Hennessy is the largest distiller of Cognac in France and one of the leading spirits brands in the world. It accounts for an incredible 40% of all Cognac production. It is one of the 'big four' houses in the famous Cognac region - Courvoisier, Martell and Remy Martin being the others - and boasts some of the oldest maturing stock. The wide core range caters for all price brackets from highly affordable to incredibly expensive. The brand sells a staggering 50 million bottles each year worldwide.
Hennessy is known for its sweet, floral and fruity style of brandy. Younger expressions exhibit sugary sweetness and soft dried fruit notes. Older expressions show darker dried fruit, wood spice and savoury notes.
The core range consists of the VS (Very Special), VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and XO (Extra Old) expressions. The super-premium range includes such releases as the Paradis, Paradis Imperial, Richard Hennessy and Ellipse. Both ranges are often joined by limited edition, collaborative or collectable bottlings.
Cognac, as well as Hennessy Cognac, is only produced between October and March, following the annual grape harvest. The company use only Ugni Blanc grapes grown in four of the six crus of the Cognac region. These are Borderies, Fin Bois, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. The grapes are made into a very dry and acidic style of wine. It is then distilled twice through Charantais copper pot stills. The first distillation is to produce a raw spirit called brouillis. The second produces eau-de-vie.
The eaux-de-vie are then matured in French oak barrels for a minimum of two years. This must take place within the designated Cognac region in France. Hennessy has a complex of chais (temperature and humidity-controlled cellar style warehouses) which house over 350,000 barrels.
The distillery was founded by Richard Hennessy in 1765. He was an Irish man from Co.Cork who served in the French Army under Louis XV. Following injury, he settled in the town of Cognac, to the north of Bordeaux. He built his distillery on the banks of the River Charante. His son James Hennessy took over upon Richard's death in 1800 and later formed Jas Hennessy & Co. in 1813. Jas is a shortened form of James in French.
In 1971 Jas Hennessy & Co. controversially gave up the family ownership after over 200 years. This was led by Kilian Hennessy, a fifth-generation descendant of Richard, who brokered a deal to merge with Moët & Chandon, the famous Champagne house. The new company was named Moët Hennessy.
In 1987 they merged again, this time with luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton. This created Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. LVMH remain as the distillery and brand owner today. The brandy continues to be produced under the Jas Hennessy & Co. label.
Hennessy has historically been an innovator in the Cognac category, with some spreading to the wider brandy world. It was the first to introduce the VSOP classification in 1817. This was developed for the British Royal Family and grew in popularity amongst the upper classes as a result. It was also the first to create an XO expression, which appeared in 1870.
More recently Hennessy has featured heavily in pop culture, particularly with rap and hip hop artists. This includes Sean Paul, Snoop Dogg and Tupac. Rapper NAS is also a brand ambassador. This has helped bring Hennessy to a new and younger audience.