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Brandy vs Bourbon

Charl Joost
Last Updated: February 25th, 2023

Brandy and Bourbon are both alcoholic beverages, however, they are vastly different. Brandy is produced by distilling wine and can have an alcohol by volume (ABV) of approximately 35% – 60%.

Brandy can be produced in various ways, including aging in wooden casks, and coloring the brandy with caramel coloring to imitate aging.

Bourbon, on the other hand, is a type of whiskey. Bourbon is an American whiskey, made primarily of corn and aged in wooden barrels.

Bourbon has an ABV of at least 40% and gets its color and certain flavors from the wooden casks it is aged in.

Brandy vs Bourbon

Unexperienced alcohol drinkers may look at brandy vs bourbon and assume they are similar. However, both beverages differ vastly and have unique histories and flavors.

Bourbon is an American whiskey produced using grains such as malted barley, corn, wheat, and rye. Bourbons can come in a range of ABV, and different brands can have different flavor profiles.

To be classified as a bourbon, the grain mash must contain at least 51% corn, however, some bourbons use much higher concentrations of corn in their production.

Brandy is a distilled wine with a maximum ABV of 60% on average. To be classified as brandy, this distilled wine must have an ABV of between 35% and 60%.

It is produced by fermenting fruits in place of grain, with most brandies using grapes as the base fruit. These grapes are commonly grown and sourced in Southwestern France.

brandy or bourbon

How Are They Made?

Brandy is produced using three basic steps, although certain brands may have different steps involved. The first step is fermentation. The fruit selected is mashed and combined with yeast to trigger fermentation. The sugar in the fruit is converted into ethanol.

During this process and fermented fruit juice is produced containing ethanol, congeners, and water. Congeners add flavor to the alcohol.

Next, the fruit juice is distilled, a process that involves the liquid being heated up in copper or column stills. The alcohol creates vapor when heated, which is then cooled and converted back into a liquid.

This liquid has a higher ABV of between 35% and 60%. Finally, the brandy is aged in oak barrels for several years, a process that mellows the flavor and darkens the color.

Bourbon is produced in a somewhat similar fashion. A mash bill is produced using a mixture of grains and 51% corn. The mash is combined with water and yeast. The mixture is applied to heat and then fermented for 1 – 2 weeks.

This mixture is then known as sour mash which is strained to remove the solids from the ethanol liquid.

how are they made

The liquid is then distilled twice, first in a beer still, then in heated copper pot stills. Finally, the bourbon which now has an ABV of between 40% and 62% is aged in new charred oak barrels for at least 2 years.

The charred oak allows the sugars to caramelize, adding flavor and color to the final mixture.

What Are They Made of?

Given that brandy is produced by distilling wine, the main ingredient is fruit. Brandy can be produced using grapes, apples, blackberries, apricots, pears, or peaches.

Certain types of brandy, particularly those produced using berries, require sugar to be added during the fermentation stage of production.

Bourbon, to be called bourbon, must have at least 51% of the grain mash consisting of corn. Other ingredients used are rye, malted barley, and wheat which are known as the ‘flavor’ grains.

Yeast must be added to start the fermentation process, and purified water is added during distillation.

How Are They Similar?

Brandy and bourbon both have sweet notes as well as notes of oak. The difference is that Bourbon gets its oak flavor from charred white oak, whereas brandy has flavor notes of French oak.

The aging in oak barrels contributes to the taste and color of both beverages. Both brandy and bourbon go through a double distillation process, and both have caramel and reddish color.

However, that is where the similarities end. Brandy, being distilled wine, is made of grapes, and is enjoyed as an after-dinner digestive.

Bourbon has notes of caramel and vanilla which come from the aging process, with subtle notes coming from the flavor grains.

Brandy vs Bourbon Comparison

Item Brandy Bourbon
Production Area California, USA Kentucky, USA
Raw Materials Fermented fruit, water, sugar, yeast 51% corn minimum, rye, malted barley, wheat, yeast, purified water
ABV 35% – 60% 40%
Taste Fruit and subtly sweet taste, flavor notes of oak Notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak
Average Price (750ml) $40 $44,12
Color Greenish tints, straw yellow, golden, topaz (differs from brands) Amber, red, brown, or orange

There are several types of bourbon.

Standard Bourbon Must be distilled at a maximum of 80% ABV and must then be aged in wooden casks at a maximum of 62,5% ABV.
Kentucky Bourbon 90% of bourbon producers operate from Kentucky. This bourbon is produced using water that is filtered through limestone.
Tennessee Whiskey Before being aged in oak barrels, the distillate is filtered through charcoal which is produced from maple wood.
Straight Bourbon Straight bourbon may not contain any additional coloring or flavor agents.
Small-Batch and Single Barrel Bourbon Produced using a mash bill that is produced in a smaller quantity, whereas single-barrel bourbon is bottled from only one barrel rather than several barrels.
Blended Bourbon Must contain at least 51% straight bourbon whiskey, added ingredients of high-proof spirit, coloring, and flavoring.
High-Rye and Wheated Bourbon High quantity of rye which adds additional spiciness and depth. High wheat content adds a mild, subtle flavor profile.

Similarly, there are several types of brandy.

Cognac Brandy (French) The brandy must be distilled twice in copper pot stills and have a production process that abides by strict rules.
Armagnac Brandy (French) Grape Brandy from Southwest France. Has a single distillation process
Calvados (French) Produced from apple in the region of Normandy
Brandy de Jerez (Spanish) Must be aged in casks that have held sherry in the past and that use a solera system for aging (Solera = mixture of ages in the spirits).
Obstler Brandy Produced in Austria, Switzerland, and southern Germany from apricots, plums, cherries, apples, pears, or wild berries.
Pisco Brandy From Peru and Chile. It can’t be aged in the wood. Instead of aged in containers made from glass, stainless steel, or clay pitchers.
Armenian Brandy Made from grapes that are indigenous to Armenia
South African Brandy Mase from grapes and distilled in both pot stills and column stills. The product must be at least 30% pot still brandy.
Pomace Brandy Created from solid remains of grapes or fruit, such as skins, seeds, stems, or pulp

How To Drink Brandy and Bourbon

Brandy can be drunk neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails. Brandy should be poured at an angle into a brandy snifter. To enjoy on the rocks, use a single cube to avoid watering down and serve in a similar snifter. A good cocktail recipe using a brand is a brandy highball.

Pour the brandy into a highball glass with ice. top it up with either ginger ale or soda water and add a lemon twist to garnish.

Similarly, bourbon can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails, as well as with a splash of water. Serve the bourbon in a rocks glass or a Glencairn glass.

Add a large ice ball to the bourbon to enjoy it on the rocks. The ice ball will slow down the ice from melting and watering down the beverage.

A classic mixer is bourbon and coke. Add a single ice cube, as much bourbon as proffered, and top it up with coke in a tall glass.


A bourbon alternative is a Scotch Whiskey. Given that scotch also belongs to the whiskey family, the production process is similar, with similar grain bases.

Scotch can be used as a substitute for bourbon in cocktails and can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks. Scotch has flavor notes like bourbon, although the flavor comes primarily from malted barley in place of corn.

An alternative to brandy is cognac which has a more caramel flavor than brandy and is aged in oak casks for at least 2 years. Cognac is also made from grapes and is produced similarly to brandy.

Cognac is a good alternative to brandy because all cognacs are brandy but not all brandies are cognac. The beverages are similar but different brands can produce a product that stands out from its competitor.


Which came first? Brandy originated in the 15th century while Bourbon originated in the 18th century, approximately 300 years later.

Which is stronger? Different brands of Bourbon and Brandy have different ABV, however, on average brandy has a slightly stronger ABV.

About The Author

Charl Joost

Charl is a trainer, public speaker, and professional writer. While he has been coached to niche down, he has many passions. These include golf, gardening, technology, and a decent cup of coffee or two. Charl loves to learn about new products and tries everything he writes about.

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