Believe it or not, cognac is actually a variety of brandy. I know as many of you, I too walked into a liquor store and wondered what is the difference between brandy and cognac. To my surprise cognac is named after the town of Cognac in France. It lies south of Paris and north of the Bordeaux area.
In order to call a product cognac it must first go through strict guidelines before it hits the shelf in your local area. Cognac should contain no additives or coloring and should be aged in oak casks. It should be aged no less than two years before hitting the markets and should only be aged in a storage facility registered with the BNIC.
The BNIC is a way to guarantee the age and origin of the cognac. Even the distillers and their dimensions are under strict guidelines. Copper pot distills are the preference for making great cognacs.
Cognac is produced by double distilling white wines which weren't suitable to drink but great for distilling and was created at first to use up the waste materials from wine making and actually considered a poor mans drink. Discovered around the 12th century, the spirit was found to mature in wooden casks.
Cognac producing regions should not be confused with the wine making regions of Champagne.
There are many different grades of cognac like XO,VSOP, and VS.
XO also known as Antique or Cordon Bleu Centeur stands for extra old and is stored in a cask for at least six years but many carry an age of 20 years and up.
VS or Very Special is stored for three to five years. The youngest of the cognacs.
VSOP , short for Very special old pale, is stored in casks for four to five years and up. The casks are usually made from oak trees that are anywhere from sixty to one hundred years old which add distinctive flavors and coloring to the cognac. Now the longer the cognac ages in the barrel, the better the cognac. Aging stops as soon as it is bottled. The color is the key to determine the age. The lighter the color the younger the cognac while well aged cognac have a brilliant dark amber to it.
So to sum it all up Cognac is actually a high quality brandy. The word brandy actually has it's origins from the Dutch and means burnt wine or the burning or boiling of the wine in order to distill it. Unlike scotch and whiskeys made from grain and made year round, Brandy and cognac has a seasonal production.