Cognac & Brandy: A Brief History
Could there be a better way to greet holiday drop-ins than with a warming snifter of brandy or cognac and a fine cigar? Probably not, but what’s the difference between them? Obviously you smoke the cigar and drink the other two but let’s look at the differences between brandy and cognac and I’ll leave the cigar talk to others for now.
A brief history – wine was becoming the backbone of France’s economy during the 1500’s and their market was expanding well beyond their ability to safely and economically ship their goods. The wine was having trouble surviving the lengthy voyages and the rough handling during shipment.
The merchants of the French Cognac region who provided wine to the Netherlands worked with Dutch shippers to develop a distilled wine. The thinking was that the distilled wine could be reconstituted with water once it reached its destination thus being shipped cheaper and safer than before. The irony in this was that the Dutch rather preferred the stuff in its distilled form. They tagged it “brandewijn” which translates to “burnt wine”, referring to the distillation process. Hence Brandy.
While all cognacs are considered brandy, not all brandies are cognac. Cognac comes from the Cognac region of France only and must meet very certain metrics in its production. Brandy comes from, well, anyplace else and lacks the rigid controls placed on cognac production.
Cognac and brandy – the alphabet soup decoded:
V – Very
S – Special (or Superior)
O – Old
P – Pale
X – Extra
VS & VSP – Minimum required aging – 2 years
VSOP – Minimum required aging – 4 years
XO – “Luxury Cognac”, minimum required aging – 6 years
The aging times above refer to “in barrel” times, not bottle time. Bottle time has little influence on cognac or brandy respectively.
Typically, the longer the spirit has aged in the oak barrel, the smoother it becomes.
So treat yourself and your guests to a snifter of holiday cheer and relax. The shopping’s almost done.