To the avid liquor connoisseur, understanding the difference between first-rate beverages goes beyond mere rudimentary tasting skills. A refined palette plays an important part in differentiating between the subtle notes of select wines, robust scotches and more– this aspect is one of the more crucial elements of appreciating the art of the drink. However, it does help to know what it is one’s drinking before developing such a talent. Take vodka, which is derived from potatoes and/or grains whereas rum comes from sugarcane byproducts.
What goes into the liquor plays as vital a role in its creation as how and where it was made. There are certain alcohols that, although similar, have key differences that require each to ascribe to different titles. For example, did you know that although all Cognac is brandy, not all brandy is Cognac? The two are in the same family and even derived from common ingredients, so, what’s the difference? While these particular beverages (and a slew of others) are closely related, there are distinct differences and rules that distinguish brandy from Cognac.
Brandy comes from the dutch word brandewijn, which is translated to “burnt wine.” The name is appropriate because brandy is wine that has gone through the process of heat distillation. That’s basically all brandy is — distilled wine. The distillation process increases the concentration of alcohol, thus creating a more potent and aromatic flavor. There are many different complexities and variations in ingredients, of course. A number of fruits and pomaces can be used when producing a batch, but grapes are the primary choice.
After the wine is distilled at least twice, it must be aged. Wood barrels are used for the maturation process; oak being the dominant choice, adding aroma and color. Both the distillation and aging process can differ slightly from company to company since manufacturers prefer their individual methods to obtain a specific brand. These distinctions will create subtle notes in flavor to create a unique product. When this is over, the liquor is then distilled and liquidated again, and often times different barrels are blended for flavor. Some popular brandy brands are
Cognac is brandy with very strict specifications. It only contains grapes that have been recently turned into white wine. Only fresh wine, unaged, is used when making it. The name itself, Cognac, is that of the town that it comes from. Much like bourbon belongs to Kentucky, tequila to Mexico and Scotch to Scotland — Cognac belongs to Cognac, France. Only this place and six surrounding regions are allowed to create this drink and call it by name.
Along with these restrictions, cognac is aged longer than brandy, with each fine-crafted bottle labeled by rating process from V.S. (Very Special, aged two years), V.S.O.P. (Very Special Old Pale, aged at least three years), and X.O. (Extra Old, which is aged six years or more). Some popular cognacs include Hennessy, Remy Martin, and Courvoisier.
All that’s left is preference, what’s yours?