What is the difference between cognac and whiskey?

In this article, we are going to answer the question,”What is the difference between cognac and whiskey?,” and discuss what cognac and whiskey are, and how cognac and whiskey are made.

What is the difference between cognac and whiskey?

The difference between cognac and whisky is that cognac is produced from grapes and whiskey is produced from grains. 

The process of production of whiskey starts with sprouting barley, also known as malting. After malting, the sugars are extracted by mashing, and then fermentation, distillation and ageing in oak barrels. The process of cognac begins with wine production and is then distilled, aged and barreled.

Cognac has more of a fruittary taste along with hints of floral qualities, citrus and spice. Whiskey has more of a toffee, malt or vanilla taste with hints of herbs, honey or nuts. Cognac is reddish or yellowish in colour whereas whiskey is a bit more amber and brown in colour.

What is cognac?

Cognac is a type of brandy which is made by the distillation of wine. The distillation has to be done twice with the use of copper pot stills and must be aged in barrels of french oak for at least 2 years. 

The season of distillation cannot begin until after the grapes are harvested and the production of wines. The months of distillation start closer to or at the start of november.

How is cognac made?

The alcohol contained in grape wines is extracted by the process of distillation involving the heating up of wine to about 78.3 degrees celsius, equal to the boiling point of ethanol. It is separated from water having a boiling point of 100 degrees celsius.

The vapours of alcohol will thus evaporate first and are then cooled down when they are made to pass through the condenser to turn to liquid state. This process is repeated twice to produce Cognac.

The process of distillation is complete when most of the alcohol has been extracted from the distilled wine, and only wine residues, or vinasses are left behind. 

Not all the spirits acquired through the process of distillation can make it to the final product and some portions have to be separated by the distiller to either be discarded or distilled again. 

The heads also known as the first litres of alcohol acquired at the initial stage and tails or the last litres of alcohol acquired at the final stage of the process of distillation are cut from the heart of the spirit also known as the final product. 

The spirits have to be aged for at least two years in french oak barrels to be converted to cognac. 

During the ageing process, the spirits change because of the evaporation which concentrates and reduces the amount of spirit in the barrel overtime. The exposure of the spirit to the barrel wood and air, gives cognac its distinct colour.

What is whiskey?

Whiskey is a distilled spirit produced from the fermentation of grain, most often rye, wheat, corn and barley. They have at least 40% alcohol by volume. The different types of whiskey are based upon the origin, the type of grain used, the process of blending, or the process of ageing. 

How is whiskey made?

The grains (malt, barley, rye, maize) are mixed with water and yeast. The mixture is then heated and stirred making a whiskey mash to combine the ingredients well. 

The base mixture is stored for a particular period of time, approximately 1-2 weeks, to allow it to be fully fermented. During the process, the compounds are broken down to obtain alcohol, also called ethanol or ethyl alcohol. 

After the process of complete fermentation, the liquid is strained off from fermented solid. The solids are discarded and the liquid is used to produce vodka. The liquid is further purified by subjecting it to heat and vaporising it, condensing it and collecting that liquid. This distilled liquid is more alcoholic in a purer form.

When the ethanol is distilled, the composition of the resulting liquid changes into whiskey, The whiskey is then aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of two years, and is then added to bottles which stops the process of ageing.


In this article, we answered the question,”What is the difference between cognac and whiskey?,” and discussed what cognac and whiskey are, and how cognac and whiskey are made.



Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.