We had no idea what to expect when the Hennessy Le Voyage appeared on the calendar. It’s been at least 10 years since I danced with any cognac. A sidecar of the Henny V.S. and a bottle of Budweiser Select was the scene at my sister’s house party on the westside in Douglas Park back then. This event was a bit more elevated, located in a private modern residence in West Town. In between the Dallas and Miami experiences was this weeklong excursion in Chicago. Hennessy ambassadors shared family history, cocktails and different blends from the maison that produces 50% of the world’s cognac.
French law dictates that all cognac must come from France. Cognac is a coastal region 400 miles southwest of Paris. After white wine is distilled twice in copper pots, it can be classified as Eau De Vie (Water of Life).
This elixir may be the most misunderstood of all spirits. It’s funny because at one time it was at the heart of the world’s most beloved cocktails.
In 1776, Irishman, Richard Hennessy settled near the town of Cognac. He quickly discovered how delicious the brandy from the region was and began selling it with his two sons. All the cognacs from Hennessy are blends of many distillates. The blending process is an endless pursuit of luxury that the patriarchs of the cognac region take seriously.
Entry into the Hennessy Selection Committee requires an 8 yr. apprenticeship. It is one of the most well respected groups in the spirits industry. 30-60 Eau De Vies are sampled a day to map their life journey and define their potential. This committee works exclusively for the 8th generation master distiller and convenes in the same room, at the same 11A.M. start time in a centuries old tasting tradition.
Grapes are what give cognac a flavor and complexity advantage compared to other spirits. There are other less expensive crops you can make spirits from such as potatoes, wheat, there’s even a black-eyed pea vodka. Whiskey can come from rye or wheat and tequila from agave, but if you’re asked to choose between plump, aromatic grapes in one hand or a raw potato in the other, it’s clear which one you would eat.
All Eau De Vie’s selected are aged in new French oak. An ‘active maturation process ensures that they will not sit in one barrel the entire lifecycle.
Hennessy does not release age statements; all offerings are identified by blend.
This is the blend created over 200 years ago for the future King of England who was the Duke of Wales at the time. King George IV was a well-known connoisseur of cognac. He wrote to the Hennessy family to request that they send him their finest very superior old pale cognac. At the time “old pale” was a quality indicator. If you knew it was old and pale, it hadn’t been aged in a barrel that long so the flavor would be more intense.
Rich, luscious red fruits dominate the palate. Very naturally sweet aromatics of white raisin with a hint of oak spice are present. This is the bartender cognac of choice. If you’re going to gift one cognac let it be this one, you can do anything with it. VSOP contains 60 Eau De Vies, the oldest in that blend will be 15 years.
It’s important not to confuse the VSOP with the Hennessy VS, like we did. VS is the more accessible offering with the beige and gold label that you hear about in songs. It’s the loud, raw young college kid – the one who doesn’t realize that they should tone it down. The VSOP on the other hand will change your brunch forever. It was featured in The French 75 and The Sazerac cocktails for this event.
This is an incredible, magical blend of over 100 Eau De Vies with up to 30 years of age all blended together at the end. You notice the darker color and a much richer aroma.
It’s reminiscent of bourbon in a way you don’t expect at all. Notes of apricot, peach, maple syrup, chocolate, caramel are all unexpectedly present in the Hennessy X.O
VSOP and X.O categories were both created by Hennessy. In1870 a private blend created for friends at home is introduced giving birth to the X.O This is a true luxury offering. Enjoying with hand cut ice cube that slowly dilutes so the bouquet and layers of flavor open.
-Filmmaker, Sir Ridley Scott (Thelma & Louise, Aliens) created a short film dedicated the Seven Worlds of Hennessy XO.
-A few decades after the American Revolution you start seeing some of the world’s earliest recorded cocktails recipes. This was around the time when Hennessy was coincidentally imported into the US for the first time. Over the next 100 years classic cocktails like the Mint Julep, French 75 and the Sazerac were all made with cognac. Other spirits adopted many of these cocktails after Prohibition.
– Hennessy shipped 500 cases of cognac to NYC to celebrate the end of Prohibition.
-Hennessy X.O retails for anywhere between $179 – $200 MSRP