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What is Cognac? A Simple Buying and Drinking Guide for Beginners

What is Cognac? A Simple Buying and Drinking Guide for Beginners

Embarking on a journey into the world of spirits can be both exciting and overwhelming. Our beginner’s guide is here to help you explore cognac, a rich and elegant drink with a fascinating history. 

We’ll delve into its origins and production process and provide tips for buying and enjoying this fine spirit. With this easy-to-follow guide, you’ll gain the confidence to appreciate and savor cognac like a pro, impressing friends or simply enhancing your own palate. 

So, let’s dive into the captivating world of cognac together.

What is Cognac?

Cognac is a type of brandy that originates from the Cognac region in France. It’s a luxurious and refined spirit known for its complex flavors and velvety texture. As a protected designation of origin, cognac must meet specific requirements in terms of production methods and ingredients to bear its prestigious name.

Alcohol Percentage

The alcohol content in cognac typically ranges between 40% and 60% ABV (alcohol by volume). However, most commercial cognacs found in stores have an alcohol percentage of around 40%, making them smoother and more approachable for beginners. As you explore different cognacs, you may encounter higher alcohol percentages, which often result in more intense flavors and a fuller body.

Production Process

Cognac production follows a meticulous process that contributes to its unique characteristics. The process begins with the harvesting of white grapes, primarily Ugni Blanc, which are then fermented into wine. This wine is distilled twice in traditional copper pot stills, resulting in a clear, high-proof spirit called eau-de-vie. 

The eau-de-vie is then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years, during which it develops its signature flavors, color, and smoothness. Over time, the cognac master blender combines different eaux-de-vie to create a harmonious and well-balanced final product.

What is Cognac Made From?

Cognac is made primarily from white grapes, with Ugni Blanc being the most common variety used. These grapes are grown in the delimited Cognac region in France, which is divided into six subregions, or crus, each producing grapes with distinct characteristics. 

The terroir, or the unique combination of soil, climate, and grape variety, plays a vital role in shaping the final flavor profile of the cognac. As a result, cognacs from different crus can exhibit a wide range of flavors and aromas, making the exploration of this spirit truly captivating.

Cognac Based on Ageing Classification

Cognacs are classified according to their aging process, which greatly influences their flavor, aroma, and complexity. The four main classifications of cognac are VS, VSOP, XO, and Prestige Cuvées. Each category represents a different level of maturity and refinement.

1. VS

VS, or “Very Special,” is the youngest classification of cognac. These spirits have been aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. VS cognacs typically exhibit fresh and fruity flavors, making them ideal for cocktails or casual sipping. 

Due to their relatively short aging process, they may be slightly less smooth compared to older cognacs.


VSOP stands for “Very Superior Old Pale” and represents cognacs that have been aged for at least four years in oak barrels. These spirits offer a more complex flavor profile than VS cognacs, with hints of vanilla, dried fruits, and spices. 

VSOP cognacs are smoother and more balanced, making them suitable for both sipping neat and mixing in cocktails.

3. XO

XO, or “Extra Old,” cognacs have been aged for a minimum of ten years, although many are aged much longer. This extended ageing process allows the cognac to develop deep, rich flavors and a velvety texture. XO cognacs often showcase notes of chocolate, leather, and tobacco, along with a long, lingering finish. These spirits are best enjoyed neat to fully appreciate their complexity and elegance.

4. Prestige Cuvées

Prestige Cuvées represent the pinnacle of cognac craftsmanship. These ultra-premium spirits are often aged for decades, resulting in unparalleled depth and complexity. Prestige Cuvées are typically produced in limited quantities and attract collectors and connoisseurs alike. 

They often come in beautifully designed bottles, reflecting the artistry and care that goes into their creation. To truly savor the exquisite flavors of a Prestige Cuvée, it’s best to enjoy it neat, in a relaxed setting, and with an appreciation for the time and skill behind its production.

How to Choose the Best Cognac For You

In the Philippines, there are many different brands and types of cognac available. Here are some tips on choosing the best cognac for you, along with a few popular brands available in the Philippines.

First, consider your budget. There are many different price ranges for cognacs, so make sure you know what you can afford before making a purchase. If you’re looking for something special or unique, then you may want to look into more expensive options. Some popular brands available in the Philippines include:

  • Hennessy
  • Remy Martin
  • Martell
  • Courvoisier change to Davidoff
  • Camus

Next, think about what type of flavor profile you prefer in your cognac. Do you like sweet and fruity notes? Or do you prefer something more earthy and woody? Knowing what kind of flavors you enjoy will help narrow down your choices.

Finally, consider the age of the cognac. The older a cognac is, the more complex its flavor will be. Younger cognacs tend to have lighter and fruitier flavors, while older ones have deeper and richer notes. Keep in mind the aging classifications (VS, VSOP, XO, and Prestige Cuvées) when making your selection.

How to Serve Cognac and Best Food Pairings

To fully appreciate the flavors and aromas of cognac, it is best served at room temperature in a tulip-shaped glass or a snifter. This allows the spirit to breathe, releasing its complex bouquet. You may also warm the cognac slightly by holding the glass in your hand, which can help enhance its aroma.

When it comes to food pairings, cognac is quite versatile. Here are some suggestions:

  • Chocolate: The rich flavors of dark chocolate can complement the deep, fruity notes of cognac.
  • Cheese: Aged, hard cheeses like Comté or Gouda can bring out the nutty and spicy nuances in cognac.
  • Dried fruits and nuts: Figs, apricots, and almonds can accentuate the fruity and nutty notes in cognac.
  • Foie gras: The silky texture and rich flavor of foie gras can create a harmonious pairing with an aged cognac.
  • Desserts: Fruit-based desserts such as tarts or crumbles can be a delightful match for sweeter, fruitier cognacs.


Is cognac a brandy or whiskey?

Cognac is a type of brandy. Brandy is a distilled spirit made from fermented fruit juice, typically grapes. Cognac specifically refers to brandy produced in the Cognac region of France, adhering to strict production guidelines.

Is cognac an expensive drink?

Cognac can range from relatively affordable to extremely expensive, depending on factors like age, brand, and rarity. While you can find entry-level VS cognacs at modest prices, older and more exclusive cognacs, such as XO and Prestige Cuvées, can command much higher price tags due to their extended aging process and limited availability.

Why is cognac so expensive?

Cognac’s price can be attributed to several factors, including the cost of production, aging, and the limited supply of aged eaux-de-vie. The extended aging process in oak barrels and the skill of master blenders also contribute to the expense, as well as the reputation and prestige associated with certain brands and bottlings.

Is cognac different from whiskey?

Yes, cognac is different from whiskey. While both are distilled spirits, cognac is made from fermented grape juice, whereas whiskey is made from fermented grain mash. Additionally, cognac production is limited to the Cognac region in France, while whiskey can be produced in various countries, each with its own unique production methods and flavor profiles.

What is cognac VS vs VSOP?

Cognac VS (Very Special) and VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) are classifications based on the age of the cognac. VS cognacs have been aged for a minimum of two years, resulting in lighter, fruitier flavors. VSOP cognacs have been aged for at least four years, offering a more complex flavor profile with hints of vanilla, dried fruits, and spices.

Don’t miss out on the exquisite world of cognac! Visit Thirst today and explore our carefully curated selection of premium cognacs for every taste and budget. Whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur or just beginning your journey, we’re here to help you find the perfect bottle. 

Experience the rich heritage and unparalleled craftsmanship of cognac with Thirst. Shop now and elevate your sipping experience to new heights!

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