Hennessy

In 1765, Richard Hennessy founded more than just a company but a lasting tradition that exemplified the lifestyle of luxury, dedication, craftsmanship, and an experience that has evolved and incorporated 250 years of class.

For his stellar military service to France, Richard Hennessy was awarded French citizenship and lands in Cognac, France where he founded the House of Hennessy with his partners and established a thriving business exporting brandies, mostly to his native Ireland, and England.

The Bras Armé, the Hennessy family coat-of-arms, became the symbol of the Hennessy brand. The brand of the arm wielding an axe harkens back to the military service that won Hennessy the right to land and paved the way to founding a tradition that has lasted quarter of a millennium.

The House of Hennessy

Richard Hennessy hired Jean Fillioux as the first Hennessy Master Wine Maker in 1786 and began another lasting tradition within the Hennessy House. Extraordinarily, the relationship between the two families, 8 generations of direct Fillioux descendants, has continued within the Hennessy House to this day. Throughout the years, the creation of Hennessy cognacs has been overseen by the Fillioux family, including Yann Fillioux, Master Wine Maker of today.

By 1792, the first shipments of Hennessy had arrived in the United States of America and this time tested cognac swiftly gained popularity throughout the new nation in the West. Today, the company of Jas Hennessy & Co. sells about 50 million bottles a year worldwide, or more than 40 percent of the world’s Cognac, making it the world's largest Cognac producer.

Built in 1810, Chateau Bagnolet was acquired by Auguste Hennessy in 1841, where he settled with his family and became known for hosting lavish gatherings. The House now serves as the international cultural headquarters for Hennessy, hosting dignitaries, artists, and musicians, for a variety of special events.

The middle of the 19th century saw the first deliveries of Hennessy cognac to China in 1859. The brand quickly became an ambassador for French culture in the Far East. Today, Hennessy is an icon in Chinese culture, a traditional part of family celebrations and fine cuisine.

With arms stretched out from France both West and East, the image of Hennessy was already pervasive before the 20th century began. It wasn’t till 1938, that Stokes & Bynoe Ltd. was appointed distributor of Hennessy in Barbados and joined a masterful tradition spanning the ages.

The dawn of the automobile age ushered in a new era of mobile marketing. As one of the few truly global brands at the time, Hennessy was on the forefront, with tastefully adorned vehicles in lands as far flung as China, Portugal, the USA, England, and beyond.

Today, modern fermenting, aging, and bottling techniques keep up with global demand while maintaining the consistent excellence of Hennessy cognacs. Hennessy was also an early environmental pioneer and remains an industry leader in sustainable agricultural, production, and distribution methods.

 

Meticulous methods

The unique soil surrounding the River Charente in the Cognac region of France is the birthplace for all the grapes used to create Hennessy cognacs as has been the tradition for 250 years. Ugni Blanc grapes are harvested, crushed, fermented, and then distilled according to strict practices perfected over time.

Each fall, since the Roman Empire ruled the region, the grapes of Cognac are harvested. What was once done by hand is now achieved through carefully honed modern tools. The grapes are quickly pressed for fermentation, and for a few weeks, usually in October, the hillsides fill with the scent of fresh crushed grapes.

Through centuries of experimentation, the Ugni Blanc variety of grapes prevailed as the dominant choice in the Cognac region. Perfect for distillation, the fruit boasts acidity, a high proportion of yeasts, and is well suited to the chalky soils that characterize the hillside vineyards that surround the Charente region.

Masters of an ancient craft, Hennessy coopers make water-tight barrels without a single drop of glue or a single nail, using only wood, heat, water, and metal bands. Only French oaks from the nearby Limousin or Tronçais forests are used. These French oaks are known for their low resin content and are perfect for aging the world’s most iconic cognac.

Predating revolutions in industry and production

Starting a tradition of cognac making before the great boons of the industrial revolution, Hennessy once utilised teams of skilled bottlers to create and distribute their product to the markets. In the age of changing methods of production the advent of steam and other innovations, Hennessy became one of the first spirit brands to distribute a product in bottles. Prior to this advance in packaging, spirits were distributed straight in their oaken casks.

Continuing their proud traditions, the Hennessy Tasting Committee has met every morning for over a century. At their headquarters in Cognac they gather to taste eaux-de-vie, catalogue maturation, and mastermind that create Hennessy cognac. A group and a ritual unique to Maison Hennessy, their generations of expertise create the world’s finest cognacs.

A history of class

For 250 years, Hennessy has impressed and pervaded the lives of world citizens from royalty to the world of rap, R&B and Reggae. As an experience of a lifestyle and a taste of class, Hennessy boasts a level of demand that perfectly balances this iconic spirit.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the Prince of Wales, a cognac connoisseur and future King George IV of Great Britain, personally ordered a “Very Superior Old Pale” from the House of Hennessy. Since then, “V.S.O.P” has become a benchmark for all cognac makers and adopted the title of “Privilege” the world over. 

A Cognac fit for Emperors, Paradis Imperial was inspired by a special order for the Tsar of Russia in 1818. It is comprised of eaux-de-vie aged from 30 to 130 years. It was Empress Maria Feodorovna who requested Hennessy to produce the most exceptional cognac as a birthday gift to her son, Tsar Alexander I. It began a tradition of the Russian royal court regularly enjoying Hennessy cognacs.  The Paradis Imperial has remained one of the highest grades of the cognac world and still sits almost at the top of the Hennessy catalogue. The only step above being the outstanding cognac created and named for the founder, Richard Hennessy.

The New Orleans Classic

One of the most storied cognac cocktails, dating back to 1850 from the Sazerac House in New Orleans, is the iconic cocktail of the Big Easy. Mix simple syrup, 3 dashes of bitters, Hennessy Cognac and ice in a glass. Remove the ice and in a chilled glass pour a small amount of absinthe over the ice. Discard the liquid, and add the flavoured ice to the Hennessy. Stir and serve.

In Art and Legend

Hennessy collaborations with celebrities of music and art have yielded a range of signature drink recipes, each reflecting the collaborator's unique attributes. From Nas' “Big Apple,” to Shepard Fairey's “Revolution,” artists have embraced the opportunity to express their creativity through cocktails.

Hennessy has indeed fully embraced the culture, and over the years the brand has chosen to collaborate with some of the most outstanding talents in Hip-Hop and urban culture, including Tupac Shakur, Erykah Badu, Kanye West, Eminem, Wyclef Jean, Ne-Yo 50Cent Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott andrecently Nas. 

Extending their tradition of musical patronage dating back to the 19th century, the first official Hennessy music event featured virtuoso violinist Patrice Fontanarosa conducting the Hennessy Concerto in 1977. Since then, Hennessy has hosted scores of prestigious Classical events, operas, and symphonies around the globe, including the famous Hennessy Artistry.

Throughout the years, Hennessy has fervently supported Jazz and Rhythm & Blues, collaborating with some of the most prestigious artists in both genres. Hennessy hosts the annual Blues Passions festival in Cognac and has partnered with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and even once launched an album with Grover Washington Jr.

Continuing their evolution and patronage of the arts, Hennessy in the Caribbean has seen a wave of unbridled spirit in the Reggae community and the icons of today taking part in a lifestyle that has been crafted for centuries.

From Hennessy Artistry to the Barbados Reggae Festival, the complete saturation of Hennessy brings more than just music and flavour to the world but also the taste of an experience, a life style that can trace back an illustrious past and an evolving future. The Hennessy brand strives for a continuing dialogue between the past and the present as a blend of, as they say, grands siècles, the great centuries. 

For the 250th anniversary, Hennessy has launched their H250 tour of visual artists from around the world. The tour sees Hennessy’s legacy, its unique expertise and emblematic objects that have marked its history, interpreted through the eyes of internationally renowned artists: photographers, filmmakers, and designers including Xavier Veilhan, Charles Sandison, Pierrick Sorin, Tony Oursler, Anton Corbijn, and Constance Guisset.

In 2003 the Hennessy Privilège Awards were established to recognise those who give back to their community, while also embodying the attributes that define Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège: mastery, strength, and sophistication. Past honourees include Daymond John, Spike Lee, Magic Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, and George Lopez, among others.            

In Barbados, there is a tendency to call it brandy, but it’s really cognac because of where it is made. Cognac can only be called such when it is made in the Cognac territory of France. A lot of the grape vines there are 45 years and older. They grow and are trimmed every spring. In those mountains they train the vines. If they have too many sprouts and bear too much then the quality goes down.

The grapes are fermented to make wine and then the wine is distilled to make cognac. For Hennessy, they take the first and last distillation away and only use the middle distillation. That is what they refer to as eaux-de-vie that goes into the cask and aged to become Hennessy Cognac.