Is Brandy Vegan – yes, brandy – that stuff that is either drunk only by your grandparents or when you go to the club and someone gets you an “Henni” (that is Hennessey – for us people not in the know). Brandy is a fascinating drink, not just because of its age and history, but also because of its social standing – let’s face it Hennessey and Courvoisier are just cool. Only a few years ago brandy sales were outpacing those of Gin, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey in the USA (according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States). According to Statista, in 2021 $13,623m worth of Brandy was sold in the USA and this figure is expected to grow. In comparison, Whiskey sales in the US in 2021 were $16,480m. Hennessey remains the most popular Brandy in the USA followed by E&J in second, and Paul Masson in Third. Whether you love Brandy or have never even tried it before, there are a few fundamental questions I need to answer like: (1) what is Brandy?; (2) how is it made?; (3) what is the difference between Brandy and Cognac?; and (4) most importantly is brandy vegan?
Is Brandy Vegan?
As a general rule, most Brandies are vegan, including some of the biggest brands such as Hennessy, Paul Masson, and Christian Brothers. A small percentage (around 10%) of brandies are not vegan due to:
- Cochineal in cherry brandy;
- Non-Vegan sugar; or
- Non-vegan fining agents used in production.
What is Brandy?
Brandy is a liquor produced from the distillation of fermented fruit juice and then aged. Most commonly, the fruit juice used is from grapes and the distillation of wine. The name Brandy originates from the Dutch word Brandewijn (“brunt wine”), which refers to the use of heat on the wine during distillation. During this distillation process wine is heated to evaporate alcohol vapors, which are then condensed and collected as a concentration. The result is un-aged brandy. Brandies will usually have an ABV of around 35-60%.
Not Just Made From Grapes
Brandy can be made from other fruits, not just from grapes. For example:
- Apple brandies can be made by fermenting cider (for example Applejack an American Fruit Brandy);
- Calvados is a Brandy made from Apples and Pears;
- Raspberries to create framboise (a Raspberry Brandy);
- Strawberries to create fraise (a Strawberry Brandy);
- Plums to create golden-brown plum brandies known as Slivovitz, and French Plum Wines;
- Apricots to create Apricot Brandies (known as Barack Palinka); and
- Cherries to create Cherry Brandies known as Kirschwasser).
For the purposes of this piece, I will be focusing on traditional wine-distilled brandies.
What is the Difference Between Brandy and Cognac?
Brandy and Cognac are two terms that are easily interchanged when it comes to talking about Brandy, but what exactly is the difference between the two? Like when it comes to Champagne and sparkling wine – the main difference between Brandy and Cognac is where, how, and what it is produced from.
For something to be called a Cognac, it must be made from the Cognac region of southwestern France and made from the fruit juice of white grapes (specifically ugni blanc variety of grapes). The wine from these Cognac grapes must then be distilled at least twice in copper pot stills and then aged for a minimum of two years in French oak barrels.
In short, all Cognac is Brandy, but not all Brandy is Cognac (if you want to know the French rules on what can and can not be Champagne then check out my post: Is Champagne Vegan? Revealing The Truth Behind the Bubbles).
Types of Cognac
Cognac comes in three different types:
- V.S (Very Special) – Cognac aged for at least two years.
- V.S.O.P (Very Special Old Pale) – Cognac aged for at least four years.
- X.O (Extra Old) or Napoleon – Cognac aged for at least six years.
How Is Brandy Made?
For this part, I will refer to the general process of making grape-based brandies.
Brandy’s production begins like that of wine production. The main difference is that grapes are picked earlier (when they are not ripe) so that their acidity is higher. The grapes are then pressed and fermented with yeast to create a wine. It is during this process that fining agents must be used for clarification purposes. However, with distillation, this is not always necessary.
The issue with fining agents is that the most common ones used, such as isinglass, lactose, or egg albumen are not vegan. Hence, their use in production can make the wine/brandy mixture not vegan.
Want to Learn if Wine is Vegan?
Do you also drink wine? Do you want to know whether the wine is vegan? Find out in my other post:
Once the wine is made it undergoes distillation. During this process, the wine will be heated to evaporate and separate the alcohol from the wine mixture. The alcohol vapors are then condensed and cooled where they are collected in an alcohol concentrate. This is the only way to produce strong ABV alcohols above around 15% ABV. This is because as alcohol content increases during fermentation it starts to kill off the yeast preventing strong ABV alcohols from being formed (hence the need for distillation).
Distillation can occur multiple times.
The final brandy concentrate is then aged in oak barrels. Once aged for the required period it is mixed with water or other brandies to create the final desired flavor profiles.
Vegan Brandy – Summary Table
The below table is a summary of the most common Brandies available on the market and whether they are vegan or not. As you will see from the table, some brandies are not vegan due to the use of non-vegan fining agents, the use of Cochineal in Cherry Brandy, and or the use of non-vegan sugars in the production process.
|Brandy Uses Non-Vegan Sugar||Brandy Brands – Non-Vegan Fining Agents||Non-Vegan Cherry Brandy Brands||Vegan Cherry Brandy Brands||Big Vegan Brandy Brands|
|Korbel Brandy||Presidente Brandy (albumin)||Bols Cherry Brandy||DuBouchett Cherry Brandy||Hennessy Cognac|
|Sanderman Brandy (gelatine)||Castle Glenn Cherry Brandy||Giffard Cherry Brandy||Paul Masson Brandy|
|VOK Cherry Brandy Liqueur||Remy Martin Cognac|
|Ableforth’s Cherry Brandy||Christian Brothers Brandy|
|Bramley and Gage Cherry Brandy||Courvoisier Cognac|
|Tesco Finest Cherry Brandy||D’usse VSOP Cognac|
|Demijohn Morello Cherry Brandy Liquor||Martell Cognac|
|Celtic Wines Cherry Brandy Liqueur|
|Lyme Bay Cherry Brandy Liqueur|
Why is Brandy Not Vegan?
Brandy is almost always vegan (a rough and ready calculation of the vegan brandies vs the non-vegan brandies on Barnivore shows that approximately 90% of brandies are vegan vs 10% of brandies that are not). The main reasons for a brandy not being vegan are as follows:
1. Cherry brandy will sometimes contain cochineal (crushed beetles) to give it is red color;
2. Some brandies use non-vegan sugar (which has been processed with bone char); and
3. Some brandies will be filtered with non-vegan fining agents such as gelatin or albumin.
Below I break down each category from the Summary table.
Non-Vegan Issues To Check For In Brandy
No.1 Non-Vegan Cherry Brandy Which Contains Cochineal
The first non-vegan thing to watch out for with Brandy is the addition of Cochineal to cherry brandy. Cochineal is essentially crushed bugs, and it is sometimes added to cherry brandy to give it that red hue. Note that Cochineal can also be referred to as carmine, carminic acid, natural red 4, and E120.
|Non-Vegan Cherry Brandy|
|Bols Cherry Brandy |
Castle Glen Cherry Brandy (cochineal is listed on the label)
If you are a cherry brandy drinker and feeling deflated by the above, fear not, below is a table of vegan cherry brandy according to Barnivore. Even though Cochineal is something to watch out for in cherry brandy, it looks like over 80% of cherry brandies are still vegan.
|Vegan Cherry Brandy|
|DuBouchett Cherry Brandy|
|Giffard Cherry Brandy|
|VOK Cherry Brandy Liqueur|
|Ableforth’s Cherry Brandy|
|Bramley and Gage Cherry Brandy|
|Tesco Finest Cherry Brandy|
|Demijohn Morello Cherry Brandy Liquor|
|Celtic Wines Cherry Brandy Liqueur|
|Lyme Bay Cherry Brandy Liqueur|
No.2 Brandy Which Uses Non-Vegan Sugar
Korbel Brandy uses C&H Sugar in its brandy. C&H sugar uses bone char to process its sugar. Bone char is essentially charred animal bones that are used to process sugar (usually to make it white). Bone char is mainly used here in the US – it is less commonly used in the EU (mainly because the use of bone char is more heavily regulated in Europe.
No.3 Brandy That Is Filtered with Non-Vegan Fining Agents
Presidente brandy uses albumin in its brandy which is essentially protein from egg whites. This albumin must be used to filter their brandy (if you want to read more about how filtering works, in general, check out my post – Why is Wine Not Vegan? How To Know The Truth).
Sanderman Brandies (Brandy de Jerez VVO, Brandy de Jerez Capa Negra, and Brandy de Jerez Imperial) filtered with Gelatin.
|Brandy||Non-Vegan Fining Agent Used|
Is Cognac Vegan?
Cognac is an extremely popular type of brandy (as we discussed above), but is Cognac vegan? Yes – Cognac is almost always vegan. At the time of writing (2 Jan 2022), all the Cognacs listed on Barnivore are vegan.
What Brandy and Cognac Brands Are Vegan?
To make your life as easy as possible, here is a list of the top ten brandies and cognacs in the US according to Statista and whether they are vegan at the time of writing:
|Top Brandy and Cognac Brands in the US||Vegan or Not?|
|E & J Brandy||Not Vegan|
|Paul Masson Brandy||Vegan|
|Remy Martin Cognac||Vegan|
|Christian Brothers Brandy||Vegan|
|D’usse VSOP Cognac*||Vegan*|
|Korbel Brandy||Not Vegan|
Is Brandy Vegan – The Final Sip
Is Brandy Vegan – for the most part – yes, it is. With a few exceptions which I have listed above, most Brandies are vegan. There you go – the next time you are at the club, and you want an Henni or Courvoisier, or you are just hanging with Granny or Grandpa, and they bust out the brandy you will be able to tell them whether what they are drinking is vegan or not. Just think how empowered you will be. Also just remember that brandy can refer to any fermented fruit juice, whilst I have focused on the most common grape-based varieties, brandy can be made from a whole host of fruit depending on where you are in the world – in which case be sure to always double-check the brand you are drinking. Oh, and if you are wondering how to drink brandy – generally it is best served at room temperature (I mean who can go through the hassle of heating it up).
…now you know.
Beverage makers may change ingredients and/or manufacturing processes. Always double-check ingredients before purchasing any beverages.
Please Drink Responsibly.
Like What You Are Reading
Need to know more? Think your favorite beer or wine is vegan? How about your favorite Vodka, Tequila, or Gin – think those are vegan? Time to find out – check out some of my other articles:
- Is Alcohol Vegan? How to Know the Truth
- Is Liquor Vegan? How to Actually Pick Vegan Liquor
- Is Whiskey Vegan? How to Actually Pick Vegan Whiskey
- Is Tequila Vegan? How To Really Pick Vegan Tequila
- Is Gin Vegan? How To Really Tell Vegan Gins Apart
- Is Vodka Vegan? Hidden Surprises to Know About in Vodka
- Is Rum Vegan? Surprises You Need To Know About In Rum
- Vegan Beers UK – How To Pick Vegan Beer In The UK
- 10 Vegan Beers at Trader Joe’s You Need To Try
- What Beer Is Not Vegan? Beers You Need To Avoid
- Is Beer Vegan – Introducing the Secrets to Finding Out
- 5 Vegan Boxed Wines You Need To Try (& Those To Avoid)
- 10 Vegan Wines At Trader Joe’s You Need To Try
- 10 Vegan Wines at Whole Foods Market You Need To Know About
- Vegan Wines at BevMo You Need To Try
- The Best Vegan Wine at Sprouts For Vegans
- 97 Vegan Wines at ALDI You Need To Know About
- Introducing the 10 Best Vegan Wines at Walmart
- 15 Vegan Wines at Target You Need To Try
- 10 Vegan Wines at Costco You Need To Know About
- Why is Wine Not Vegan – How to Know the Truth?