Hennessy is one of the big names in cognac, which is a style of brandy produced exclusively in the French region of Cognac. Available in various expressions of different ages, Hennessy is drunk around the world. One of the most popular bottles is Hennessy V.S. It is the youngest of the portfolio, and the least expensive (though still a mid-range, premium price for liquor), making it an excellent everyday cognac. Hennessy V.S is worthy of mixing into almost any brandy cocktail you could think of and is fantastic on its own or over ice.
- Ingredients: Ugni White grapes
- Proof: 80
- ABV: 40%
- Calories in a 1 1/2-ounce shot: 100
- Origin: Cognac, France
- Taste: Burnt wine, oak, floral, fruit, spice, vanilla
- Aged: minimum of 2 years to 30 years or more
- Serve: straight-up, on the rocks, cocktails
What Is Hennessy Cognac Made From?
Richard Hennessy founded a cognac trading house in 1765. By 1794, the first shipments of cognac hit New York, and the global distribution of Hennessy grew exponentially from there. The company played an integral role in many key pieces of cognac history that continue today. For instance, they fulfilled a royal request for a "very superior old pale" cognac (known as V.S.O.P today) in 1817 and contributed to cognac's star rating system in 1865. The tradition lives on in the production of Hennessy Cognac.
To be labeled as cognac, Hennessy must follow the standards set out by a protected appellation of origin. Among other things, this states that the grapes are grown, and all production of the cognac must happen within the Cognac region of southwestern France.
It all begins with sustainably grown Ugni White grapes that are mechanically harvested at their peak for Hennessy. The grapes are then pressed and the juice fermented into wine. Using the traditional Charentais copper alembic stills for which Cognac is famous, the wine becomes eau-de-vie through a double distillation process.
The clear spirit only becomes cognac after aging in wood casks (French Limousin oak is common) and blending. Hennessy has 350,000 barrels in production at any time, utilizing a network of 65 cellars (or chais). The cognac is rotated in barrels as it ages, and the barrels are placed in particular cellars depending on the desired characteristics. For instance, a humid cellar will produce mellower flavors, while a drier cellar results in more flavor.
Daily tastings occur to test the various eau-de-vie throughout their maturation. It is up to Hennessy's master blender to bring 30 or more of these together to produce what is bottled as Hennessy Cognac and to do so for each expression while maintaining consistency from one batch to the next.
After blending, the cognac may be rested again for a certain period of time before bottling. The majority of Hennessy Cognac (including the core expressions) is bottle at 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 40 proof).
What Does Hennessy Cognac Taste Like?
Each of Hennessy's cognacs has a slightly different taste determined by the eau-de-vie blend that goes into them. Overall, they have a classic brandy taste, with a sweet fruitiness similar to burnt wine mellowed by a pleasant oakiness. You'll find floral and fruit (particularly citrus) notes in these cognacs, and hints of spice, vanilla, and chocolate are common.
Hennessy uses the classic cognac grading system for its main portfolio. These are used to indicate the cognac's age (or the youngest cognac in the blend): V.S ("very special," minimum of 2 years), V.S.O.P ("very superior old pale," minimum of 4 years), and X.O ("extra old," minimum of 10 years). There are also several special and limited edition expressions of Hennessy available.
- Hennessy V.S: The flagship of the brand, this is the modern rendition of the famous Hennessy 3-Star Cognac. It is a blend of approximately 40 aged eau-de-vie. The nose includes brown sugar, roasted almonds, and a subtle hint of fruit. It has a rich, almost creamy vanilla taste and a fresh, floral-like finish. V.S can be a little harsh and has a bit of spice, though it's a nice, affordable introduction to French brandy.
- Hennessy Black: First released in 2009, Hennessy Black is bottled at a slightly more robust 43 percent ABV (86 proof). It's a blend of around 40 pale and gold eau-de-vie and then aged in oak. Black is a more floral brandy of jasmine, citrus, and honey aromas and a classic cognac taste with tantalizing hints of citrus. Designed for cocktails, it's also an excellent choice for drinkers who prefer lighter spirits like vodka and tequila.
- Hennessy V.S.O.P Prvilège: First created in 1817 as a special order for England's (then-future) King George IV, this is a classic cognac. A blend of over 60 eau-de-vie aged up to 15 years, it is then rested in oak to create a velvety drink with notes of honeyed fruit and intriguing spice. Not overpriced, it's an outstanding sipper and good for high-end cocktails.
- Hennessy X.O: The beginning of Hennessy's luxurious cognacs, X.O is the original cognac introduced in 1870 that set the foundation for all expressions to come. This blend includes over 100 eau-de-vie that are previously aged up to 30 years and married longer in carefully selected barrels. The cognac has the sweetness of candied fruit with a spicy pepper that's unforgettable and a hint of chocolate, wood, and vanilla. Definitely top-shelf, X.O should be reserved for sipping.
How to Drink Hennessy Cognac
All Hennessy Cognac is enjoyable straight. You can really appreciate the spirit's subtle nuances by pouring it into a brandy snifter, which captures the delicate aroma and enhances the experience. A rocks glass works as well and is a good choice if you want to enjoy the cognac on the rocks.
For cocktails, Hennessy V.S is a great choice, especially for tall mixed drinks. The mixers will tame the cognac's boldness and result in a delightful drink. Both Hennessy V.S and Black can handle almost any recipe, and the classic brandy cocktails are good starting points. When you have Hennessy V.S.O.P, stick to the more refined recipes, such as the brandy cocktail and B&B, that will not overwhelm the upgrade.
Hennessy V.S and Black are not just for classic recipes. These cognacs work equally as well—if not better—in modern cocktails. They're a fantastic companion for unique flavor combinations and surprisingly versatile for all seasons and occasions.