Cognac is a high-end adult beverage that can truly make an evening special. But is it just a fancy word for brandy?
The Short Answer
Yes, cognac is a type of brandy made under very specific conditions.
The Long Answer
The French love their brandy. In fact, they refer to it by a special name. “Eau de vie.” It means the water of life. The French love brandy so much that they developed perhaps the best and most famous form of the beverage, cognac.
But to understand how cognac is made, we first have to look into the process of creating brandy. Both in France and other locations throughout the world, brandy is created by distilling wine until it becomes a concentrated raw spirit. There are of course other ways to create brandy using other fruits, but this is by far the most common.
The spirit is then aged in oak barrels until it forms a complex and flavorful final product. This process usually takes upwards of a decade to become truly perfect. Brandy is mostly made from “lower class” wines that no one would really miss. It re-purposes them into an all new beverage.
Not any old wine can become brandy, however. They have to be highly acidic and relatively low in residual sugar and alcohol. The wine is first heated in a still, allowing the alcohol to evaporate quickly. The vapors are then cooled and condensed. Meanwhile, they’re leaving behind a pure alcohol that is transferred into an oak barrel to mature properly. As with most liquors, the longer it ages the better it gets.
Much like bourbon, cognac has a number of laws associated with its creation. French law spells out very specifically what can and cannot be considered cognac. For starters, the stills used to create cognac brandy are forged from copper. That allows the spirit to be refined in individual batches. Cognac making is not a continuous process. The wine is distilled to the neighborhood of 30% alcohol and then it is distilled a second time to reach 70%. It’s aged anywhere between 10 and 15 years to develop its signature aroma and flavor.
So, as I love to say, while all cognacs are considered brandy, not all brandy can be called a cognac.