All Cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is Cognac. Before you sip either of these spirits, you should learn that simple phrase. Brandy, in the simplest terms, is the all-encompassing term used to describe a spirit distilled from grapes (and some other ingredients, including apples).
Cognac is technically a brandy, though. It’s just a name for brandy that’s distilled two times in copper pot stills, aged at least two years in French oak barrels, and made in the Cognac region of France (among other rules and regulations). That last rule is the most important. Cognac is a uniquely French product. It’s as ingrained in the country’s drinking culture as bourbon is to the US (maybe even more). Brandy, on the other hand, can be made anywhere in the world, including the U.S.
Just like bourbon, Cognac has a handful of well-known brands that garner more attention than the others. These include Rémy Martin, Hennessy, Courvoisier, and Martell. But just like in the American whiskey landscape, there are a lot more houses than just the household names. There are over 300 different Cocgnac producers, making VS (very special), VSOP (very special old pale), XO (extra old), and other mature Cognacs.
The complexities of brandy
It might seem like Cognac is extremely complicated, but it’s simply one form of brandy. Brandy itself is much more complex. As we mentioned above, brandy is simply a fermented spirit usually made from grapes. But it can also be made using apples, peaches, cherries, pears, and other fruits. There are no strict rules about where and how it can be produced. That’s why you’ll find brandies produced all over the world.
While you could spend hours perusing the aisles at your local liquor store or scrolling through online retailers, reading reviews, we’d rather help push you along on your spirited journey. That’s why we decided to list the best brandies and Cognacs below.
1. Hine Homage Cognac
Literally an homage to its founder, Thomas Hine, an Englishman who launched the brand back in 1763, this is not a Cognac for a beginner. Unless you don’t mind spending a hefty amount of money (around $150) for one bottle, that is. It’s a blend of over twenty Cognacs from Hine’s cellars that are all aged for at least 10 years and made from Grande Champagne grapes. It’s known for its bold, rich flavor profile of sweet chocolate, caramel, and vanilla, with some light fruit notes.