difference between cognac and brandy is similar to whiskey vs. bourbon. Both bourbon and cognac are specific types of liquor.
READ: The Science and Magic of Wine-making
The next important difference for the brandy vs. whiskey discussion is in aging. We already mentioned that both types of spirit age in barrels (three if you count cognac). But the difference between these products is in the way we mark age on the label.
For brandy and cognac, the manufacturers use a letter grade to indicate the age of the spirit. The youngest versions of cognac will have letters VS (i.e., V.S.) or three stars. That stands for Very Special, and it’s reserved for a brandy that’s over two years old. The next is VSOP (i.e., V.S.O.P.) or Very Special/Superior Old Pale, and it means that the liquor is at least four years old.
The next one is XO (i.e., X.O.), and it stands for Extra Old or over six years. This might be the silliest one since it seems as if it came from the street terminology. There are also VO (i.e., V.O.) or Very Old, Vintage, Varietal, Hors d’Age, and others.
When it comes to whiskeys or bourbons, the age is usually visible on the bottle, and you won’t need to know the brandy-makers’ secret language to understand it. For whiskeys, the common ages are 3, 5, 10, 12, and 15. It is possible to find an 18-year-old whiskey, but it’s not as common.
Which One Matches With Ice?
There is one single difference we need to address in the end — which one goes with ice? Ice is an excellent way to cool your drinks, and people use it for nearly everything. But this doesn’t mean that you should mix it with luxurious liquors. Fortunately, we are here to help you with this problem.
You probably heard the term “whiskey on the rocks.” If you did, this is a clear sign that whiskey is something you can combine with ice. Brandy and cognac, on the other hand, should never be mixed with ice or water.
The primary difference here is that whiskey is made from grain, while brandy uses fermented fruit. Of course, there are a couple of Cognac brands today that go well with a drop of water. In the end, it’s your drink, and you can enjoy it as you please. So, if you love adding ice to your brandy, good for you! Do what makes you happy. The idea behind both drinks is to enjoy them.
Which One Is Better?
There is only one question that people might want to know. Which one is better? Should you go for Cognac, brandy, or whiskey? Well, that’s up to you. Saying that one is better than the other would be completely wrong. It is all up to your personal taste and which one you enjoy drinking.
For some, Irish whiskey can be too strong and bitter. They don’t like the taste, and they’d always go for something else. And this is completely normal. You drink what makes you feel good. There is no reason to force yourself to drink something you don’t like. Furthermore, if you like putting ice in your drink, do it. Put Pepsi in it, fruit juice, or something else.
Whiskey and cognac have always been a symbol of pleasure and hedonism, which means you should drink whichever feels better for you. So, stop worrying about Cognac vs. Scotch. The one you like more is the winner here.