Hennessy is something you should absolutely know about, assuming you like smooth, rich tipples. Also if you like having the appearance of incredible swagger.
The company — which reads “modern” but is in fact 253 years young — puts out a solid half of the world’s Cognac. It has Irish roots, and kept two families in business for eight and seven generations, respectively. To put that in perspective, my father once asked me to take over the family business and instead I took an improv class.
In honor of any family who can do eight generations of anything, here are a few facts about Hennessy worth knowing.
Hennessy: Thoroughly French … by way of Ireland.
Hennessy is Cognac, which is brandy made in Cognac, France. But the brand was created by an Irishman. Richard Hennessy was born to an aristocratic family in County Cork in 1724. As was fairly common for a man of his stature, Hennessy left Ireland for continental Europe, where he fought for Louis XV’s army, founded Hennessy in 1765, and began the family legacy of getting very classy people drunk.
In case you forgot, here’s what Cognac is.
Cognac, and its older cousin Armagnac, are two glorious products of man’s eternal desire to turn anything and everything into alcohol. Both Cognac and Armagnac are grape brandies or, essentially, distilled wines with higher ABVs. Basic Hennessy is a combination of 40 distillations, which is then French-oak-barrel-aged and sipped — ideally with extreme classiness — out of a tulip-shaped snifter. The oak definitely has an impact on the brandy, but it’s subtler, often nutty or toasty, drying out richer Cognac notes like tender fruit, vanilla, and spice.
The alphabet is your guide to Hennessy.
The letters that come after the name Hennessy (V.S., X.O., V.S.O.P., etc.) are actually straightforward, useful ways to gauge a brandy’s impact on your palate — and your wallet. Fortunately for brandy drinkers, and the brandy curious, we wrote up a handy guide. But the gist of the letters is a guide to aging — “Very Old,” “Very Special,” “Extra Old,” and so forth.
We love Nas. Nas loves Hennessy.
It’s also possible Nas loves the profitable “brand ambassador” endorsement deal he made with Hennessy, which is a delightful partnership for many reasons, but also because it led to a commercial where the “Time is Illmatic” phenom does the unthinkable and makes meaningful eye contact with people on a New York City subway.
(Of course, Nas isn’t the first or only hip hop artist to sip Cognac. As a writer for VinePair reported, “the word Hennessy or Cognac is mentioned in over 1,000 songs by such famed artists as Notorious BIG, 2Pac, Kanye West, Rick Ross, Nas, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent.”)
Regular Hennessy is an affordable luxury. Extra Special Hennessy will annihilate your debit card.
Hennessy V.S., which has notes of soft fruit, toasted nuts, and vanilla, will run you about $50 to $55. But if you’ve got the cash, go for the 250-year anniversary bottle named after founder Richard Hennessy. It’s a mix of roughly 100 eaux de vie, resulting in an incredibly delicate bouquet of spice, oak, and tender fruit, and, oh yes, retails anywhere from $3999.99 to $4999.99. Also known as the cost of about 20 minutes of Ivy League college. Sip slowly.
Sip very slowly.
Hennessy is a mega-brand, with control of half of the world’s Cognac production. But last year the company actually had to hold back product from store shelves because demand for the stuff is rapidly, thirstily outpacing supply.
There’s fancy, and then there’s Henny Fancy.
Hennessy isn’t content being just a little fancy. It decided to partner with both Moët & Chandon and Louis Vuitton, apparently creating the world’s fanciest trifecta. Which is to say, if you can afford it, we suggest double-fisting Hennessy and Champagne while wearing exactly this.
It’s Henny’s fault. All of it.
Not at all a historic fact, but important to know if and when legal or personal issues crop up: Jamie Foxx famously suggested we all blame our bad decisions on Hennessy. As in that “My Little Pony” tattoo you got “ironically” last weekend, not because you deeply miss the innocence and magic of your childhood.
The guy behind the iconic Obama ‘Hope’ poster designed a Hennessy bottle.
Street artist and social activist Shepard Fairey designed the bottle for a bottle of “Very Special,” (V.S., per above) Hennessy as part of its Limited Edition bottle series. Art and culture seem to matter a lot to Hennessy. The brand recently partnered with artist and rapper A$AP FERG and Chinese new media artist Yang Yongliang.