This is my last article on the recent Universal Whisky Experience that I attended this past April in Las Vegas. Night one was the grand tasting and day two was the master classes. Last week I shared what I learned about the Oban Distillery. Today we depart whisky and enter the world of Cognac, with none other than a distillery that has been around longer than the U.S.: Hennessy.

We would get a lesson, a tasting, and in a shift to the unexpected: craft a couple of cocktails ourselves. Cocktails that proved to have been around longer than most.

The Lesson

Cognac began on a ship, according to my classmate and LA Scotch Club member Marshall Naiman, who, when asked shared a little story about how some wine had been damaged by heat but in the end became the start of Cognac.

Hennessy began before the U.S. was a nation, back in Napoleon’s time, founded by Richard Hennessy and master blender John Fillioux. Two families that to this day still work together at Hennessy. More tidbits of info:

  • Cognac can only be made in the cognac region of France.
  • Uni Blanc, a not-so-great table wine, is the perfect grape to make Cognac from, and comprises 95-98% of Cognac’s vineyards.
  • Hennessy makes about 50% of all of Cognac’s distribution.
  • When a master blender begins work at Hennessy, he is not allowed to speak for ten years during his training.
  • Cognac is aged 40 to 60 years – then comes blending.
  • They have 350 thousand casks.
  • The tasting committee meets every day at 11am.

The Tasting

We had both the X.O and the VSOP, alone and in cocktails. Tasting alone on the VSOP I got notes of caramel, cream and toasted marshmallow while others in the class also noted apricot, spicy dried fruit, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and honey.

For the X.O we noted a “dark mahogany color due to more oak time that also rounded out the flavor.” The class consensus on the tasting included notes of candied oranges and molasses” while I got dark and dusty flavors and a mouth coating viscosity. An extremely long finish gave off flavors of “dried prunes, plums, chocolate and spice.” We tried the X.O on ice as well, ice that had been flown in from Miami and had zero minerals or chemicals. The ice “softens the flavor, aromas and alcohol” making the Cognac easily approachable to all.

The Cocktails

The first cocktail book published included a recipe from 1850 for the “Hennessy Brandy Cocktail.” We got to make both the French 75 Champagne Cocktail and a Sazerac. While we juggled bar spoons, jiggers, mixing glasses, lemons, bitters, simple syrup, and were given glasses freshly rinsed with Absinthe I thought, heck, I could get used to this. Hennessy is definitely going to be a spirit to explore more of.

Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a "certification in first globally-recognized course" as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com