Difference between Cognac and Whiskey

There are various kinds of spirits available on the market, and choosing the appropriate one for an occasion can be troublesome. Cognac and whiskey are among the most popular, but what exactly are their differences? Seems like they both have alcohol content ranging from 40% to 60%, right? That may be true, but there are a few other notable differences you should be aware of.



Cognac vs Whiskey
2 year old (VS) cognac

Produced in the wine-region just outside the town of Cognac (and yes, it is where its name comes from), Cognac (kon-yak) is among the most renowned variety of brandies (a spirit produced by distilling wine) across the winemaking world. This is because of the certain legal requirements for a brandy to bear the name Cognac. Also, there are only six authorized zones in the area of Cognac to produce this brandy, namely Bon Bois, Fins Bois, Petite Champagne, Grande Champagne, Borderies, and Bois Ordinaire. Aside from these authorized regions, a Cognac must also be made from 90% of a certain type of grapes, namely Ugni blanc, Folle blanche, and Colombard. But that’s not all, the other 10% should again be of a certain type of grapes, and these are Folignan, Jurancon blanc, Meslier St-Francois, Select, Montils or Semillon. Lastly, a cognac should have alcohol volume at 40%.

Cognac was first discovered in the 16th century and fascinatingly, entirely by accident. It was when Dutch settlers were purchasing wood, salt, and wine in the French region, and found it difficult to preserve the wine. This led to re-distillation of the wine into eau—de-vie (brandy that is produced by fermentation and double distillation) and eventually it was realized that it made the wine finer and more elegant, or in other words, better.


12-year old whiskey

Originating in Scotland, the first whiskey or whisky (ˈhwɪski) production is said to be first mentioned in an entry in the Exchequer Rolls (management and collection of taxation and other government revenues) in 1494. It is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage, and unlike cognac, it is generally made from fermented grain mash. To produce different varieties, a number of grains are used including corn, barley, wheat and rye. Whiskey is typically aged in wooden casks (a hollow cylindrical container), and is strictly regulated worldwide. A whiskey is said to have around 40% to 70% alcohol volume, but is usually found at 40%, 43% and 46%.

Cognac vs Whiskey

What’s the difference between a cognac and whiskey? Aside from its slight difference in alcohol content (generally speaking of course), there are differences that one should know between these two spirits.

A cognac is made from fermenting grapes; a whiskey on the other hand, is made from fermenting grains. While it may seem to be of no importance to some, it is to others, especially those with allergies. One other difference would be their distillation. While whiskey undergoes distillation once, cognac goes through it twice. In terms of their ages, a cognac has a minimum age of 2 years, and could reach 20 or more years. Whiskey on the other hand has a minimum age of at least 3 years, and could reach 15 or more years. Finally, while whiskey can be produced internationally, a cognac can only be produced in a town called Cognac in France.

Cognac age labels: VS – Very Special (2 years), VSOP – Very Special Old Pale (4+ years), and XO – Extra Old (6+ years).

Whiskey age labels: 5-years, 10-years, 12-years, and 15-years old.

Note: Each one’s age totals to the amount of time spent in the barrel, not in a bottle.

Comparison Chart

Cognac Whiskey
Fermented grapes Fermented grains
Distilled twice Distilled once
Exclusively made in France Made internationally
Minimum of 2 years Minimum of 3 years