Hennessy is indisputably the world’s leading name in Cognac, producing over 40% of the global supply of Cognac each year. The brand is jointly owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and Diageo. An ubiquitous reference in hip hop music, Hennessy has established itself as a symbol of success in modern pop culture. In addition to pop culture references, Hennessy has recently expanded efforts to cater to new markets and demographics. They have launched regional products catered towards younger drinkers such as Hennessy Classivm in China, and Hennessy Black, exclusive to the US market.
In This Guide
History of Hennessy
The Hennessy distillery was founded in 1765 by Richard Hennessy, an Irishman who was serving in the French military while in exile. Hennessy had previously traded in Cognac, wines, and other spirits, exporting them to Great Britain and Ireland. At first, Hennessy remained a minor player in the French spirits industry, however in 1789 the French Revolution shook up the nation, and the spirits industry. Between the political turmoil and the help of a timely marriage into another famous Cognac distilling family, The Martells, by the beginning of the 1800’s Hennessy had become one of the top names in Cognac. In 1813 Richard’’s son officially dubbed the family business Jas Hennessy & Co, and it remained so until 1971 when Killian Hennessy, a fifth generation descendant of Richard, merged the brand with Champagne giant Moet et Chandon, creating Moet Hennessy. In 1987 Moet Hennessy merged with Louis Vuitton, creating luxury super brand LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy). In 1988 luxury brand Christian Dior took controlling interest in LVMH with the help of Guinness and has remained in control to the present day, with Diageo maintaining a 34% stake as well.
Hennessy products begin with Ugni Blanc (Also known as St.Emilion or Trebbiano) grapes, harvested from the six Crus of the Cognac region of France. Ugni Blanc grapes are known for their acidity and produce a dry, harsh tasting white wine which is then twice distilled in copper pot stills. After distillation the spirit is aged in Limousin Oak casks for a minimum of two years. The aged product is stored in glass bottles and blended by Hennessy Master Blenders. The age statement of the final product is determined by the youngest Cognac used in the blend, and dictated by the following naming convention.
- VS– The youngest Cognac in the blend is at aged least two years. Also designated by a three star rating.
- VSOP– The youngest Cognac in the blend is aged at least four years. VSOP is derived from a special purchase made by King George IV from Hennessy in which he requested a “Very Special Old Pale” bottling of Cognac.
- Napoleon– A new addition to age designation, Cognac labeled Napoleon is aged at least six years
- XO– The youngest Cognac in the blend is aged at least ten years. XO stands for “Extra Old” and was first used by Hennessy to designate bottlings for friends and family of the owner.
- XXO– The youngest Cognac in the blend is aged at least fourteen years
- Hors’ d’Age- Aged beyond the scale. Usually applied to the most high end bottlings which have been aged beyond the XXO specifications.
Cognac is a controlled appellation and in order to bear the name Cognac it must be made to the previously described specifications. All products made outside the Cognac region of France, and those made within but not meeting the specifications are simply referred to as “Brandy” or “eau de vie”.
Hennessy Cognac Products
- Hennessy V.S.
Aged at least two years in Limousin Oak casks, Hennessy VS has a notes of fruit and toasted oak. The VS is a great option for those looking to experience cognac for the first time and is great for mixing. Bottled at 40% ABV. Try it in a classic sidecar.
- Hennessy Black
Exclusive to the US market, Hennessy Black is aimed towards a younger audience, less likely to experience their Cognac neat and more likely to mix it in a cocktail. Bottled at a higher ABV (43%), and blended from a younger stock, its bold flavors shine through when used in mixed drinks and cocktails.
- Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilege
With notes of vanilla, oak, spices, and of course fruits, Hennessy VSOP is one of Hennessy’s most popular blends. Designed by Hennessy Master Blenders to be an expression of a classic Cognac, the VSOP is lauded for its consistency and balance in flavor. Bottled at 40% ABV
- Hennessy X.O
With an intense warmth and notes of oak, spice, chocolate, and rich fruit, Hennessy X.O is a blend of depth and complexity deserving of the XO label. At a smooth 40%ABV this is a bottle built for sipping neat, or perhaps with a few rocks to open it up.
- Hennessy X.X.O
Bottled at 40% ABV and available only in limited retail locations such as duty free shops, this bottle is an odyssey of flavors ranging from bitter orange to nutmeg and cinnamon, back to the classic oak, vanilla, and fruit expected from a Cognac. Due to its limited availability and high price point, this is a bottle most will enjoy unadulterated on special occasions.
In addition to the above mentioned blends, Hennessy has a number of high end Cognacs of limited release which meet the Hors d’Age designation. These bottles are exceedingly fine quality and priced to reflect that. Examples include the Richard Hennessy, James Hennessy, and Hennessy Paradis bottles, among others. Hennessy also produces regionally exclusive bottles such as the previously mentioned Hennessy Black and Hennessy Classivm.
Below are the latest Hennessy prices.
|Hennesssy V.S||750ml||From $36|
|Hennesssy Black||350ml||From $32|
|Hennessy V.S.O.P. Privilège||50ml||From $13|
|Master Blender’s Selection N°3||750ml||From $114|
|Hennessy X.O||750ml||From $164|
|Hennessy Paradis Imperial||750ml||From $2999|
|Richard Hennessy||750ml||From $3520|
Alternatives To Hennessy Cognac
Owned by Beam Suntory, Courvoisier is a competitor of Hennessy and at one time was the official supplier of Cognac to the royal court of Napoleon III. Courvoisier produces VS, VSOP, Napoleon, and XO bottlings among many others. They were also one of the first Cognac brands to market their product specifically as an ingredient in high end cocktails, even launching a cocktail recipe app.
- Remy Martin
Remy Martin is among the oldest names in Cognac, and unlike other houses such as Martel and Hennessy, their product is made entirely from grapes harvested in the Grand and Petite Champagne regions of Cognac. Remy Martin does not make a VS Cognac, skipping right to VSOP and XO. Remy Martin VSOP is the biggest selling VSOP in the world.
Martell is currently owned by Pernod Ricard but was one of the very first Cognac houses in France, established in 1715. Martell is most famous for its Cordon Bleu or Blue Ribbon brand of Cognac. Martell offers VS, VSOP, and XO in addition to a range of other bottles.
- Maison Ferrand
Maison Ferrand produces both the Claude Chatelier range of Cognac (VS, VSOP, XO) and the Ferrand line of Cognacs. Maison Ferrand also produces Citadelle Gin, The Plantation line of rums, and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao. They have a reputation among bartenders for great quality.
The Sidecar is undoubtedly the most famous Cognac cocktail out there, so I won’t devote too much time to it here. The only thing I will suggest regarding sidecars is this lesser known bartender’s secret. Ditch the sugar rim, and replace it with 5 ml of rich demerara syrup mixed into the drink. You won’t regret it.
Here are a few lesser known Cognac cocktails to check out.
- 60 ml VS Cognac
- 7.5 ml Salted Plum and Black Tea Syrup
- 1 dash 1821 Havana and Hide bitters
- 2 drops Absinthe
Stir with ice and strain over a large cube. Garnish with a Salted Plum.This is a variation of an Old Fashioned that substitutes Cognac for the usual whiskey. The salt from the plum, the tannins from the black tea, and the smoke and leather from the bitters contrast the oak and fruit of the Cognac. The absinthe adds a subtle herbal note to tie it all together. The Old Fashioned format is a great one to play around with, and brandies make a solid replacement for whiskey in the base. Try experimenting with the flavor of syrups and different bitters to create something totally new.
The Port Flip
- 45 ml Ruby Port
- 30 ml VS or VSOP Cognac
- 5 ml Demerara Syrup
- 1 whole egg
Dry Shake, Shake, and double strain into a coupe. Garnish with shaved nutmeg. A whole egg may catch some by surprise here, but it adds a silky smooth texture and a beautiful head of foam to this wintery classic. The rich fruit of the port pairs well with the heat, spice, and oak of a VS Cognac. I suggest making a flavored syrup, such as vanilla or even cinnamon to add another layer to this already delicious drink. It’s like a rich, thick, high-class eggnog. Perfect for fall or winter evenings as a dessert cocktail.