The main difference when comparing Cognac vs Bourbon is that Cognac is a French liqueur and a variety of brandy produced in the Cognac region situated in southwest France. Bourbon is a type of whiskey only made in the USA from at least 51% corn.
Cognac is double distilled in pot stills and aged for a minimum of three years and over ten years in some variations and changes barrels yearly. Bourbon can use any method of distillation and distill once or twice and then aged in barrels for as little as three months.
History of Cognac and Bourban
The origins of Cognac date back to the 16th century when the Dutch, who were buying vast quantities of wine from the French, found that the wine deteriorated during the long journey and began distilling it and transporting it in oak barrels.
Delays in ship cargo handling led the Dutch to realize that the distilled wine improved when it spent extended time in oak casks. The product brandewijn (burnt wine) came to be known as brandy. French winemakers took note and changed to distilling their wines.
Like Champagne, Cognac can only be produced in the Cognac region of France. Anything made outside of this region is labeled brandy.
Of the four major brands in the Cognac region, Martell was the first to start production in 1715, followed by Remy Martin in 1724 and Hennessy in 1765. Courvoisier began its production in the Cognac region in 1828.
Although Bourbon can be made anywhere in the USA, most Bourbon production occurs in the southern states and Kentucky in particular. Distilling was brought to Kentucky in the late 18th century by Scots, Irish, German and French settlers who began to farm in the area.
The origin of Bourbon as a distinct form of whiskey is uncertain. Records from that time do not confirm the many conflicting claims. The aging of whiskey and charring the barrels for better flavor had been known in Europe for centuries.
The county of Bourbon was established in 1785 and named after the French Royal family. While Bourbon county was reduced into smaller counties early in the 19th century, many people continued to call the region Old Bourbon.
Located within this region was the main port on the Ohio River, Maysville, Kentucky, from which whiskey and other products were shipped. Old Bourbon was stenciled on the barrels to indicate their port of origin.
Many had tasted that Old Bourbon differed from other whiskeys as it was a corn whiskey. In time, Bourbon became the name for any corn-based whiskey.
In 1964 the US Congress passed Resolution 57, designating Bourbon whiskey as a distinctive product of the United States that can be made anywhere in the United States as long as the set parameters for production are adhered to.
No whiskey made outside of the US can be labeled or described as Bourbon, and importation into the US of whiskey designated as Bourbon Whiskey is prohibited.
The resolution sets the following parameters for Bourbon:
- The mash bill must contain at least 51% corn
- Bourbon must be aged in new, charred American oak barrels
- Bourbon can only be distilled to 160 proof and bottled at no less than 80 proof.
Cognac vs Bourbon What Are They Made Of?
The cognac region has six sub-regions (crus) with variations in soil and climate. Grande Champagne,Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois, and Bois Ordinaires to produce their cognac.
The growing crus of Grande Champagne is highly sort after.
There are three types of grapes grown in the cognac region used to make Cognac. Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. Most grapes (up to 90%) grown in the area are Ugni Blanc due to its resistance to frost, pests, and ‘grey mold. It produces a wine with high acidity and relatively low alcohol content.
Bourbon must have at least 51% corn in its mash, while the remaining percentage of fermented grain mash can be malted barley, rye, and wheat.
Cognac vs Bourbon How are they made?
The Cognac region is a controlled designation of origin or AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) with many regulations controlling the quality of all styles of Cognac within the region.
These regulations forbid Cognac producers from adding sugar or sulfur to their wines
Harvesting of the grapes begins in October. The grapes are pressed and allowed to ferment naturally for approximately seven days transforming the grape sugars into wine.
Distillation then commences and must be completed by the 31st of March.
Cognac is distilled twice. The required strength of the wine entering the pot still is 8.5-9% ABV. Copper pot stills are used for the first distillation, and distillation lasts for twelve hours, resulting in a final ‘cut’ distillate with a 28-30% ABV strength.
After the second distillation of approximately twelve hours, the final product is separated into three parts known as the head, the heart, and the tail. The clear, pure liquid from the heart known as Eaux-de-vie is now ready for aging.
Aging and Blending
The Eaux-de-vie of approximately 60% ABV is aged in barrels handcrafted from two oak varieties. The Troncais is fine-grained, and the Limousin is a medium-grain oak. Both are used to extract their unique aromatic style.
According to the AOC, an Eaux-de-vie must spend two years aging in oak barrels. The Eaux-de-vie is aged in newly filled barrels for a period and then transferred to older casks for the long aging process.
Blending is the heart of Cognac. As many as 100 different Eaux-de-vie from numerous vintages across many vineyards and crus can be blended to create a cognac.
Bourbon is distinct from other whiskeys based on its mash bill and how it is manufactured and aged. The process for making Bourbon is as follows:
The recipe is determined by the master distiller, ensuring that the mixture has a minimum of 51% corn. The ingredients are mixed with water and yeast, then heated and stirred to form a mash ready to ferment.
The mash will ferment in vats for one to two weeks, during which the compounds break down, producing ethyl alcohol. Yeast and sour mash are added to the mix at this point.
Sour mash is leftover mash from a previous distillation that reduces the mash’s Ph to prevent bacteria growth.
Once fermentation is complete, the mash is strained, and the alcohol goes through the distillation process.
The alcohol first goes through column stills, and then the second round involves distillation in copper pot stills. Impurities are removed during this process, and the liquid from the pot still has an alcohol content of at least 160 proof.
Once the Bourbon reaches 125 proof, the Bourbon must age in new charred oak barrels for at least two years to be called Straight Bourbon and bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV.
The charred layers of oak help caramelize the sugars, contributing to the spirit’s distinct flavor and color.
Cognac vs Bourbon How are they similar?
Cognac and Bourbon are both distilled spirits. Both are created through fermentation and then matured inside oak barrels.
Price, Size, Color, Alcohol% Comparison
Variations of Cognac are based on the aging period and are labeled accordingly.
The VS stands for Very Special. It is a blend where the youngest Eaux-de-vie has been in a cask for at least two years and blended with barrels up to eight years old. The young and older cognac mix gives VS a subtle fresh fruit and woody flavor.
VSOP stands for Very Superior Old Pale. This blend of Eaux-de-vie is aged from four to 8 years old and is perfect for sipping straight. They are also an excellent choice for classic brandy cocktails
VSOP is a well-balanced cognac with notes of peach and toasted almonds with a gentle hint of vanilla and jasmine.
XO is a blend of Eaux-de-vie that has matured from 10 to 35 years and stands for Extra Old. It is a complex cognac with a velvety texture and aromatic bouquet. XO should be sipped and is the standard whereby Cognac houses are evaluated.
Napoleon is a blend introduced by Courvoisier and a blend of Eaux-de-vie from 10-20 years old. It is more affordable than an XO Cognac.
Extra Cognacs are a blend of Eaux-de-vie with ages ranging from 30-50 years. “Extra Cognacs” are made from special reserves and are released in limited batches every year. They are known for their unique flavors.
Hors d’Age (Without age)
Hors d’Age is the top brand in any Cognac house and is a blend of Eaux-de-vie aged 50 – 100 years or older. They are produced in limited numbers and come in handcrafted crystal decanters.
Remy Martin, Hennessy, Courvoisier, and Martell are the leading Cognac brands worldwide and account for 80% of Cognac sales in the United States.
In addition, the following smaller Cognac houses producing well-respected Cognac among connoisseurs are worth considering: Cognac Bisquit, Cognac Frapin, Cognac Bouju, Cognac Philbert, and Cognac Ferrand.
Bourbon does not have a legally defined time that it must age in new charred oak barrels. Therefore, several stipulations on Bourbon labels need to be defined.
Straight Bourbon is a Bourbon aged for at least two years and complying with Resolution 57 that sets the parameters for producing Bourbon. If Bourbon is not aged for a minimum of two years, the length of time the Bourbon has aged in barrels must be printed on the bottle.
The following indicates how many barrels are used when blending Bourbon.
Small Batch refers to Bourbon, blended from a specific selection of barrels for consistency and control. The term Small Batch was introduced by Jim Beam.
Single Barrel Bourbon is Bourbon that is not blended but relies solely on the aging process in that particular barrel. There are not many Single Barrel Bourbons on the market, but they exist.
Blended Bourbon contains additives such as flavoring, coloring, and other spirits. These spirits can be un-aged neutral grains, but the product must consist of a minimum of 51% straight Bourbon.
Bourbon that comes with a specific age printed on the label must record the age of the youngest Bourbon.
The length of time the Bourbon is aged and how it is blended play a significant part in the overall flavor profile of Bourbon.
Bourbon has typical leather, vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon flavors and has amber, orange, and copper colors.
Cognac and Bourbon are both bottled at 40% ABV. Cognac must have an alcohol content of 120 proof after the second distillation, whereas Bourbon must not exceed an alcohol content of 125 proof when placed in barrels.
Some Bourbons are bottled overproof from 100 to 125 proof. Old Grand-dad 114 and Wild Turkey Rare Breed are examples.
Cognac tends to be more expensive due to being limited to using specific grapes from defined areas and also having a longer aging period than Bourbon.
The four leading Cognac brands, Hennessy, Martel, Courvoisier, and Remy Martin, have prices available from $35 TO $40 for a VS Cognac while, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam are two of the most famous whiskey Bourbon brands, with prices ranging from $20 to $30.
How to Drink Cognac and Bourbon
Cognac should be drunk straight without any mix and at room temperature. The best glass for sipping Cognac is a tulip glass sniffer that has a wide bowl that narrows toward the top. Cognac also blends well with cocktails.
- Lemon Juice
How to make
- Rim a cocktail glass with sugar
- Place Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and shake
- Strain into a glass and add ice
- Serve with a lemon or orange twist
- Cognac – Can use VS, VSOP, or Napoleon
- White Crème de menthe. Use Peppermint Schnapps as an alternative
How to make
- Stir the Cognac, White Crème de Menthe, and ice in a cocktail mixing glass
- Pour into a serving glass
Bourbon like Cognac should be drunk neat at room temperature and typically poured into a rocks glass, shot glass, or Glencairn glass.
Bourbon can be enjoyed with a splash of water or two or three ice blocks. Just be careful not to dilute the Bourbon too much.
Bourbon blends well with cocktails
- Bourbon – 2 ½ oz
- Sweet Vermouth – 1 oz
- Angostura Bitters – 2 or 3 dashes
How to Make
- Fill a Martini Glass with ice to the brim
- Add Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, and bitters to a shaker with a few blocks of ice and stir gently
- Discard ice from Martini Glass, then strain Manhattan into chilled glass
- Garnish with Maraschino cherry and orange peel
Bourbon Old Fashioned
- Sugar – ½ teaspoon
- Angostura bitters – 3 dashes
- Water – 1 teaspoon
- Bourbon – 2 oz
How to Make
- Add sugar and bitters to a rocks glass, then add water and stir till sugar is nearly dissolved.
- Fill the glass with large ice cubes, add the Bourbon, and gently stir to combine
- Garnish with orange peel
Cognac vs Bourbon FAQ’s
What is the difference between Brandy and Cognac?
Brandy is any distilled spirit made from fermented fruit juice. Cognac is a specific type of barrel-aged brandy made from grapes in the Cognac region of France.
How does Cognac compare to whiskey?
The main difference between Cognac and whiskey is that Cognac is made from grapes, and whiskey is made from grain