What is the Difference Between Cognac and Whiskey?

What is the Difference Between Cognac and Whiskey?

The biggest difference is that Cognac is made from grapes and Whiskey from grain, most usually barley. This grain is mixed with yeast and water, distilled, and then aged in oak barrels.

Cognac begins life as fermented grape juice that first turns into wine. This wine is then double-distilled, before also being aged in oak barrels.

Another big difference is that Cognac can only carry the name if it’s produced according to strict regulations. The most important being that it’s made in the Cognac region, in France.  Whiskey, on the other hand, can be made anywhere in the world. Although the Scots spell theirs without the ‘e’.  So if you’re drinking a ‘Whisky’, this has been made in Scotland.


Both spirits are aged in oak barrels or casks.  But when it comes to communicating the age of the spirit, we have to say that it’s far easier to understand how old a Whisky is compared to a Cognac. When it comes to one’s age-specific Whisky, they simply add the age in numbers, say 10 or 15 years.

Cognac, on the other hand, uses terminologies such as VS (Very Special – aged at least 2 years), VSOP (Very Special Old Pale – aged at least 4 years), and XO (Extra Old – aged more than 6 years) to determine the age.  This is something that’s slightly difficult to understand and somewhat ambiguous. But once you understood it, you’ll never forget.  Plus, it’s traditional, and we all know the French are staunch protectors of their heritage.


Both Cognac and all types of whiskeys are enjoying an upward trend in worldwide sales. Data provided by the IWSR shows that Cognac rose from 13,058.6 cases in 2015 to 14,124.7 in 2016 – a rise of 8.2%.  Whiskey sales rose by 1.7% from 392,573.6 cases to 399,185.3 cases in the same period.


Cognac Pour In Glass, Grapes And Vin | High-Quality Food Images ...

Cognac is a variety of brandy named after the town of Cognac, France. It is produced in the surrounding wine-growing region in the departments of Charente and Charente-Maritime.

Cognac production falls under French Appellation d’origine contrôlée designation, with production methods and naming required to meet certain legal requirements. Among the specified grapes Ugni Blanc, known locally as Saint-Emilion, is most widely used.2 The brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais. Cognac matures in the same way as whiskeys and wine barrel age, and most cognacs spend considerably longer “on the wood” than the minimum legal requirement.

The white wine used in making cognac is very dry, acidic, and thin. Though it has been characterized as “virtually undrinkable”,4 is excellent for distillation and aging. It may be made only from a strict list of grape varieties. In order for it to be considered a true cru, the wine must be at least 90% Ugni blanc (known in Italy as Trebbiano), Folle Blanche and Colombard, while up to 10% of the grapes used can be Folignan, Jurançon blanc, Meslier St-François (also called Blanc Ramé), Sélect, Montils or Sémillon.5 Cognacs which are not to carry the name of a cru are freer in the allowed grape varieties, needing at least 90% Colombard, Folle Blanche, Jurançon blanc, Meslier Saint-François, Montils, Sémillon, or Ugni blanc, and up to 10% Folignan or Sélect.


Much of Cognac’s increase was due to the resurgence of sales in the Americas, where it rose by 18.5%.  The Asia Pacific also enjoyed increased sales, up 6%.  The Americas continue to account for the largest proportion of Cognac sales, with a market share of 40.9% in 2016.  The Asia Pacific held 25.3% of the market share, with Europe at 16.9%.

When it comes to Cognac qualities, it tends to be sales of VS and VSOP that dominate the American market.  Whereas in Asia Pacific, and China, in particular, purchase the older categories of XO and above.



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Whiskey or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat. Whiskey is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak.

Whiskey is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. The typical unifying characteristics of the different classes and types are the fermentation of grains, distillation, and aging in wooden barrels.


Interestingly, Irish Whiskey saw the highest increase in sales in the year 2016, at 11.3%.  This was followed by Japanese Whiskey, which rose by 7.7% in the same time span.  Scotch, however, dropped by 1% in terms of global sales, although Malt Scotch increased its sales by 6.3%.



In general, both Cognac and Whiskey are showing a sustained increase in growth on a global scale. Both spirits appeal to consumers at either end of the scale; from the youngest, least expensive blends right through to the high-end old vintage options.

In addition, makers of both spirits are turning to the other for innovative ways to stand out from their competitors.  One such way is Whiskies finished in Cognac barrels and vice versa.  Here at Cognac Expert, we relish the direction the spirit market is heading.

If you’d like to discover more about the intricacies of Cognac, then Cognac-Expert.com is the leading online platform for everything to do with this historic French brandy.  No matter which is your favorite spirit, the future looks bright for both.  And long may it continue…

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