Over 250 years ago in rural Cognac, France, an Irish army officer distilled his first barrel of Cognac. The eponymous Richard Hennessy named the bottle as such, and then Tupac named a song after it.
Oh, wait. There were two-and-a-half centuries between those two events. But, to take cutting a long story short to the extreme, there you have it.
Hennessy is iconic. It can be found deliciously corrupting otherwise innocent soft drinks (it goes great with soda and ice), and as a key ingredient in many cocktails. From the sweaty paws of nightclub-goers to the neatly buffed hands of card-playing ladies and gentlemen, Hennessy’s appeal does not discriminate.
Before we continue, let us clarify something. Hennessy is a Cognac, which is a type of brandy. Contrary to popular belief, Hennessy is categorically not a whiskey. Hennessy Cognac is made from grapes, not barley or wheat. Both spirits are distilled and aged in oak barrels, but the similarities end there. By that logic, anyone saying it’s ‘basically whiskey’ (and believe us, they do) may as well say it’s ‘basically wine’ (which would actually be closer to the truth).
The sweet yet spicy, fruity yet dry undertones of twice-distilled-French-oak-barrel-aged Hennessy, lays claim to more hyphenates than the combined job titles of the Kardashian family.
More importantly, Hennessy has endured the test of time like few others.
Hitherto, the potent liquid has wetted the lips of French revolutionaries, Russian oligarchs, Southern freedom fighters, and Dave and Karen who live next door but one, and everyone in between. As we said, it does not discriminate.
Hennessy bottle sizes and prices
|Est. Price (USD)
|Hennessy Paradis Imperial
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A brief history of Hennessy
When Irishman Richard Hennessy distilled his first barrel of Hennessy in the Cognac region of France in 1765, one can imagine he’d possibly be rather pleasantly surprised that nearly three centuries later it would constitute half of the world’s Cognac supply, selling 50 million bottles per annum.
It’s doubtful too, that he would envisage the 40% liquor being hugely championed by high-profile African-American rappers first and foremost, in no small part because (newsflash!) rap music did not exist in 1765.
If he were alive now, he’d likely be overwhelmed that the late Tupac Shakur named a song after his tipple. As far as product placement goes, it doesn’t really get better than that. After knocking a few backs, who’s to say Hennessy himself might not start tapping his foot to the tune.
Hennessy becomes international
30 years after that pivotal day in 1765, the first shipment of Hennessy barrels would arrive on the wild shorelines of Colonial America, and 10 years after that those barrels would turn to bottles.
Ever wondered what the V.S.O.P stands for? In 1817, King George IV of Great Britain requested a ‘Very Superior Old Pale’ Hennessy to be created. Modern-day advertisers might frown upon the heathen overuse of adjectives, but the lengthy title was shortened to a cozy acronym, and it’s stuck ever since.
A mere year later Empress Maria Federovna of Russia requested ‘a most exceptional Cognac’ to be crafted for her son’s birthday.
This trend continued, seeing bottles of the now world-famous Hennessy bejewelling the bar carts of countless notable people and those influenced by them. Word was spreading, and it was good.
How Hennessy is made
Much like Champagne has to come from the Champagne region of France to qualify for the prestigious name, such as it is with Cognac.
It’s all about the grapes
To justifiably be called Cognac, the main ingredient, grapes, must be grown in the Charente region of the country known for its affinity with fine alcohols. The ‘cru’ or just ‘superior vineyard’, produces Ugni Blanc grapes, which in turn deliver a light, fruity white wine which is well-suited to distillation.
After the grapes are pressed, yeast is added which converts the sugar to alcohol, resulting in around 7 or 8%. It’s left to ferment for 2 to 3 weeks.
Twice is nice
Two distillations are what makes Cognac what it is. Without the mandatory second distillation, you’d simply be drinking a rather potent white wine.
While that’s usually a welcome circumstance, the second distillation is what transforms the concoction into an ‘eau-de-vie’ (‘water of life’ to those of us less linguistically inclined); a transparent liquid of around 70% alcohol.
‘Pour me a glass! ’’ you may be thinking. Well, the process isn’t quite over yet! And we certainly wouldn’t recommend consuming the ‘eau-de-vie’ despite its enticing name.
The key’s in the casking
Finally, the Cognac is casked in oak barrels, whose wood is sourced from the forests of Limousin or Troncais. This process is nothing if not fastidious! There is reason to the rhyme, however. This type of wood is perfect for aging Cognac due to its dependably low resin content.
Interestingly, the oak itself alters the final taste of the Cognac, offsetting the sweeter, fruitier notes with a dry nuttiness, resulting in a well-rounded flavor profile.
Age is just a number
Check this out: the age of the Cognac is determined by the age of its youngest component. So, potentially, parts of your 100-year-old Hennessy X.O could actually be considerably more mature! Unfortunately, the same rule doesn’t apply to humans. Shrug.
How to drink Hennessy Cognac
A prestigious spirit such as Hennessy deserves to be treated with respect.
Pour 25ml of your preferred Hennessy Cognac into a tulip glass. Roll the glass in the palm of your hand to coax the liquid slowly to body temperature.
This will elevate the rich aromas and draw out the flavors in a highly agreeable manner while looking… pretty swish, if we’re being honest.
Ideally, warm it for 8 to 10 minutes before sipping. If you get bored (understandable) you’re excused. But it is the best way.
The best brandy glasses
Hennessy cocktail recipes: The best cocktails to make with Hennessy
Here are our top three favorite cocktails to do with Hennessy Cognac. Check our selection of the absolute best cocktail recipes for more inspiration.
The Old Fashioned
- 50ml Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 15ml sugar syrup
- Ice cubes
- Orange zest
Cocktail recipes: Add bitters into an Old Fashioned glass with a few ice cubes. Add the sugar syrup, then pour the Hennessy V.S.O.P in slowly. Garnish with orange zest.
Voila, an Old Fashioned any mixologist would be proud of!
- 15ml Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilege
- 15ml Cointreau
- 15ml lemon juice
- Orange zest
- Ice cubes
Cocktail recipes: Shake the Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain and serve in a classic cocktail glass. Garnish with orange or lemon.
- 45ml Hennessy Very Special
- 15ml sugar syrup
- 20ml lemon juice
- Champagne or sparkling wine to top up
- Lemon twist, to garnish
- Ice cubes
Cocktail recipes: Build directly into a chilled Champagne flute and garnish with lemon twist.
Hennessy: Frequently asked questions
Hennessy is 100% Cognac, which is a type of brandy. It is a strong spirit like whiskey, but it is firmly in the brandy category.
Cognac is typically more expensive than other spirits. The main reason is that the distillation process itself is more expensive. The spirits base ingredient is grapes, rather than grains, and distilling wine from juice is also an expensive process.
Hennessy can range from less than $50, to over $2000, and in some cases far more than that. There are plenty of different types of Hennessy Cognac, so there’s sure to be one to suit your budget.
Yes, Hennessy is a strong alcoholic spirit with an ABV of 40%.
The most expensive Hennessy is Hennessy Ellipse which can range from $12,000 to $14,000. It is limited edition and considered one of the most expensive Cognacs money can buy.
Hennessy is best enjoyed neat, and at body temperature. However, it is a fantastic addition to many cocktail recipes. If neat is a little too much, adding soda water is acceptable as this combination helps to retain the intense flavors.