It’s an age-old question — what’s the difference between Brandy and Cognac? Seriously, do a Google search. You’ll be flooded with websites explaining the nuances of each. Shall we get down to business?


The name Brandy originated from the Dutch ‘brandewijn’ or ‘burnt wine’ which evokes a warm undertone. In general Brandy means a distilled spirit made from fermented fruits, typically grapes. Other varieties are based on apples, pears, blueberries and other sweet fruits. Brandy generally has 35 to 60 percent ABV. It’s usually aged in wooden casks but caramel coloring can be added to imitate the effects of aging.


Cognac on the other hand is a very specific type of Brandy. Only a wine Brandy produced in the Cognac region of France can be called Cognac. Hennessy sells more than 50 million bottle a year worldwide making it the world’s largest cognac producer.

The Ugni Blanc grape variety is what makes Cognac. Cognac is also distilled twice in a copper pot still. It is then aged at least two years in French oak barrels. Since oak barrels stop contributing to flavor after four or five decades, longer aging periods may not be beneficial. To be a true Cognac it must be 40 percent ABV. Cognac will always be blended. The age indicated on the label is that of the youngest drink in the blend. Its taste is subtle and gentle in the mouth.

Serving tips

Brandy is usually served as an after dinner drink. Drink Brandy neat — meaning drinking it by itself with no ice or mixer — when you have a good quality brandy. Brandy is typically served at room temperature in a brandy snifter. Cupping the glass in the palm of your hand will gently warm the contents. Smell the Brandy while holding the snifter at chest height. It will allow you to breathe in the delicate aromas. Start with small sips to fully appreciate the taste.

Nicer cognacs are usually enjoyed without mixers or ice. Choose one that is aged a minimum of four years. Most cognac drinkers use tulip glasses, balloon glasses or wobble snifters to funnel the aromas to the top of the glass. Cup the glass and warm it with your hands. Smell it with your nose and taste the warm notes of spices and clover.

Brandy is a powerful spirit and can overpower your taste buds, hence the reason to serve it as an after dinner drink. Cognac is mellower and pairs well with rich foods such as duck confit, pate du foie gras, tomato-based pastas and rich cheeses.

Sources: WikiHow and Wikipedia

-- Rhonda M. May


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