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Hennessy Cognac

Hennessy is a French producer of cognac, which has its headquarters in Cognac, France. It is one of the "big four" cognac houses, along with Martell, Courvoisier, and Rémy Martin, who together make around 85% of the world's cognac. It is know for producing Hennessy XO cognac and other very special cognacs.

The Hennessy story
The Hennessy story begins with Richard Hennessy, son of Lord Ballymacmoy. He was born in 1724 in Cork but left Ireland at the age of 20 as part of the ‘Wild Geese’ generation of Irish Catholics to fight for France against Britain. Hennessy arrived in France at the age of just 20. According to one story, he was injured at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745 in present day Belgium during the War of Spanish Succession. Later he settled on the banks of the Charente River, near the town of Cognac. In 1765, he went into the brandy business with two partners and the help of loans from Parisian banks. He married a local woman called Helene and had a son called Jacques, or James as he was also known.
It was James Hennessy who turned his father’s brandy business into an international concern. His choice of wife was a canny one, Martine Martell, who he married in 1795. She was the daughter of Jean Martell, a British, or sort of British, he was from Guernsey, Cognac merchant. Hennessy began exporting to the US, the first shipment arrived in New York in 1794. Richard Hennessy died in 1800.
In 1804, the firm took the big step of exporting in glass bottles rather than barrels. This meant that Hennessy had full control of the product from grape to the customer’s glass so that adulteration and outright counterfeiting were much harder. In 1806 Jean Fillioux was appointed master blend. Amazingly enough eight generations later his descendant Renaud Fillioux de Gironde is Hennessy’s master blender - a bit of almost unprecedented continuity in the Cognac industry.
The house of Hennessy pioneered some of the designations that are so familiar to us today. The first VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) appeared in 1817, at the request of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and throughout the 19th century, the Hennessy brand continued to grow exports, with the first shipments to Russia in 1818 and China in 1859. The story of XO came about when fourth generation family member Maurice Hennessy asked cellar master Emile Fillioux to create a special cognac for his family and friends, using long-aged eaux-de-vie. They called it ‘XO’ for ‘Extra Old. The designation was so well-received that it later became an industry standard. In 1947, Gérald de Geoffre, Maurice Hennessy’s great-grandson, created the classic XO bottle, a shape inspired by an upturned cluster of grapes.

In 1971 the years of family ownership came to an end when the then chairman Killian Hennessy merged the company with Moët & Chandon. Moët Hennessy later combined with luxury goods powerhouse Louis Vuitton to form Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy – LVMH – in 1987.

Henessy and hip hop
Hennessy and indeed the Cognac category in general received a boost when it became the drink of choice for rappers in the 1990s and 2000s, name-checked in songs such as 2Pac’s ‘Hennessy’, Snoop Dogg’s ‘Hennesey N Buddha’, and Ja Rule’s ‘So Much Pain’. Today, Hennessy is one of the most revered brands not just in Cognac but the world. Under the watchful eye of master blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, the house produces around 100 million bottles a year making it the largest producer in the region. He selects eaux-de-vie from only four of the region’s crus - Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. Hennessy’s cellars contain over 300,000 casks of maturing Cognac. These might go into everything from the jewel in the crown Paradis Imperial to more everyday offerings like the VS (Cery Special) which is perfect for cocktails like the Sidecar. In 2020, Hennessy celebrated the 150th anniversary of the XO with a special £15,000 limited edition designed by architect Frank Gehry.

The last descendant of the founder on the board, Killian Hennessy, died in 2010 at the age of 103 but eight generation family member, Maurice-Richard Hennessy, continues as a brand ambassador, over 300 years after his ancestor Richard Hennesy was born.

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