When we think of different types of liquor, we immediately think of whiskey, tequila, vodka, rum, and gin. It’s not too often that our minds jump to brandy. Why is it that we don’t consume brandy in the same way as other spirits or think of it in the same way? Partly because many people think that brandy is a type of whiskey, but it’s not.
So, if brandy isn’t whiskey, then what is it? Today, we’re going to clear the air and give you everything you need to know about brandy vs whiskey. Some of you may in fact be more familiar with this spirit than you think. On top of that, we’ll discuss a little about what makes whiskey, whiskey.
What is Liquor?
Before we get into any specifics about brandy or whiskey, let’s start with a little about liquor. Liquor is an alcoholic beverage that is distilled from other fermented ingredients. Fermentation is the process that gives us beer and wine. Specifically, it’s the process of yeast feeding on sugar which creates ethanol, or alcohol, as the by-product. Wine is made from fermenting grapes; beer from fermenting grains. While these are the two most notable, you can ferment almost anything.
Distillation is the process where alcohol is separated from other substances of a liquid. The liquid is heated which causes the ethanol to evaporate. The water, though, remains because the boiling point for water is higher than ethanol. This makes the alcohol much more concentrated, and therefore stronger. Hence why beer and wine are TYPICALLY around 5% – 15% ABV and liquor 35%-65%.
The different types of liquor are as follows: whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum, gin, and brandy. Let’s move on to brandy and whiskey specifically.
What is Brandy?
Brandy is a liquor distilled from wine. Now, most of us know that wine is made from grapes, fermented grapes. However, wine can technically be made from any fermented fruit. Brandy, then, is liquor distilled from fermented fruits – although most often grapes. Any brandy that is made from fruit other than grapes must be designated as such: peach brandy, strawberry brandy, etc. We’ll come back to brandy in more specifics once we cover the basics of whiskey.
What is Whiskey?
Whiskey is to beer as brandy is to wine. Whiskey is a liquor distilled from fermented grains. Grains include wheat, barley, rye, and corn. There are other grains, but these are the primary grains used in making whiskey. They are also the grains used in fermenting beer. While most whiskey isn’t distilled from beer itself, as hops typically aren’t added, there are some companies that will distill actual beer.
To Make it Simple….
Whiskey is distilled beer. Brandy is distilled wine.
Types of Brandy and Types of Whiskey
This is where things often get a little more complicated. There are many different subsets or types of whiskey and brandy. The differences of each often come from the type of grain or fruit used, and the location the liquor is distilled in.
Types of Whiskey
We have a detailed post about all the different types of whiskey that you can check out for more specifics, so we’ll be brief here. Most of these, you’ll be familiar with to some degree anyways. Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, rye, wheat, Irish whiskey, scotch, Canadian whisky, Japanese whisky.
There are some obvious differences here. Canadian whisky hails from Canada. Irish whiskey, from Ireland. Scotch, from Scotland and so on. Each of these whiskeys, though, have there own legal regulations. For example, bourbon is a whiskey that’s made in America, but it must also contain at least 51% corn in its mashbill. Irish whiskey and scotch use malted and unmalted barley as the primary grains. There are other regulations, but these are the most basic. Check out our other post for more details.
Types of Brandy
These, you are less likely to be familiar with, with the exception of at least one, likely. The types are as follows: Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Brandy de Jerez, Obstler, Pisco, Armenian, South African, Cyrpiot, and Pomace. I’m not going to go into full detail of all these because it’s a lot of information to cover, and frankly, I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to really touch on them in detail. I will, however, cover Cognac in more detail because you’ve likely drunken it, or at least heard about it.
Similar to whiskey, Armenian brandy must be produced in Armenia. South African, from South Africa. Others are Cypriot from Cyprus, Pisco from Peru and Chile, and Brandy de Jerez from Spain. Again, all of these have other more specific regulations as well. I’d recommend checking out this Cognac blog if you’re looking for more detailed information.
What is Cognac?
Cognac is a brandy that hails from France, specifically the Cognac region of France. In addition to that, it must also adhere to other rules and regulations. It must be distilled twice in copper pot stills, and there is a specific list of grapes that it can be produced from. From there, the liquor must be aged in Limousin casks for a minimum of 2 years.
While there are plenty of Cognacs out there, there are a few that dominate the market. You are likely familiar with the most popular: Hennessy. Other include D’USSÉ, popular from it’s founder, JAY-Z, and Rémy Martin, and Louis XIII.
Cognac is much more notable than brandy, largely due to its appearance in pop-culture and rap music. Of course, there is JAY-Z who founded a Cognac, but it Hennessy, or Henny, is also commonly mentioned in music. ‘Yac’, ‘yack’, or ‘yak’ is also a popular term used to refer to Cognac, pronounced cone-yak. Both Hennessy and Cognac have been mention by rap greats such as 2-Pac, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Master P, Drake, Beyonce, and many more.
Brandy vs Whiskey Aging
While there are a couple similarities between whiskey and brandy when it comes to aging, there are also key differences. Aging brandy and whiskey is what gives the liquid it’s color and most of its flavor. When distillate goes through the actual process of distillation, the result is a clear alcoholic liquid. That’s why vodka, gin, and tequila blanco are clear – they don’t spend time in wooden casks.
One misconception is that whiskey, especially bourbon, must be aged a minimum of two years. There is no age requirement for whiskey, it only has to spend time in wooden casks. The same goes for brandy, there is NO age requirement. However, for a bourbon to be labeled ‘straight bourbon’ it must be aged in new-charred American white oak casks for at least two years. Brandy aged less than two years must be labeled as ‘immature’. Cognac, on the other hand, must be aged 2 years.
One primary difference in again is the barrel the liquor spends time in. Whiskey must be aged in oak, with each type of whiskey having different requirements on what type of Oak. The same goes for brandy. They must be aged in oak, but each type having different regulations. As we mentioned, Cognac must be aged in Limousin oak casks.
Another primary difference is how the age statement is displayed. Whiskey will say the actual number of years on the bottle, i.e., 10 year or 4 year. Any bourbon that does not have an age statement must be aged a minimum of 4 years.
Brandy, on the other hand, uses acronyms such as VS, VSOP, Napoleon, XO, and XXO. These are short for Very Special, Very Superior Old Pale, Extra Old, and Extra Extra Old.
- VS – 2 years
- VSOP – 4 years
- Napoleon – 6 years
- XO – 10 years
- XXO – 14 years
A lot of whiskey and brandy are blends, and the age statement must refer to the youngest liquor in the blend. So a blend of 2 year brandy and 50 year brandy must still hold the VS label.
Whiskey vs Brandy Price
All it takes is a casual stroll through a liquor store to see that brandy and whiskey are more expensive than many other liquors. One primary reason for that is aging. While neither brandy nor whiskey have age requirements, it’s very standard for these companies to age their liquor for at least two years, and typically at least 4 for whiskey. Whiskey, such as Kentucky Deluxe, is much cheaper because 80% of it isn’t aged at all, and that’s precisely why KD gets a rep for being very bad.
Even with whiskey being more expensive than vodka, brandy is more expensive. That’s because most brandy you see, here in the states at least, is Cognac. Wine is more expensive than the grains used to produce whiskey, and it’s only produced in a limited region of France. So, there is a much more limited supply, and Cognac has an aging requirement of two years.
While it would be nice for whiskey and brandy to be priced similarly to vodka, and I mean it’d be really nice, you get what you pay for. The aging adds flavor, character, and smoothness that just isn’t found in other liquors. At least in our opinion that is.
Brandy vs Whiskey Summary
The primary difference between brandy and whiskey is quite simple. Brandy is distilled wine. Whiskey is distilled beer. Obviously, there are more nuanced ways to describe the differences, but that is the most basic, simplified understanding.
Brandy and Whiskey are the most complex of liquors (with tequila/mezcal being close by, probably), but they also have the most distinction and disparity from one brand to the next.
There is A LOT of information on the specifics between these two liquors. Mostly because there are so many different subsets of each, each of which have there own rules and regulations. We could have a separate article for the specifics of bourbon, scotch, Irish whiskey, and so on. Perhaps down the road we’ll have a more comprehensive guide of each. We do touch on these specifics in our other posts regarding specific whiskey brands, though. So, be sure to check out more of our content.
Brandy vs Whiskey FAQ.
Below are frequently asked questions regarding whiskey, brandy, Cognac, bourbon, and the relationship between them. Many of these questions are answered in the article above.
What is Brandy?
In essence, brandy is a liquor that is distilled from wine. It is it’s own type of liquor.
What is Cognac? Is Cognac Whiskey?
Cognac is a type of brandy much like bourbon is a type of whiskey. Hennessy is the most popular Cognac. Hennessy, then, is brandy, not whiskey.