Difference between Cognac and Bourbon
By Theydiffer - July 3, 2016

Not only is knowing your liqueurs a matter of sophistication, but it is also useful in social events. Just think how impressed your beer drinking friends will be when you mention that you are rather inclined to have a glass of bourbon instead of wine, or that you prefer cognac to beer. But before you get there, take a look at what cognac and bourbon are and what the difference between them is.

Definitions

A glass of bourbon

Bourbon is an American alcoholic beverage, a type of whiskey, made of at least 51% corn and distilled in charred oak barrels. The name comes from the French Bourbon dynasty. Although it is a North American beverage made throughout the country, it is most at home in the South, more specifically, in Kentucky. Bourbon is supposed to be a sweet tasting beverage, with some smokiness due to the charred oak barrels. It is the oak that gives it its reddish color as well.

Although legal requirements may vary from state to state regarding the production of whiskey, US regulations still limit the use of the name bourbon to beverages made in the US alone. Among the requirements there are also the ones related to the alcohol concentration of 160 proof (80% per volume) of distilled beverage and 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume) when put into bottles for aging. The final beverage has an alcohol volume of 40%.

There is no minimum amount of time for a bourbon to be considered aged and to be sold as bourbon. Even three months can be considered enough by some producers. Only straight bourbon has an aging requirement of two years. Labels reading “blended” mean that coloring and additives were added to the beverage.

Cognac vs Bourbon

So what is the difference between cognac and bourbon?

Both cognac and bourbon are beverages with a protected name origin and both have French names. However, though cognac can mainly be made in the region with the same name, bourbon is bourbon as long as it is made in the US. Cognac is a variety of brandy, whereas bourbon is a variety of whiskey. Cognac is made from grapes whereas bourbon is made from corn and other cereals. Aging is done in oak barrels in both cases, although the casks of bourbon are charred to give it a more smoked flavor.

As far as aging goes, cognac has strict limitations of periods of time and name and quality classifications generating from them. For a whiskey to be bourbon, it can be aged for as little as three months. Also, bourbon can have additives and colors added to the blend, whereas cognac does not.

Comparison Chart

CognacBourbon
Is a brownish beverage with 40% alcoholIs a reddish beverage with 40% alcohol
Is a product with a name of controlled origin: can only be made in the area of the French town of CognacIs a product with a name of controlled origin: can only be made in the USA
Is a type of brandyIs a type of whiskey
Is made from grapesIs mainly made from corn
Is double distilled and aged for at least three yearsIs distilled once and can be aged as little as three months
Taste variations can come from aging for more than ten years and from changing the barrels every yearTaste variations can come from added sugar and other additives