French cognac is produced just like brandy based on grapes. In addition to many similarities, both spirits but also have some important differences. In our guide we explain the role played by the origin of the grapes used, the differences in distillation and alcohol content, and why a cognac does not necessarily have to be better than a brandy.
The history of brandy and cognac
If you stand in the supermarket in front of the liquor shelf today, probably the least aware that brandy and cognac were long perceived and sold as identical spirits. This changed in Germany only with the end of the 1st World War as well as the reparations payments to be made by Germany. With the so-called "champagne paragraph" was determined that, among other brandy from Germany could not be sold as cognac. Exclusively brandy made from grapes of the Cognac region (that is, the departments of Charente, Charent-Maritime, parts of Dordogne and Deux-Sèvres) may bear this name. The denomination of origin "Cognac" was protected from now on – brandy and cognac suddenly no longer the same spirit. Cognac is also protected as a regional denomination of origin within the EU. What is less known: The name "German brandy" is protected and attached to certain conditions in the production.
Brandy tradition in Europe and the world
But the distinction between cognac and brandy is not just a story between French and German wine distillates. Grapes from grapes have a long tradition in many regions of Europe and the world, some of which are also protected names. Next German brandy is here especially Brandy from Spainwhich is to a great extent produced in Jerez de la Frontera (Brandy de Jerez). But also outside the European Union are with Armenian or Georgian brandy as well as with Pisco from Peru and Chile Brandies produced from different grape varieties. An interesting fact is that, for example, brandies from Armenia and Georgia are marketed outside the EU as "cognac", as this term is not protected there.
The different production of brandy and cognac
One of the big differences in the production of brandies and cognac lies in the origin of the grapes. In the case of cognac, the grapes must come from the French departments, as already mentioned. Other brandies enjoy greater freedom when choosing grapes. This does not necessarily lead to poorer quality compared to cognac, as the cognac layers are not all equally good and many other factors such as storage influence the taste of the brandy.
Various grape varieties
The white wine varieties Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano), Folle Blanche and Colombard are mainly used for the production of cognac. The selection of grape varieties follows the tradition and experience in the region, the aforementioned grape varieties have proven to be suitable grapes. To a much smaller extent, other grape varieties such as Meslier-Saint-François, Jurançon Blanc, Montils, Sémillon, Select and Folignan are used for cognac production. Legally, the use of certain grape varieties for cognac, as with other brandies, is not strictly prescribed.
The distillation of cognac and brandy
There are also differences in the burning of cognac and brandy. For example, Cognac only allows the use of copper stills, which are roughly comparable to Scottish pot stills. Other grape spirits also permit the use of column distillation, which can be used to produce larger quantities of alcohol in a constant process. While no additional alcohol may be added to cognac prior to storage, brandy must be at least 50% spirits with the addition of another wine distillate (less than 94.8%) under EU Regulation 110/2008.
Provisions for storage in wooden barrels
Last but not least, legal regulations for storage of cognac and brandy differ. The lowest grade of cognac is called V.S. cognac and must be stored in oak barrels for at least 2 years. For brandy, a storage period of at least 6 months is required, provided that the capacity of the barrels is below 1,000 liters. When using larger barrels, the minimum storage time increases to 12 months. Both cognac and brandy may be added to the coloring sugar caramel. You should not be fooled by the color of a cognac or brandy, as a dark color does not necessarily promise a high age or high quality.
The different alcohol content of brandy and cognac
In addition, the minimum alcohol content of brandy and cognac is regulated differently. In the European Union, in principle, wine spirits must have a minimum alcohol content of 36%. However, at least 38% are required to carry the name German Brandy. French cognac goes further and should be filled with at least 40%. This leads, for example, to the curiosity that Asbach age may call itself German brandy, Chantré but not due to low alcohol content. The German spirit Wilthener gold crown on the other hand, although it is made from grapes, there is neither a German brandy nor a brandy due to the addition of agricultural alcohol and an alcoholic strength of only 28%.
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Cognac or brandy – Which spirit is better?
In comparison, cognac and brandy have many similarities but also some significant differences. Both spirits belong to a family of spirits and are made very similar. Some small but important differences arise from the requirements for storage, distillation and the addition of alcohol. While the youngest cognac must mature in oak barrels for at least 2 years, brandy can be bottled after 6 months at the earliest. In addition, unlike cognac, it is also permissible to make the fire by distilling the column, and a certain amount of agro-alcohol may be added to the distillate before storage.
In comparison with cognac and brandy, it is noticeable that the requirements for cognac are somewhat stricter than for brandy. Conversely, this does not mean that cognac is generally better. There are both good cognac and good brandies. For both spirits, it depends on the exact method of production, the raw materials used, the tradition and the expertise of the distillers and cellar masters, whether the grapes ultimately produce a tasty cognac or brandy.