Updated at: 02-08-2023 - By: John Lau

Choosing the perfect tipple between brandy and bourbon can be a real challenge, one that many liquor lovers often grapple with.

Did you know that while both drinks are distilled, brandy is made from fruit and bourbon from corn?

This article will guide you through their unique characteristics – how they’re made, their flavorsbest ways to enjoy them, and more.

Ready for a deep dive into the world of fine spirits? Let’s get started.

Key Differences Between Bourbon and Brandy

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Ingredients and production methods

The primary distinction between bourbon and brandy lies in their ingredients and production methods.

Bourbon is a uniquely American product, made from at least 51% corn mash that’s aged in charred white oak barrels.

This lends it distinct flavors of caramel, vanilla, and oak. Distillers use new barrels for each batch of bourbon to maintain its strict flavor profile stipulated by law.

On the other hand, brandy takes a different path altogether – creatives make it using wine or fermented fruit mash.

Brandy makers distill these fruity concoctions until they attain concentrated liquid happiness with slightly sweet notes of apples, pears, or grapes blended perfectly with a robust kick of alcohol heat.

The aging process also separates the two spirits: while bourbon gets its distinctive character from new oak barrels, brandies often age gracefully in previously used containers which imparts subtle complexities over time depending on what those barrels housed before.

Flavor profiles

Bourbon and brandy have distinct flavor profiles that set them apart from each other. Bourbon is known for its rich, sweet, and full-bodied taste.

It has notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak due to the use of charred white oak barrels during the aging process.

The high corn content in bourbon gives it a smooth and mellow flavor.

On the other hand, brandy offers a different experience with its fruity and slightly sweet notes.

The flavor profile of brandy depends on the type of fruit used in production, such as grapes for cognac or apples for apple brandy.

Brandy also develops hints of oak through barrel aging but tends to showcase more pronounced fruit flavors like plum, apricot, or cherry.

Color and strength

Bourbon and brandy can be easily distinguished by their color and strength. Bourbon typically has a rich amber hue, ranging from light golden to deep honey.

The color comes from the aging process in charred white oak barrels, which imparts flavors of vanilla and caramel.

On the other hand, brandy tends to have a warm, golden-brown color that reflects its fruit origins. This variation in color is due to the different ingredients used during production.

When it comes to strength, bourbon usually has a higher alcohol content than brandy. Bourbon must have a minimum alcohol content of 40% by volume (80 proof), although many variations are stronger.

In contrast, brandies often range between 35% to 60% ABV (70-120 proof).

The higher alcohol content of bourbon contributes to its robust flavor profile and adds an extra kick when sipped neat or used in cocktails.

How to Drink Bourbon and Brandy

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Recommended serving methods

  • Enjoy bourbon neat, in a glass without any additional ingredients.
  • Try brandy neat as well, allowing the fruit flavors to shine on their own.
  • Create classic cocktails with bourbon such as the Old Fashioned or the Mint Julep.
  • Mix brandy into popular cocktails like the Sidecar or the Brandy Alexander.
  • Serve bourbon on the rocks for a slightly chilled experience.
  • Sip brandy neat in a snifter glass to fully appreciate its aromas and flavors.
  • Experiment with bourbon – based mixed drinks like the Boulevardier or the Whiskey Sour.
  • Use brandy as a base spirit for warming winter cocktails like the Hot Toddy or mulled wine.
  • Pair bourbon with rich, flavorful foods like grilled meats, barbecue, or chocolate desserts.
  • Match brandy with cheese plates, dried fruits, or decadent desserts like crème brûlée.

Popular cocktails for each spirit

  1. Old Fashioned: A classic bourbon cocktail that combines the smoothness of bourbon with a hint of sweetness from sugar and bitters. Garnish with an orange twist or a cherry for added flair.
  2. Manhattan: Made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, the Manhattan is a sophisticated choice for bourbon lovers. Serve it straight up in a chilled glass for an elegant experience.
  3. Mint Julep: This refreshing bourbon cocktail is popular during the Kentucky Derby. Mix bourbon with simple syrup and muddled mint leaves, then serve over crushed ice for a cool and invigorating taste.
  4. Sidecar: Brandy takes center stage in this timeless cocktail. Combine brandy, lemon juice, and triple sec for a tangy yet velvety drink that’s perfect for sipping on a cozy evening.
  5. Brandy Alexander: Rich and creamy, the Brandy Alexander is made by mixing brandy, cream, and creme de cacao liqueur. Top it off with grated nutmeg for a touch of warmth and aroma.
  6. Champagne Cocktail: Add a touch of sophistication to your evening with this sparkling cocktail featuring brandy and champagne. Simply mix brandy with sugar cubes and bitters, then top it off with bubbly champagne for an effervescent delight.
  7. Sazerac: A New Orleans specialty, the Sazerac is made with rye whiskey (which can be substituted with bourbon), absinthe or Herbsaint, sugar cubes, and Peychaud’s bitters. It boasts complex flavors that will leave you wanting more.
  8. Hot Toddy: Perfect for chilly nights or when you’re feeling under the weather, the hot toddy combines bourbon or brandy with hot water, honey or sugar, lemon juice, and spices like cinnamon or cloves for a soothing experience.

Popularity and Global Market

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Global consumption trends

The global consumption trends of bourbon and brandy provide valuable insight into their popularity and standing in the alcohol market.

Global Consumption Bourbon Brandy
Key Markets The United States leads in bourbon consumption, with significant markets also in the United Kingdom and Australia. Brandy enjoys popularity globally, with major markets in South Africa, the United Kingdom, and parts of Asia, particularly the Philippines.
Consumption Trends Bourbon, being a type of whiskey, follows similar consumption trends. There’s been a rising trend in recent years, particularly in the premium whiskey market. Brandy consumption varies by region, with Western markets showing a steady decline, but with continued strong demand in South Africa and rising consumption in Asia.
Product Characteristics Bourbon’s sweet character due to the use of corn is particularly appealing to the American palate, contributing to its popularity. Brandy, made from fermented fruits, offers a diverse flavor profile that suits consumers with a taste for sweeter spirits.


In conclusion, when it comes to bourbon vs brandy, each spirit offers its own unique flavors and characteristics.

Bourbon brings a rich and sweet taste with hints of oak, while brandy offers fruity and slightly sweet notes.

Whether you prefer the classic American whiskey or the refined elegance of distilled wine, both choices provide an enjoyable drinking experience.

So raise your glass and savor the distinct pleasures that bourbon and brandy have to offer.