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School me on Brandy vs Cognac

Cognac is brandy. It's simply Brandy made in the Cognac region.

Like Champagne is just sparkling wine from the Champagne region.

Or Scotch is just a type of Whisky, but can't be called Scotch unless it's from Scotland.

As for consuming brandy, a snifter is traditional, but there are plenty of mixed drinks that use brandy, like a Sidecar.
 
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The Knize

Moderator Emeritus
Cognac is brandy. It's simply Brandy made in the Cognac region.
Sort of. To be called Cognac, it must be made in the Cognac region, but must also meet other requirements imposed by French appellation authority. Off the top of my head, only certain kinds of grapes can be used, and the proportions of the various grapes are limited, too. (In this sense, all brandy is distilled from fermented grape juice. We are not talking about fruit brandies.) As I recall, it must be distilled twice in copper pot/alembric stills. It must be aged on wood for at least four years.

<Or Scotch is just a type of Whisky, but can't be called Scotch unless it's from Scotland.>

Scorch has to meet a bunch of other criteria, too, such as the what is it distilled from. But all of the answer is essentially correct. Cognac is a type of brandy--a subset of brandy. Scotch is is a subset of whisky/whiskey.
 
Well of course I consulted Wikipedia on Cognac and Brandy for the technical differences, so what I'm actually asking for is more of the subjective differences, use etc.
 
Well, sure. But in the end, Cognac is Brandy. Rules for appellation, distillation, etc. are just variations on the theme.

Like German beer used to be formally subject to ingredient rules and rules for brewing, etc. etc.

But saying that "German beer is beer" is accurate. It's not a separate beverage. There's just a load of variation.
 
Well of course I consulted Wikipedia on Cognac and Brandy for the technical differences, so what I'm actually asking for is more of the subjective differences, use etc.
That's a different topic altogether and HIGHLY subjective. As far as usage, Brandy and Cognac are interchangeable. But there are a million different subtle variations. Just as there are infinite kinds of beer.

Perhaps better questions would be "What's your favorite Brandy?" or "How do you like to drink Brandy?"
 

The Knize

Moderator Emeritus
so what I'm actually asking for is more of the subjective differences
To me, the hallmark of Cognac compared to other brandies is the smoothness and elegance of Cognac. Even as compared to Armagnac, its close French relative, Cognac is smooth. Some would say it is feminine versus Armagnac's masculinity. To me Cognac is always very dry. Some brandies such as Metaxa definitely have some residual sweetness.

Most brandies to me are not very useful except as mixers. This includes some nice American brandies such as Copper and Kings. Sidecars for instance. But because of the strict quality standards imposed on Cognac and Armagnac, virtually any of it is going to be sippable. I would say sippable at room temp or slightly cooled, but with no ice. A brandy snifter is optional. I would likely use Cognac in a sidecar or a champagne cocktail, because I would want to the higher quality. Cognac comes is various qualities--VSOP, XO, etc. I think Kirkland's XO is a deal and would use that, but for most brands anything about VSOP is going to be pretty expensive for mixing.

Even lesser brandy is pretty good straight up while smoking a cigar.

Something interesting I read somewhere that I have always wanted to test, is that if one slips a glass of cognac into a blind Scotch tasting, the Cognac will always win.
 
I would say that quality is all that matters. The name just helps to identify it.

A microcosmic example of that is Johnny Walker. The black and red are, IMO, only good for mixing. The Green is sippable, the gold more so, the blue is smoooooooth. (Boring, but smooth.) You'd be a fool to mix the blue irrespective of cost.

Yet they are all Scotch and all the same brand. But a wide range of quality.

But there are such things as cheap rail Scotch and cheap rail Brandy. I have never seen rail Cognac. There's nothing inherently special about Cognac, but I do agree that it is at least an indicator of quality. The average Cognac will be better than the average Brandy.

I'm totally arguing semantics here. I should probably stop, lol.
 
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Doc4

Moderator Emeritus
Something interesting I read somewhere that I have always wanted to test, is that if one slips a glass of cognac into a blind Scotch tasting, the Cognac will always win.
And vice versa. Methinks it has to do with the novelty making it stand out rather than quality differences.
 

TexLaw

Contributor
And vice versa. Methinks it has to do with the novelty making it stand out rather than quality differences.
I completely agree with that, and I've witnessed it in a number of different tasting situations (whisk(e)y, beer, chocolate, wine). Unless it's just totally contrary to the tasters' tastes, the "odd man out" always garners positive comments, even if the tasters recognize that it's not appropriate to the theme of the tasting.

Sometimes, it's just been an accident, such as someone getting their bottles mixed up when entering a homebrew competition. Other times, it's done by design as a tool to illustrate how expectations shape perception. I'm guilty of doing the latter, myself.
 

The Knize

Moderator Emeritus
And vice versa. Methinks it has to do with the novelty making it stand out rather than quality differences.
You may be right. Have you actually heard of someone undertaking either scenario? These seem like very different beverages to me. I do not think of Cognac as having any smokey notes. But we establihed earlier that I do not seem to know what smokey notes are.
 

Doc4

Moderator Emeritus
I completely agree with that, and I've witnessed it in a number of different tasting situations (whisk(e)y, beer, chocolate, wine). Unless it's just totally contrary to the tasters' tastes, the "odd man out" always garners positive comments, even if the tasters recognize that it's not appropriate to the theme of the tasting.

Sometimes, it's just been an accident, such as someone getting their bottles mixed up when entering a homebrew competition. Other times, it's done by design as a tool to illustrate how expectations shape perception. I'm guilty of doing the latter, myself.
You may be right. Have you actually heard of someone undertaking either scenario? These seem like very different beverages to me. I do not think of Cognac as having any smokey notes. But we establihed earlier that I do not seem to know what smokey notes are.
I haven't heard of it specifically.

I think it would work if you did a blind tasting and said "here's a bunch of X" but didn't say "... and I stuck in one Y as well."

I've also heard that, blindfolded, most people can't distinguish red wine from white.
 
Subjective differences are just that. Subjective. Different for everyone. If you're looking for a nice Cognac I highly recommend Hine Rare VSOP. Really nice and smooth.

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TexLaw

Contributor
I think it would work if you did a blind tasting and said "here's a bunch of X" but didn't say "... and I stuck in one Y as well."
That's exactly what I did while teaching a beer evaluation class, and I've seen it done in other contexts. Folks learn to concentrate on what they actually perceive and to evaluate without expectation. The idea is to teach someone that, when given something and told it's an X, they need to first determine whether it actually is an X. Many don't do that. They go straight to asking themselves whether it's a good X or even just if they like this particular X. It's a bit cheeky, but it's effective, and nearly everyone takes the lesson as intended.

Relevant to this tangent, at least one student would point out the Y as their favorite X. As you expected, others would find it so very interesting because it was different. Rarely did someone go out on a limb and say "this isn't an X," and I can recall only a few times when someone would say "this is a Y" (and that only came from someone who already was an experienced evaluator).

On that note, the same trick also was good for teaching folks to evaluate honestly and with some degree of confidence in one's abilities and perception. Many hesitate to question the statement that "this is an X," even if they think there's something wrong about it. The students learn to say what they are picking up and what they think about it because they just might be right. There were so many times someone would say "I thought there was something funny about this so-called X!" I'd just tell them that they needed to speak up next time. If nothing else, they stimulate and contribute to the discussion. But all that is another tangent in this off-topic.
 
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