Cognac Vs Bourbon: What’s The Difference?

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Although we all like to drink and taste new liquors, it is hard to understand the difference between them since many types are available. It is even harder when they are so similar. After all, what is the difference between Cognac and Bourbon? Is there any difference at all?

Well, there is. Cognac is made using distilled wine from grapes produced in the Cognac region in France, hence the name. At the same time, Bourbon is a type of Whiskey produced in Kentucky, United States, made of fermented grain mash.

It seems pretty simple, right? However, there are some interesting facts about these products that can make you seem like an expert if you know them. Keep reading to see more about their production process, ingredients, taste, etc.

The Real Difference Between Cognac And Bourbon

Cognac and Bourbon are distilled liquors that can confuse people since they can taste the same in those who haven’t developed their sommelier skills. Yet, these liquors have very different backgrounds and production processes. Let’s understand a bit more about them.

Cognac is a variety of brandy, a liquor that usually contains 35-60% alcohol by volume and is consumed after dinner in France. Its history is similar to brandy’s history since both were developed in the same country. You may even say that they are kind of the same liquor since they are so similar. The only difference is that Cognac needs to be done with grapes from the Cognac region, as stated earlier.

This liquor is an eau-de-vie spirit produced in the region surrounding the town of Cognac, France. It is generally made from white grapes grown in the cognac region, which are usually described as acidic, very dry, and thin, with many people saying that it is undrinkable.


The best cognacs are aged at least four years in oak barrels (size matters: big barrels make more prominent flavor). The word Cognac comes from “Cogno”, a small river on whose banks this great liquor was first made. After its distillation process, it can also be called Eau de Vie.

France is very bureaucratic and organized when it comes to its liquors, and it is no different regarding Cognac. It comes to the point that it even has a Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), an institution responsible for caring for many Cognac matters, including quality grades. It goes from V.S (very special) to Hors d’âge (beyond age), having six grades in total.

The name “brandy” was probably derived from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning burnt wine, and this refers to the process of distillation where the alcohol is heated up and distilled repeatedly until it becomes a clear liquid.

It was probably created in the 15th century, so Cognac may have been created a couple of centuries later. The oldest continually operating Cognac house is Martell, which was established in 1715. Therefore, we know for sure that at least there was Cognac in the 18th century.

Also check: 20 Best Bourbon for Cocktails

Cognac is slightly sweet, but it is a complex liquor full of flavors, like fresh acidity, saltiness, and bitterness. Therefore, it is pretty elegant and aromatic. Its appearance is similar to whisky, being dark with an amber color.

On the other hand, the Bourbon whiskey history is well documented. Bourbon is a prime example of geography’s importance in producing distilled liquors since it must be made in the United States and it has to be made in Kentucky.

It may also be produced anywhere else within the United States, but if it does not meet the requirements for a distilling license or an aging permit, it cannot be called a bourbon by law.

It must be made from at least 51% corn mash (a grain used to make alcohol). It has to be aged in a new oak barrel for a minimum of two years, although most are aged well over that. As the label suggests, it must be bottled at at least 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume) but can have no more than 80% alcohol by volume.

Vintage labeled bourbons usually contain aged spirits between 8-15 years old. Its flavor is smooth yet warm and aromatic with hints of vanilla and caramel and takes its name from its county of origin.

The invention of Bourbon is often attributed to Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister and distiller credited with many Kentucky firsts. He is said to have been the first to age the product in charred oak casks, a process that gives Bourbon its brownish color and distinctive taste. It is vital to notice that the barrels are not used again after being filled.

Bourbon County was full of distilleries and liquors, having it as its main product. Unfortunately, the prohibition era, which started in 1919, devastated the bourbon industry. Most distilleries were forced to close, although a few were granted permits to bottle existing stocks of medicinal Whiskey. But it wasn’t until late 2014—nearly 100 years later—that another distillery opened in Bourbon County.

  • It’s a variation of Brandy produced in the Cognac region in France;
  • It’s made from distilled grapes;
  • It has 35-60% of alcohol by volume;
  • It has 6 quality grades which are decided by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, a French institution;
  • It has to be aged on oak barrels for at least four years;
  • It has an amber-colored appearance, and it is slightly sweet;
  • It is a variation of Whiskey;
  • It can be produced anywhere in the United States, but it is famous for being made in Kentucky, specifically in the Bourbon County;
  • It’s made from distilled corn;
  • It has 40-80% of alcohol by volume;
  • It needs to be aged on an oak barrel for at least two years;
  • It has an amber-colored appearance as well, and it tastes a bit like vanilla;

Is Bourbon The Same As Cognac?

No, it is not. Although both liquors have similar productions process, since they are both made from distilled ingredients, they are pretty different. Bourbon is made from distilled corn, while Cognac is made from distilled grapes. Their appearance is similar, but the taste is quite different, even though they both have hints of vanilla.

Which One Is Better: Cognac Or Bourbon Whiskey?

It depends on which liquor you like the most. Both Bourbon and Cognac are excellent liquors, made with very high standards. They are a bit similar since they both age on oak barrels. However, Bourbon is much more alcoholic than Cognac; therefore, it has a higher taste of alcohol. That may keep some people away from it, while it is a factor that brings alcohol-lovers to it.

Both liquors taste a bit sweet and have a very similar appearance. To know which one is best, you should try both correctly and then decide which one fits your preferred taste the most. However, chances are that if you like one, you’ll probably like the another one as well.

Also check: Rum vs Vodka: What’s the Difference?

Is Cognac A Whiskey Or Bourbon?

Neither. Cognac is a variation of Brandy, so it is its very own liquor. However, Cognac is, indeed, similar to Bourbon Whiskey. Yes, Bourbon is a variation of Whiskey, so it is often called “Bourbon Whiskey”. That doesn’t happen with Cognac, though.

Anyway, their production methods are pretty similar. Both liquors go through distillation – Cognac is made from distilled grapes from the Cognac region while Bourbon is made from distilled corn – and they age in the same barrel, the oak barrel. Yet, the minimum age for Bourbon is two years, while the minimum age for Cognac is four years.

Cognac is sweeter than Bourbon and a bit lighter as well. Overall, their appearance is very similar, but a specialist can distinguish the difference between them. Their flavor has a hint of vanilla, but Bourbon is known for being a bit stronger since it usually has more alcohol.

A Bourbon Whiskey has 40-80% alcohol by volume whereas Cognac has 35-60% alcohol by volume. Either way, a person that likes Bourbon Whiskey probably will enjoy drinking Cognac and vice-versa.

Do Bourbons Like Cognac?

Yes, they do! People who love Bourbon Whiskey will probably enjoy Cognac as well, although they may feel that it is a lighter liquor since it has less alcohol and is a bit sweeter. Usually, the problem is to convince people that love Cognac to drink Bourbon.

If you have a friend who loves Cognac profoundly but wants them to drink Bourbon with you, try a smoother approach. Get a lighter Bourbon for them.

There are some brands that are known for their beginner-friendly Bourbon, such as Maker’s 46, Belle Meade Cognac Finish Bourbon, A.D Laws Four Grain Bourbon Cognac Cask Finish, and Taconic Dutchess Private Reserve Cognac Cask Bourbon.

As you may see from their name, these Bourbons are often produced with the intention of approaching Cognac drinkers. However, some are limited-edition, so they may be a bit hard to get. Yet, they are worth the effort.

Chad Smith

Meet Chad Smith, a seasoned bartender with a passion for mixology. He's the founder of Tin Roof Drink Community, a blog where he shares expert tips, creative recipes, and fosters a vibrant community of cocktail enthusiasts and aspiring bartenders. Join Chad as he takes you on a flavorful journey through the world of drinks. Cheers!

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