Ah, brandy: that centuries-old fruit-based spirit that's spent the last few decades celebrated by grandparents and ignored by their successors. That is, until the cocktail world re-embraced Cognac as a trendy thing to drink now.
Cognac, a brandy hailing from its eponymous region in southwestern France, is an integral ingredient in classic cocktails like the Sazerac, sidecar, Vieux Carré and the original French 75, and, furthermore, is arguably the poster child for the brandy category as a whole. Its lesser-known counterpart, Armagnac, lurks in Cognac's shadow, though both are worth your attention now more than ever.
So what's the difference between Armagnac and Cognac? First, let's start with the obvious: While both are French brandies made from white wine grapes, the two respective geographic regions (each with its own set of appellation regulations) are the primary distinction.
Now that we've established that, let's explore the other key factors differentiating the brandies.
Armagnac predates Cognac by several centuries; in fact, it's said to be France's first brandy.
Armagnac must be distilled only once, yielding a lower alcohol content than the double-distilled Cognac.
Cognac must be aged for a minimum of two years to be considered Cognac. The Armagnac region does not technically impose a minimum-aging law, but the brandy needs to be aged for at least one year to be labeled "VS" (Very Special) the first level of quality.
According to Hervé Bache-Gabrielsen, president of the Bache-Gabrielsen Cognac house, Armagnacs tend to have strong, rustic, generous and robust flavors, while Cognacs express themselves with more delicacy and refinement, with exceptionally long-lasting floral notes. "If I had to compare the two with sports, I'd say that Armagnac leans more toward a rugby player—frontal power with short and decisive moves—and Cognac like a golfer—finesse, precision, length and time," Bache-Gabrielsen explains. "Both are delicious; it's just a matter of personal taste."
So there you have it. Armagnac and Cognac are differentiated by their respective French regions; nuances can be found in the different sets of production laws. Of course, the only way to determine which you like better is to try them both—and that's definitely the sort of taste test we can get behind.
Céline Bossart is a freelance spirits and travel writer with an affinity for 50/50 gin martinis and Kate Moss anecdotes. Follow her on Instagram at @celineb0ss.