The Hennessy brand has a certain prominence attached to it. In fact, it’s often wellplaced among other leading brands at highbrow events and celebrity shindigs.
When Maurice Hennessy, who is eighth generation Hennessy, was recently in town for a special luncheon to speak about his
family’s renowned legacy as cognac-makers, I stole him away for a quick tête-à-tête.
This bespectacled, grey-haired heir is nothing like I imagined. He was loquacious, witty and full of sweet anecdotes. When we sat down, after agreeing to several requests for selfies, he said: “My family has been making Hennessy cognac for 252 years in the town of Cognac in south-west France.
“It is a place surrounded by 150 000 hectares of vineyards, which are used to make wine. This wine is distilled twice in copper
stilts, which produces a spread which is 70% alcohol. It is then stored and aged in French oak barrels for many, many years. In the case of Hennessy, we are talking sometime between 50 to 100 years. The oldest we have is from the 1800s.”
Hennessy said not every cognac was the same – some have aged for three to four years because Hennessy makes a lot of VS (Very
Special), which was popular in South Africa.
“This cognac is younger and spicier I suppose.”
For those who don’t know, this particular brand of Hennessy is deep copper, and boasts an intense and fruity pleasant oak aroma.
Reflecting on his childhood and being born into the Hennessy Empire, Hennessy said: “Of course, it was a small town. The Hennessey’s were something. I wouldn’t say it was like growing up like Prince Charles in Buckingham Palace. No, no. I went to a public school. In my class there were people whose families were owners of other cognac firms. Others were from the bottling lines and so on.And it was okay.
“Back then, you were seen as either a nice guy or not. Nobody cared if you were from the Hennessy family. They used to see me on my push bike to get home, which was about 5km away. In the winter, it was dark and snowing. They saw me as one of them.”
He is still in touch with many of them and most have retired.
Hennessy said he came from a privileged home. His father was a nuclear scientist.
“They are not paid well in any country. It was a sort of grand bourgeois lifestyle in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. I was never forced to join the family business. My father said it wasn’t for me. He said I wouldn’t like it because I’m not a businessman. His idea about having to be a businessman is not true. I don’t think you have to be. Here I am a jester-curator. Now the job is separate.”
On how the brand has evolved over the decades and centuries, he said his godfather’s sisters would drink a glass of Hennessy
before going to bed although most drinkers were men.
“Few men drank Hennessy on its own and in the traditional glass. In England and Ireland, there was a racing cocktail called Horse’s Neck, which is ginger ale and Hennessy. Lots of bottles were consumed that way. Then came the American
evolution, he said.
“A long time ago in the ’60s and ’70s, it was starting to be a sedate drink for older gentleman. Then it was revived by the American youth; rappers helped a lot. They liked Hennessy. They liked the name. If you see the words of hip hop songs – and lots of statistics were done about this even in Time magazine – all the luxury brands are written in. The guy writing lived in very poor surroundings and had dreams of these. Also, Hennessy rolls off the tongue. It’s amazing how it all happened.”
Hennessy can can be consumed in many ways.
“You can have it neat, on the rocks or you can make beautiful cocktails. Just ask your mixologist. It’s something you can have your
favourite way. But please don’t have it with evaporated milk or in a warm glass. I like to have mine, depending on whether it is VS or
VSOB, with berry water and ice, on the rocks or as a cocktail. But it has to be a good cocktail; if you are not tasting the cognac in it, it’s a pity.”
As we wrapped up the interview, he tucked into the decadent dessert that arrived and had been begging for his attention.