In my last article, I mentioned that a lot of people don’t know the difference between Whiskey and Brandy, so here’s a simple explanation to clear the confusion.

First of all, whiskey and brandy are both spirits that use distillation and barrel aging to increase the alcohol level, which is generally 40% or more.

The biggest difference is the main ingredient.

Whiskey’s main ingredient is grain such as malt, barley, wheat, rye and maize etc., while brandy uses grapes.

Due to the different ingredients, there is a difference in body. Brandy generally has a darker colour than whiskey and is relatively thicker. Some people feel that brandy has relatively sweeter flavour, and since those from an older generation are generally more accustomed to the taste of brandy, it is often the choice of spirit in wedding banquets.

Then, what is Cognac? Cognac is, in fact, a type of brandy and a wine-growing region in France. The situation is the same as Champagne, which is both a wine-growing region and is a type of wine.

In general, the production of Cognac has more stringent regulations, making its price several times more expensive than the ordinary brandy. Popular cognac brands in Hong Kong include Hennessy and Remy Martin etc.

Some people are also confused about the vintage marked on label – why are some spirits marked 12,18 or 21 years, while some say VSOP or XO.

Simply explained, both VSOP and XO are terms used for a specific vintage of French brandy. VSOP refers to brandy that has been barrel aged for 3 to 6 years, while XO refers to those with a barrel-aging period of more than 6 years. Other dedicated terms include VS and Extra etc., but since the barrel-aged period of VS is only about 2 years, it is not popular in Hong Kong.

As for whiskey, the barrel-aging period will be specified on the label, numbers such as 12, 18 and 21 all refer to the years of barrel aging. Generally speaking, mainstream whiskey has a longer aging period than brandy.

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