Whiskey vs. Cognac: What’s the difference?

The difference between cognac and whiskey is right in the ingredients used in making them. Whiskey is made with grains, and cognac is made using grapes. That means cognac is a type of brandy, and bourbon is a type of whiskey.

If you’ve been drinking a glass of Hennessey, Jack Daniels, Remy Martin, and Courvoisier, you may just be wondering what’s in these bottles that makes them so respected and loved by many. The power of whiskey and cognac is in the formula, ingredient, aging, and originality. 

Here at Bottle and Ash, we have discussed more brands of whiskey, and maybe there is nothing left for you to learn, so we will focus more on cognac in this post.

Is cognac a type of whiskey? 

The answer to this is No. Cognac is not a whiskey. Cognac is made of grapes, and whiskey is made of grains like barley and corn, which makes it different from Cognac. However, Cognac is a type of brandy that can only be made in France.

This type of brandy can only be made in cognac, the southwestern region of France. Bourbon is a type of whiskey that can only be made in the USA.

Both whiskey and cognac have clear and strict rules for making. These are some of the rules for making whiskey in the US. The rules for making whiskey are a bit simpler to follow, unlike stricter cognac rules. The French government, through AOC, has set out some rules and standards for making cognac in the county.  

These rules have been here for centuries and have forever dictated the ingredients used in making cognac, its maturity, and labeling. The rules also influence what can be placed on wines, cognac, and other beverages produced in the country.

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You want to be more careful the next time you are unboxing a bottle of Chablis or Bordeaux; you should look for the AOC seal. This is one way of finding out if the drink is original cognac from France.

In the production of cognac, all the grapes used as raw materials must come from Charente and the Charente Maritime departments of France. This is the place surrounded by Cognac. The world-known Grand Champagne and Petite Champagne districts are considered the best quality. Having the label ‘Fine’ on the cognac bottle means the grapes were grown in this part of the country.

What grapes are used for Cognac?

Cognac and other brandies are made using white grape varieties majority of which are Ugni Blanc. Other secondary grapes used in making the brandy include Colombard and Folle Blanche.

The cognac region is known for chalky soils, which play a role in making wine with low alcohol content. However, the drink may be highly acidic and taste a bit lousy when on its own. When distilled, cognac takes a different taste and life.

When the label carries the name of the curs, at least 90% of the grapes must come from Ugni Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche. The rest of the 10% can be from Select, Folignan, Jurancon Blanc, Meslier St –Francois, and Montils. The only regions in France allowed making cognac include Bois Ordinaire, Bon Bois, Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, and Borderies. 

The quality grade of the whiskey is usually recognized on the label. It is easy to tell the quality of the cognac you are about to drink just by looking at the label. Here are some labels to look for:

  • Very Special (V.S) – This is the youngest type of cognac on the counter. It has been stored for at least two years. 
  • Very Superior Old Pale (V.S.O.P) – This is a type of cognac that has been stored for at least four years in a cask. However, the wood age is greater.
  • Extra Old (X.O) – This is a cognac blend that has been stored for between 6 and 20 years.

What are the differences between Whiskey and Cognac?

Here are some of the differences between whiskey and cognac:

  • The base product: the main ingredient or base product in cognac is grapes, while the main ingredient in whiskey is grains.
  • Age terms: Whiskey uses numbers to show the actual age of its contents and maturity, while cognac uses abbreviations like X.O and V.S to show the age of the contents.
  • Distillation process: Whiskey is only distilled once, while cognac is double distilled.
  • Minimum age: Whiskey has a minimum maturity age of 3 years and can be as old as 15 years. Cognac has a minimum age of 2 years and can mature to 20 years.
  • Area of production: While whiskey is produced worldwide, cognac is only be produced in Cognac, France.

What is the taste of cognac?

If you’ve been drinking bourbon or whiskey for a while, you will be most familiar with the taste of cognac. Whisky and cognac get their taste from the oaky barrels used during maturation. The chemical reaction between the wooden staves and the distilled spirits often results in tastes like leather, coffee, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Since cognac uses wine as the source material for distillation, it has many fruit flavors that come out in making it. These tastes and aromas include orange zest, lychee, plum, and peach.

In most cases, floral notes like orange blossom, lilac rose, and violet is often used in describing the signature flavor of cognac.

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Does Coggan contain added sugars?

No, cognac does not have any added sugar. In making cognac, the producers are not permitted to add any sugar to the brandy. This process includes fermentation when grapes are usually crushed, and the yeast pitched.

Any sugar that makes it through the distillation process should exist in small amounts that are unlikely to be imperceptible to the tongue. If you find cognac to be sweet as you drink, it could be a trick playing in your mind.

During the maturation, the molecules in the distilled spirit can interact with the wood barrels to create compounds that you can describe as sweet. These compounds are most likely to be the source of the sweet taste when drinking a glass of cognac.

The long maturation in the barrel and the loss of alcohol during the maturation causes the viscous mouthfeel.

Whiskey vs. Cognac: Which is better?

If you’ve been drinking cognac, it’s never that difficult to switch to whiskey. These two drinks have almost similar tastes. The answer to which is the best drink between whiskey and cognac is nuanced because of the different ingredients used in making them. How you choose between these two drinks is based on your flavor profile.

The truth is that even those who live in Kentucky, Bourbon, will still agree that a well-aged Vielle Reserve cognac is more high-quality than a high-end bourbon. With so much in common between cognac and whiskey, it’s upon you to choose which of the brands makes you enjoy drinking.

Final Thoughts 

The difference between cognac and whisky is right in the ingredients, aging, formula, distillation, base product, and origin. Cognac, just like whiskey, is one of the best quality drinks you can order in the bar.

When you hang out with friends you can start a conversation on whiskey vs cognac with some glass of cognac or whiskey, but don’t forget to mention some of the differences here.

Cognac and whiskey are all quality and popular drinks globally and should be treated with respect and honor. Keep following Bottle and Ash for more on whisky vs cognac,