Brandy is a universal spirit
that many countries around
the world recognize with
regional variations. There
are California brandies and
Spanish brandies (Brandy de
Jerez) and Greek brandies
(metaxa) and Peruvian
brandies (Pisco). Brandy
can be made anywhere,
though some classifications
(like Cognac and Calvados)
are held to legal production
standards based on the region
of origin.
Brandy is a broad category
that encompasses fruit-based
spirits; anything from grapes
to apples to pears. Pisco,
Calvados, Cognac, marc,
kirsch, Armagnac, applejack
and grappa are all considered
brandies, not to mention
anything labeled
eau de vie
The differences lie in the
production methods and
country of origin. Most
brandies, however come from
Like the vastness of the
category, production methods
vary: from continuous still to
pot still, unaged to aged.
Because so many countries
produce brandy—many under
their regional names—the
category (and shelf) is often
sub-divided. Some shops will
have a section of Spanish
brandies; then Armagnac next
to Cognac; and grappa, Pisco
and kirsch together. Some
brands have specific aging
classifications and areas from
which they may be produced.
There’s a saying: “All Cognacs
are brandies, but not all
brandies are Cognac.” This is
because Cognac, considered
the most prestigious of all
brandies, can only come from
the Cognac region of France
and is heavily regulated to
ensure quality. The Cognac
region further broken down
in to 6 growing areas (or
Crus): Grande Champagne
(considered the best), Petite
Champagne, Borderies, Fins
Bois, Bons Bois, Bois a
Simply put, Cognac is a
brandy made from distilled
wine, specifically wine made
from Ugni Blanc grapes. Also
known in Italy as Trebbiano,
the Ugni Blanc grape is well
suited for Cognac because
it retains its acidity and fruit
even after long aging.
Cognac is distilled
twice in charentais
(or alembic) pot stills
and aged in French
oak barrels for at
least two years.
The key to all
Cognacs is the
Most Cognacs do not state
their age on the bottle, instead
adhering to a long-held
classification system: VS
(very special) aged at least 2
years; VSOP (very superior
old pale) aged at least 4
years; and XO (extra old) aged
at least 6 years. Generally
speaking, most quality
Cognacs are aged longer
than necessary.
he age-old question of “this vs. that” is the founda-
tion for a new department in the magazine. Think of
it as defense against category confusion, which has
become all the more common among consumers thanks to
the barrage of new brands and expressions.
By focusing on key factors—base ingredients, origin,
methods, label terms, usage—that are likely to arise as
questions in a selling situation, you and your staff can be
better prepared to make sure a customer leaves with the
right product, plus a little extra knowledge.
Brandy vs. Cognac
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