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9 Types Of Cognac, Explained

two glasses brown liquid
two glasses brown liquid - Laura92ilcu/Shutterstock

Whether you are new to cognac or someone who already loves sipping the drink super casually, the types of cognac can be a bit confusing. What is the difference between an XO and XXO? What does that even mean? We're here to help you demystify the classifications of the drink. Although some of the classifications have similar names, they couldn't be more different.

There are four official types of cognac, but there are also a lot of unofficial types of cognac. The official classifications are VS, VSOP, XO, and XXO. However, you'll find a lot of other unofficial classifications like Cuvée, Réserve, and more on this list.

The types of cognac are designated by age, but they use a naming system versus number, which is common in other types of spirit. The classifications are based on the age of the eau-de-vie, which is the result of the distilling process; it is what is left after the first distillation. It is a brandy that is unaged and made from fruit. After learning that, if you might be wondering about the difference between cognac vs brandy, we can help you with that too.

One of the reasons why we love cognac is because, just like you, it ages gracefully and earns value as it ages. If you're wondering how to tell the age of your cognac,  We'll share everything you need to know about the drink. Read on to find the best cognac for you.

Read more: 13 Liquors Your Home Bar Should Have

VS

bottle of drink with cocktail
bottle of drink with cocktail - hennessy/Instagram

We are going to be sharing the classification of cognac in age order. So VS is the first here because it is the youngest classification in regard to cognac aging. The VS stands for "very special." For something to fall under this category, the eau-de-vie needs to be aged at least two years. Sometimes, eau-de-vie that are older might find their way into this classifications as well.

Since this cognac has not aged long, its defining features are its light and pale color and light and fruity flavor. Since it has not matured yet, it can be molded into many different serving styles.

A VS cognac makes for a great cocktail; it's fantastic for cooking, and it's also good on the rocks. We think this classification of cognac would work super well within a cocktail. Might we suggest trying out our classic sidecar cocktail?

One of the most well-loved examples of a VS cognac is Hennessy VS. Although VS tends to be lighter in color, this is closer to an amber shade. On the nose, it has sweet and nutty notes with a touch of fruit. As you get to the palate, this is described as a creamy vanilla flavor with a floral finish. Just imagine how incredible this would be in your next cocktail recipes.

VSOP

black bottle with red words
black bottle with red words - remymartin/Instagram

This means "Very Superior Old Pale," and it is also noted to stand for "Very Special Old Pale." The title originates from the  House of Hennessy, who was asked to make a cognac without sweeteners (sweeteners were common at the time) for King George IV in 1817.

Each cognac that makes it into this classification has to be at least four years old. We want to remind you that aging is based on the youngest eau-de-vie used in this drink. So this item can also include eau-de-vie older than four years old, which it commonly does.

Since this is aged a bit longer than the VS, it is a bit richer in both color and flavor. Even though this is older, it is still super versatile for serving. It is best served on the rocks, used for cooking, or served in a cocktail.

A common and well-known example of a VSOP is the Rémy Martin VSOP. We love rankings and this is featured among our 18 best cognac brands. Something really cool about this cognac is that it earned both a gold at The Cognac Masters 2023 and a master during the Bartender's Brand Awards 2023. On the nose, you will find yourself enamored with notes of vanilla and pit fruit. If you are a fan of the taste of fruit and licorice, you're going to enjoy sipping this.

Cuvée Cognac

brown cognac in bottle
brown cognac in bottle - grandmarnierUSA /Instagram

This is one of the many non-official classifications of cognac. Even though it is not an official classification, it is still something you can easily find in your local liquor store. One of the things that makes this classification stand out from the others is that it is not determined by age.

This classification is more common in champagne, and you can learn more about it by checking out every type of champagne. In the world of cognac, this classification is used to talk about one specific batch or blend. It is basically a fancy name for something that is usually XO or VSOP but is limited-run. A house may launch something like this for an anniversary or perhaps even a collaboration.

Depending on the category it falls into, it can change the best way to taste it. We would recommend sipping it neat or trying it on the rocks. However, no matter which way you choose to sip this, you're going to love it.

For example, we went with the Grand Marnier's Grande Cuvée Révélation, which uses XXO cognac and orange essence to create this super delightful blend. It uses eau-de-vie, which is aged at least 14 years. It is a medium shade of amber that smells like warm and woody orange with tobacco. When it is tasted, it has a finish of nuts with a touch of vanilla and orange.

XO

brown cognac in pretty bottle
brown cognac in pretty bottle - martellofficial /Instagram

The next category is called XO (sadly, it does not mean kiss and hug, although that would be cute). It actually stands for "extra old." For something to be in this category, it needs to have aged at least ten years. In all of these categories, there can be eau-de-vin older than ten years, but everything needs to be at least ten years.

This classification was created in 1870 by Maurice Hennessy when he showed his friends a new type of cognac. It was called this since it has an extended aging process. Although we recommend the original XO from the house, we also really love Martell's XO. Martell's XO is a dark copper color, which does a great job of showcasing how beautifully it's aged in the barrels. The scent of this cognac is a bit spicier than its other counterparts, but it's balanced out by nutty notes. When you get to the tasting, this has notes of red fruit and fig. This also has a long and powerful finish.

As you get into older cognacs, the flavors become a bit more apparent, so they are best when served neat, like how you would sip a nice whiskey. You can also enjoy this with ice. Perhaps you're more inclined to pair it with your next meal; either way, its robust flavor will make your tastebuds happy.

Napoleon Cognac

bottle of cognac in hand
bottle of cognac in hand - bon.vivant.mt/Instagram

If you're curious about what Napoleon cognac is and how long it is aged, we can explain everything. This is not an official designation of cognac, but it is something that is sometimes used to call a cognac aged more than six years, so it is halfway between the category above and below. Because of its age, it often falls into the VSOP category. Since it is in between, you can drink either style, but we think of it as something you can drink neat or with ice. It also makes a great pairing for food.

According to the lore of this classification, it is named for Napoleon and also the cognac house Courvoisier. It was rumored that Napoleon took crates of this while in exile. However, there is not a lot of truth in that, but what we can confirm is that although it isn't what he took in exile, in 1809, Napoleon did visit the Félix-Joseph Courvoisier's brandy warehouse.

Our recommendation for this category is the Courvoisier Napoléon Fine Champagne Cognac. When it comes to selection, of course, we wanted to suggest where the name came from.  The color of this cognac is a dark amber shade. For the nose, it's more on the mellow side with earthy notes as well as dried fruits. This tastes like a woodsy mushroom with dried pit fruit.

XXO

bottle and glass of cognac
bottle and glass of cognac - abk6cognac/Instagram

Talking about graceful aging, XXO stands for "Extra Extra Old." For something to be in this category, it needs to be at least 14 years old to receive this classification. It is the oldest official designation that any cognac can be. It is also worth noting that this is actually the newest category of cognac. It was made official in 2018. As you continue to read on, you'll discover some unofficial terms that are still under this category.

We all know as things age, they get stronger and bolder in flavor and color, and this is no exception. Since this is a newer category, there aren't as many on the market as there are for other categories. However, in the past few years, houses have been starting to welcome this category a bit more when producing.

If you're looking for something special to sip, we suggest checking out the ABK6 XXO Grande Champagne Cognac. This is going to be a darker gold color when poured. Although it is older, it has a light, fresh and woodsy scent. While you taste this, you will find notes of vanilla and dried fruit with a touch of wood and jasmine. It also has a long and warming finish; think baking spices.

XXO cognacs are best when they are served neat. You can also pair this with food, but it is certainly best when sipped.

Extra Cognac

bottle and cup of cognac
bottle and cup of cognac - adefussignycognac/Instagram

This is a cognac that is aged at least ten years, but it is often aged between 15 and 25 years old. This is not an official classification of cognac, but it is still well-known and regarded by industry experts and cognac lovers alike. Due to its age, this is something you're supposed to sip slowly instead of throwing it into your favorite cocktail ( although it would still be super tasty.) It would also pair exceptionally well with a nice meal.

Technically, this falls into the XO and XXO categories, but it's known to be a bit better quality than them. It is also known to be of higher quality than the Napoleon classification. Although we hate to say it, if you're looking for something a little more "extra" for your next special occasion, this is a great category to explore. It's also a bit pricier than some of the other categories we've talked about.

A. De Fussigny Extra Cognac is a beautiful golden color and has made its way onto our list. This smells of fruit with pastries, spices, earthiness, and warmth. When you first taste this, you will be met with a fruity, woody note while finishing off with the taste of vanilla and toffee. The brand suggests pairing this with any kind of cigar.

Réserve Cognac

waiter holding bottle of cognac
waiter holding bottle of cognac - globalspiritslife/Instagram

This is another non-official type of cognac. Although it is not an official classification, this is a very coveted and sought-after type of cognac. For something to fall under this category, it needs to be aged at least ten years, but on average, the eau-de-vie used here are at least 25 years old.

This designation is noted as a higher quality cognac, and it is a higher quality than XO, Extra, and Napoleon. It uses a super old base, which is usually from a house's oldest barrels. Other common terms for items that fall under this category are "Réserve Familiale" or a "Vieille Réserve."

It is one of the most expensive types on this list because it is generally limited in production. Like any older drink, it is best served neat or with food. If a house is celebrating something, they might release one of these as a special treat.

Jacky Navarre Vieille Reserve Cognac is our drink of choice for this category. It is a rich yet mild beverage with notes, warming spices, and fruit notes. What makes this super interesting is the fact that this tasty drink has a super long finish that'll stick with you.

Hors d'Age

angled bottle with white label
angled bottle with white label - lastdropdistillers/Instagram

Hors d'age means "beyond age," and that's precisely what it is. This also technically falls under the XXO category, but it is the oldest classification you will find on this list. It is a cognac that can be aged from 30 to 100+ years ( yes, if you're lucky, you can find one that is over 100 years old).

This would be an excellent option for a special occasion due to the rarity as well as the cost. If you're grabbing a bottle of this, it is best served as neat due to its age. It would also be great paired with a meal to sip on casually throughout.

For our most luxurious bottle, we suggest picking up the The Last Drop Hors d'Age Champagne Cognac 70-Year-Old. Firstly, yes, it's 70 years old, which means that it was distilled in 1950, which is super mind-blowing. It is also a limited release, so only 375 bottles were made, but it is still available and around for you to purchase.

We love this because it smells like jammy fruit and candied fruits with a touch of floral. When you sip this delight, your palate is met with warm and woody notes like cocoa spice but also with some freshness. After a long day, this seems like the perfect nightcap.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.