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Brandy vs Whisky | Differences and Health Benefits

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Brandy and whisky are distilled spirits aged in oak barrels. Whisky production uses barley, wheat, rye, and corn, whereas brandy uses fermented wine or fruit. Each spirit has differences in production and taste. Both offer health benefits, when consumed in moderation, such as better heart health.

This article dives into the differences between brandy and whisky, their production, and their health benefits. Toward the end, I’ll touch on which spirit people prefer to enjoy in the summer, along with a few mixer recommendations. Read on to learn more.

Are Brandy and Whisky the Same?

Glass of Whisky in Front of Two Glasses of Brandy and a Glass of Water

Brandy and whisky are not exactly the same, even though they are both distilled spirits aged in oak barrels. They’re made with different ingredients — whisky uses dark cereal grains to create a “heavier” flavor, and brandy uses fermented wine or fruit, giving it a smoother mouthfeel and subtle, sweet taste.

Some similarities between brandy and whisky include:

The similarities between the two are few, but there are many differences. Let’s take a look at the differences between brandy and whisky using the chart below:

Differences Between Brandy and Whisky
BrandyWhisky
Country of Origin: FranceCountry of Origin: Scotland and Ireland
Key Ingredients: Fermented wine, fruitKey Ingredients: Dark cereal grains
Aging Process: Aged for 3-10 yearsAging Process: Aged at least 5 years
Types: Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Brandy de Jerez, Obstler Brandy, etc.Types: Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Tennessee, Canadian, Blended, etc.
Alcohol Content: ~50% ABVAlcohol Content: ~40-68%
Flavor: Subtle, fruity, with floral notesFlavor: Heavy, smoky, with tobacco notes

In addition to their differences, brandy and whisky have their own pros and cons.

Brandy

Pros

Cons

  • High alcohol content may lead to addiction
  • Lighter, subtle flavor

Whisky

Pros

Cons

Choosing between whisky and brandy depends on personal preference. Those who prefer light, subtle flavors may lean towards brandy, whereas people into heavier, smoky notes opt for whisky. Additionally,whisky is the go-to if you prefer drinking with a meal, whereas brandy is best for an after-dinner drink.

Brandy Distillation Process

The main ingredient in brandy production is fermented wine or fruit juice. Most companies produce wine using grapes, but manufacturers sometimes use plums, apricots, apples, cherries, or pears. For example, “slivovitz” is a fruit brandy made with fermented plums. The type of fermented fruit used in the production of brandy greatly affects the flavor.

Here are the steps on how to make brandy:

  1. Producers boil wine (or the fermented fruits) at a temperature between the boiling point of water and alcohol.
  2. Vapors rise to the top of the still and condense, allowing for the collection of these vapors into specific containers.
  3. The condensed liquid is completely cooled.
  4. Manufacturers repeat the distillation process to remove additional water, leaving behind mostly alcohol.
  5. The alcohol moves into oak barrels, and producers allow it to age for at least three years (but rarely more than ten).
  6. After aging, machines pour the brandy into bottles for sale.

Nearly every nation offers its own type of brandy. In Italy, there is “grappa,” which is produced using grape skins. Japan produces “shochu” using fermented rice. French cognacs, often considered the finest brandies, are distilled from grape wine.

Rural distillery making homemade brandy
Rural distillery making homemade brandy

Whisky Distillation Process

The key ingredients in whisky are dark cereal grains, including barley, wheat, corn, and/or rye. Some whisky brands use a single grain, whereas others include a blend.

Here are the steps on how to make whisky:

  1. Whisky manufacturers soak cereal grains in warm, locally-sourced water for two to three days, resulting in what is called a “malt.”
  2. Production employees or machines spread the malt onto a flat surface where it’s regularly turned to maintain a constant temperature.
  3. Once the grains produce shoots, a kiln warms and dries the grains. Some manufacturers use kilns powered by peat, with the peat smoke influencing the end flavor.
  4. After the grains have dried, the malt is ground, mashed, and stirred with warm water.
  5. Sugars dissolve, and machines extract and cool them before boiling.
  6. Manufacturers then boil the resulting liquid, collect the condensed vapors, and repeat the process (if required) two to three times.
  7. The condensed liquid (mainly alcohol) is stored in oak barrels for aging before being packaged and shipped off for sale.

Multiple steps in the process of whisky production affect the flavor. Oils from the grains, the type of wood barrels used (i.e., white oak, charred oak, etc.), the amount of distillation processes, and even the locally-sourced water may impact the final taste. For example, Scottish whisky is double-distilled and charcoal filtered, creating a smoky, burnt flavor.

Old Wooden Barrels of Distilled Whisky

Which Is More Healthy: Whisky or Brandy?

Whisky and brandy each offer health benefits when consumed in moderation. Each spirit is similar in terms of nutritional content, offering low calories, low sugar content, and low sodium. Each contains trace vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus, thiamine, iron, and zinc.

Whisky Nutrition Facts per Shot (1.5 oz or 44mL)
Calories97
Protein0g
Fat0g
Carbohydrates0g
Fiber0g
Sodium0.4mg
Sugar0g
Vitamins/Minerals (Trace Amounts)Phosphorous, Thiamine, Zinc, Iron, Niacin
Brandy Nutrition Facts per Shot (1.5 oz or 44mL)
Calories97
Protein0g
Fat0g
Carbohydrates0g
Fiber0g
Sodium0.4mg
Sugar0g
Vitamins/Minerals (Trace Amounts)Phosphorus, Thiamine, Potassium, Riboflavin, Zinc, Iron, Niacin

Long ago, healthcare workers used both whisky and brandy as “medicinal” spirits. Doctors used brandy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a cardiac stimulant to improve blood pressure. In other cases, it was used as a depressant and prescribed as a sedative.

As early as the 16th century, records show that doctors often prescribed whisky for anti-aging effects, to relieve congestion, and help with pain. In the early 20th century, doctors often handed out whisky prescriptions for a multitude of ailments, including tuberculosis.

Health Benefits of Whisky and Brandy

The health benefits of both whisky and brandy include:

  • Both spirits contain antioxidants that may reduce LDL cholesterol.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties may relieve joint pain.
  • At low levels of consumption, whisky and brandy may reduce blood pressure.
  • Ellagic acid, found in brandy and whisky, has the potential to slow the growth of cancerous cells. 

Overall, it’s safe to say that both brandy and whisky offer health benefits when consumed in moderation. However, when consumed in excess, both may lead to addiction and adverse health effects, including hangovers, cognitive issues, memory problems, and poor liver function.

Is Brandy High in Sugar?

Brandy is not high in sugar when enjoyed neat without mixers. A single 1.5 ounce (44 mL) “shot” of brandy contains zero sugar and zero carbohydrates. Flavored brandies, however, may contain a higher sugar content. Additionally, mixers such as fruit juice or soda may increase the sugar content. 

Is Brandy Stronger Than Whisky?

Brandy isn’t stronger than whisky in terms of alcohol content or flavor. Brandy has a lighter, sweet taste with an average ABV of 50 percent. Whisky offers a “heavier” flavor with smoky notes of oak and tobacco, with an ABV of up to 68 percent. The smoothness of each spirit depends on distillation.

A spirit that’s distilled once tends to be more “harsh” than one distilled two or three times. For example, a double-distilled brandy is likely to be smoother than a single-distilled whisky.

Brandy or Whisky: Which Is Good for Summer?

When lounging around during the hot, humid summer nights, it’s unlikely that you’ll reach for a warm liquor like brandy or whisky. Instead, most people opt for light, fizzy, refreshing drinks such as a gin and tonic or vodka and cranberry juice.

Brandy and whisky are considered “cold-weather drinks” due to their warming effect on the throat and body. However, there are ways to enjoy these drinks over the summer. You can implement these aged spirits into cool, refreshing cocktails to enjoy as you lounge in the sand or next to the pool.

Brandy and whisky aren’t the traditional summer drinks, but you can enjoy them even when it’s warm outside. Brandy has a subtle, sweet flavor, making it easy to pair with orange flavors, rosé wine, and fruit juices. Whisky is heavier but pairs well with grape wine, rum, and pomegranate.

When mixing brandy and whisky for a refreshing summer drink, be mindful of your mixers. Lighter flavors are ideal — brandy and whisky tend to be more flavorful than vodka or gin — so stick with complementary flavors such as fruits with an acid, such as lime juice.

Whisky Summer Drinks

Whisky’s rich, smoky tobacco notes pair well with soft, sweeter flavors, including:

  • Pineapple juice
  • Grape wine
  • Pomegranate
  • Passion fruit

Experiment with these flavors along with other spirits (such as rum). To complement the flavors, consider adding a squeeze of lemon or lime. Garnish with a slice of pineapple or grapes.

Brandy Summer Drinks

Brandy’s subtle, fruity, and floral notes pair well with fruity flavors, especially orange. Consider mixing orange liqueur, club soda, and a splash of grenadine to create a refreshing, citrusy cocktail that’s perfect for a day on the beach. 

Alternatively, consider opting for a rose cognac and mix in rosé wine. Shake it up with crushed ice and garnish with rose petals for a classy, romantic summer drink.

Final Sip

Many people confuse brandy and whisky due to their brown hue and warming effect on the body. However, the malt-flavored whisky is rich and often enjoyed with dinner, whereas the soft, sweeter brandy is often used as a nightcap. 

Each spirit, however, provides health benefits when consumed in moderation. While the two spirits share some similarities, their differences are what make them unique.

For more, don’t miss 10 Best Non-Alcoholic Substitutes for Brandy in Cooking.

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