Whats the difference between Armagnac, Brandy and Cognac ...

What Are The Differences between Brandy, Cognac and Armagnac? The answer is straightforward. 

Brandy in general means any kind of distilled spirit, made from fermented fruit juice. The fruit in question is often grapes, but there are a number of Brandies based on apples, pears and other sweet fruits.

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All cognac and Armagnac is BRANDY. But not all brandy is cognac. 

The main difference between Cognac and Armagnac is also known as the golden rule of real estate: Location, location, location.

Cognac is produced only in the town of Cognac in France. Armagnac is also produced in France, and in general, it is a lighter form of brandy.

Brandy is produced all over the world. Spanish and Italian Brandies can be as good as Cognac but as it was not produced in Cognac France it is labelled as brandy.

Brandy in general means any kind of distilled spirit, made from fermented fruit juice. The fruit in question is often grapes, but there are a number of Brandies based on apples, pears and other sweet fruits.

Most people are familiar with Cognac and more and more people are becoming aware of Armagnac. Both are French brandies, made from grapes, but they are quite different. First however what are the key similarities?

Both Cognac and Armagnac are made from the distillation of white wine from delimited geographical regions in south west France. The main grape varieties used are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche and Colombard (with some Baco in Armagnac). Both regions have chalky type soils which help produce a base wine high in acidity. Both spirits are aged in oak casks and, more often than not, are blended prior to release.

Location of Cognac and Armagnac; Cognac is from a strictly controlled geographical region in the Charente and Charente-Maritime departments of south western France.

Armagnac is from a strictly controlled region in the Gascony region in Gers, Lands and Lot-et-Garonne departments of south western France.

Environment ... 

The terroir (the sense of place of a wine or spirit) plays a huge part in the character of both spirits. Both the Cognac and Armagnac producing regions have their own unique soils, climates etc.

Cognac is divided into six sub-regions – Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaires. Grand and Petite Champagne have the chalkiest soils and produce the most elegant brandies. Bon Bois and Borderies are characterised by clay soils and produce a heavier, fuller wine and spirit, Fine Bois soils are a mixture of clay and chalk and the Cognacs from here are more medium-bodied. Some producers will label their Cognacs as coming from a particular sub region e.g. Grande Champagne, but others may blend spirit from across the different regions to produce a consistent house style. Only a wine Brandy produced in Cognac region can be called Cognac, while Armagnac must be from the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France. Both Cognac and Armagnac regions are divided further into smaller areas (Crus de Cognac) that have great influence on the characteristics of the grapes grown there (and therefore the drink).

Armagnac is divided into three crus – Bas Armagnac, Tenareze and Haut-Armagnac – all have predominantly chalky soils but with large local stones, known locally as boulbenes, which help to retain heat in the vineyard thus aiding the ripening process and they also improve drainage.

Grapes ...

Nearly all Cognac is made of the grape variety called Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano). The same type of grape is also used for Armagnac, but there are three other varieties that are equally common. All of them are white grapes.

History ...

Although the production of Armagnac started about 200 years earlier than Cognac, it never achieved the same level of fame. Very much due to the fact that its home region didn't have good river and sea connections to reach the English and Dutch merchants in the past like Cognac did. What did we say about Location, location and location!

Distillation ...

One of the principal differences between Armagnac and Cognac is in the method of production. Cognac is distilled in a basic Charentais still or pot still, a discontinuous method of distillation whereby batches of wine are distilled. Armagnac is distilled using a continuous still or single column still (although pot stills may be used, in practise they are not). The continuous method of distillation used in Armagnac is a more efficient process and ensures a richer, fruitier spirit than Cognac.

The key technical difference between Armagnac and Cognac is that Cognac is distilled twice, whereas Armagnac is distilled only once. This means more time in the oak for Armagnac; the extra patience required rewards a brandy with more finesse and roundness. Cognac must be double distilled in a copper pot still. Armagnac is distilled in alembic continuous still (alembic armagnacais) with the exception of a few producers who double distill it in the same way as Cognac.

Blending; With very few exceptions, Cognac will always be blended. While Armagnac can be blended, unblended Vintage Armagnac is also very common. In both cases, the age indicated on the label is that of the youngest drink in the blend.


Both Cognac and Armagnac vary in their ageing regimes. Cognac is aged in oak barrels with a capacity of between 350 and 400 litres which are made from Limousin, Troncais or Alliers oak. Armagnac is aged in similar oak casks with some Limousin and Alsace oak but also a local black oak from the Monlezun forest. Monlezun oak is a very tannic oak which imparts a rich colour and gives a good structural base for ageing new spirit which marries well with the richer and fruitier Armagnac.

Both Cognac and Armagnac go through various stages as the spirit ages and interacts with the oak barrels. At the beginning of ageing the spirits tend to exhibit characteristics of fresh fruit such as apricot, plum , pear and quince. With age these fresh fruit characteristics evolve into preserved fruits such as jam or fruit confit before evolving into dried fruit, think pruned, dried figs and pot pourri. As the fruit is evolving so any toffee notes develop from hard to soft toffee, to creamy, buttery and even buttersctotch type notes. The process of oxidation in the cask with age also sees nutty almond, walnut and rancio notes develop.

By type,  Cognac tends to be show lighter fruit (pear, orange) and floral notes whilst Armagnacs shows more orange, plum, quince and apricot fruit notes with vanilla, toffee notes and developing earthy and smokey characteristics. Armagnac is often described as a more rustic spirit due to its fuller, more viscous nature. Cognac tends to be lighter and more aromatic.

Due to its distillation method, Armagnac is on average aged longer than Cognac – 10 years and more.

Classification of Cognac and Armagnac; The legislation, ageing and classification of Armagnac is overseen by the BNIA, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel de l’Armagnac and Cognac by the BNIC, Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac.Although you will find single vintage Cognac and Armagnac, the principal methods of classification of Armagnac and Cognac are based on the number of years the spirit is aged in barrel.

In Cognac three star or VS must be aged for a minimum of 2 years in barrel, VSOP for 4 years and XO for a minimum of 6 years. After this you can get age statement and single vintage Cognacs.

Armagnac threes star; has to be aged for a minimum of 2 years barrel, VSOP for 5 years, XO (or Napoleon) for 6 years and Hors d’Age for a minimum of 10 years. There are also single vintage and age statement Armagnac, single vintage Armagnacs are more common than vintage Cognacs.

These are minimum ages and it is important to note that many houses, though not all, choose to age their products  for much longer. Thus, it is possible for the VSOP of one house to be older and superior to an XO from another.

To make it slightly more difficult, different types of Brandy from different parts of the world each have their own names.

And while apple-based Calvados from Normandy, Spanish Brandy, Italian Grappa and other regional varieties are

Although the production of Armagnac started about 200 years earlier than Cognac, it never achieved the same level of fame. Very much due to the fact that its home region didn't have good river and sea connections to reach the English and Dutch merchants in the past like Cognac did.

Taste profiles;Cognac is more subtle and gentle, while Armagnac is considered to be more complex and robust. It's also higher in alcohol; Cognac must be 40% ABV and Armagnac is typically between 46 to 48% ABV.

Storing Armagnac or Cognac; keep the bottle standing up, not lying on its side, since Armagnac will spoil if it comes in prolonged contact with its cork.

Serving Armagnac, Brandy or Cognac; a traditional snifter is a popular choice of stemware for the enjoyment of brandy. If you don't have dedicated tasting snifters, use a tulip-shaped champagne glass.

Enjoying Armagnac, Brandy or Cognac; appreciating the bouquet is the first critical step in the enjoyment of this most beguiling libation, but please don't go sticking your nose right in the glass and inhaling deeply. All you'll do is singe your nasal passages with powerful alcohol esters. Instead, hold the glass at chest level and let the delicate fragrances waft up. In a minute or so, your senses will be luxuriating in a cloud of vanilla, toffee, nougat, pepper, rose and chocolate. Now bring it a little closer, maybe to chin level, and you'll begin to enjoy what these drinks are all about.

What's next is a trick popular with Sommeliers, although other people think its just a waste of drink; Stick a finger in the glass and then dab the liquid on the back of your hand -- just as you would a perfume sample. Your body heat will cause the alcohol to evaporate, leaving behind only the essential aromas of the Armagnac. After about a minute, smell it up close. The Armagnac will no doubt remind you of dried fruits like apricots, prunes and figs, and you may also detect butterscotch, liquorice and flowers.