Brandy vs. Whiskey

by Stacy Zogheib

Brandy and whiskey are two of the most famous spirits in the world. Brandy, which means "burnt wine," is made from grape liquor. If you have had cognac or armagnac, then you have sampled this French spirit. Single-malt scotch is one of many varieties of whiskey. Although it originated in Scotland, whiskey is now produced all over the world. It is made from malted barley and aged in oak barrels. Brandy and whiskey have distinct tastes; you can order them in bars almost anywhere to see which you prefer.

Starting Ingredient

One of the most significant distinctions between brandy and whiskey is the grain used during the fermentation process. All alcohols use a grain, fruit or other starch as a base. Brandy is made from fermented wine. Whiskey, on the other hand, is made from fermented grains. Traditionally, most whiskies are made from barley. Because the starting ingredients for brandy and whiskey are different, the end products each have a distinct flavor and taste.

Labeling

Reading the labels for whiskey and brandy can be confusing at first. Whiskey has the number of years it was aged printed on the label. Some common ages for whiskey are three, five 10, 12, 15 or 18 years. Older whiskies are available though they are rare and often expensive. Brandies have ratings like VS, VSOP, and XO. VS stands for very special and is aged in casks for at least two years. VSOP stands for very special old pale and means that the youngest brandy is aged at least four years but that the average age of the brandies is much older. XO means extra old and is aged between six and 20 years in a cask.

Production

Making whiskey starts by malting barley. This is a process of combining barley with water and allowing this mash to convert into the sugars used in the fermentation process. Then the mixture is combined with water and yeast and distilled twice. Depending on the exact type of whiskey, it can be aged in several ways. Whiskey is most commonly aged in oak barrels. Brandy starts with a grape mash rather than with malted barley. It is distilled by cooking the wine and then allowed to age in wooden casks.

Famous Varieties

The most famous brandy in the world is cognac. Like many French spirits and wines, cognac is named for the region where it is produced. This region is on the west-central Atlantic coast of France. Armagnac is an older variety of brandy also commonly found in France. Brandies are usually blends of different types of grapes or wines. The most common form of whiskey is scotch. Single-malt scotch means that it is made with a single type of grain from one specific region.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

About the Author

Stacy Zogheib's writing has been published in various online publications. She is a teacher and developmental specialist with experience teaching first grade, special education and working with children ages 0 to 3. She has a Bachelor of Arts in elementary and special education from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio and a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education from Northern Arizona University.