All these taste and look pretty similar. What is the difference between them?
Bourbon and scotch are types of whiskey and cognac is a variety of brandy.
Bourbon is a type of whiskey, whereas not all whiskies are bourbons! The main difference between scotch and whisky is geographic: they are made in Scotland.
Bourbon is a type of whiskey, whereas not all whiskies are bourbons!
Bourbon is a type of whiskey that gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it originated. Bourbon tends to be amber-colored, and a little sweeter and heavier in texture than other whiskeys.
What is Scotch?
The main difference between scotch and whisky is geographic, but also ingredients and spellings. Scotch is whisky made in Scotland, while bourbon is whiskey made in the U.S.A, generally Kentucky. Scotch is made mostly from malted barley, while bourbon is distilled from corn. If you’re in England and ask for a whisky, you’ll get Scotch. But in Ireland, you’ll get Irish whiskey (yep, they spell it differently for a little colour).
What are whiskeys?
Whisky or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak.
Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. The typical unifying characteristics of the different classes and types are the fermentation of grains, distillation, and aging in wooden barrels. Whisky (Wikipedia)
Brandies are not whiskeys, but is a spirit produced by distilling wine.
Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling wine. Brandy generally contains 35–60% alcohol by volume (70–120 US proof) and is typically drunk as an after-dinner digestif. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, others are coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of aging, and some are produced using a combination of both aging and colouring. Varieties of wine brandy can be found across the winemaking world. Among the most renowned are Cognac and Armagnac from southwestern France. Brandy (Wikipedia)
What is Cognac?
Cognac is a variety of brandy named after the town of Cognac, France. It is produced in the surrounding wine-growing region in the departments of Charente and Charente-Maritime.
Cognac production falls under French Appellation d'origine contrôlée designation, with production methods and naming required to meet certain legal requirements. Among the specified grapes Ugni blanc, known locally as Saint-Emilion, is most widely used.2 The brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais. Cognac matures in the same way as whiskies and wine barrel age, and most cognacs spend considerably longer "on the wood" than the minimum legal requirement.
The white wine used in making cognac is very dry, acidic and thin. Though it has been characterized as "virtually undrinkable",4 it is excellent for distillation and aging. It may be made only from a strict list of grape varieties. In order for it to be considered a true cru, the wine must be at least 90% Ugni blanc (known in Italy as Trebbiano), Folle blanche and Colombard, while up to 10% of the grapes used can be Folignan, Jurançon blanc, Meslier St-François (also called Blanc Ramé), Sélect, Montils or Sémillon.5 Cognacs which are not to carry the name of a cru are freer in the allowed grape varieties, needing at least 90% Colombard, Folle blanche, Jurançon blanc, Meslier Saint-François, Montils, Sémillon, or Ugni blanc, and up to 10% Folignan or Sélect. Cognac (Wikipedia)
What is Armagnac brandy?
Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, southwest France. It is distilled from wine usually made from a blend of grapes including Baco 22A, Colombard, Folle blanche and Ugni blanc, traditionally using column stills rather than the pot stills used in the production of cognac. The resulting spirit is then aged in oak barrels before release. Production is overseen by the Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité (INAO) and the Bureau National Interprofessionel de l'Armagnac (BNIA). - Armagnac (brandy)
One last note. There also exists a liquor that is generally known as fruit brandy and is quite popular in various regions around the world.
Fruit brandy or fruit spirit1 is a distilled beverage produced from mash, juice, wine or residues of culinary fruits. The term covers a broad class of spirits produced across the world, and typically excludes beverages made from grapes, which are referred to as plain brandy (when made from distillation from wine) or pomace brandy (when made directly from grape pomace). Apples, pears, apricots, plums and cherries are the most commonly used fruits.
According to a legal definition in the United States, a "fruit brandy" is distilled "solely from the fermented juice or mash of whole, sound, ripe fruit, or from standard grape, citrus, or other fruit wine, with or without the addition of not more than 20 percent by weight of the pomace of such juice or wine, or 30 percent by volume of the lees of such wine, or both."
In the European Union, fruit brandies may not be labeled as "fruit brandy"; instead, the legal English denomination is fruit spirit, which is "produced exclusively by the alcoholic fermentation and distillation of fleshy fruit or must of such fruit, berries or vegetables, with or without stones".4 A great number of European fruit brandies have a protected designation of origin, and are labeled with their respective protected names instead of "fruit spirit" ("apricot spirit", etc.). Cider spirit and perry spirit (fruit brandy distilled from cider or perry) form a separate legal category. Some fruit spirits may be labeled with alternative names such as kirsch (cherry spirit) or slivovitz (plum spirit) regardless their country of origin.
In British usage, "fruit brandy" may also refer to liqueurs obtained by maceration of whole fruits, juice or flavoring in a distilled beverage, and such liqueurs are legally labeled as "cherry brandy", "apricot brandy" etc. all across the European Union.1 Such beverages are used similar to cordials, and as an ingredient in cocktails and cakes. Fruit brandies obtained by distillation are often referred by the French term eau de vie.
Fruit brandy usually contains 40% to 45% ABV (80 to 90 US proof). It is often colourless. Fruit brandy is customarily drunk chilled or over ice, but is occasionally mixed.
The answer above nails the quantitative parts of the question, but I'll spend a little time adding a qualitative answer.
In terms of flavour and the experience while drinking, Brandy and Whisky are quite similar. If you gave a taste test to a beginner they could easily mistake one for the other.
At the same time, though, someone who was well versed in both liquors could likely distinguish between the two a majority of the time. While there are whiskies out there which border on cloying, brandy usually tends to be sweeter than most whiskies.
As far as I know, the flavour profiles for whisky are also much broader. That is, you're likely to see much more variation in the qualitative aspects of whisky than you are brandy.