Sippin' on some 'Sy 

Maurice Hennessy, eighth generation descendant of the Moet Hennessy legacy, was in town two weeks ago for a Black Expo presentation — namely, to present a portion of Hennessy’s June/July cognac sales in Indiana to Thurgood Marshall scholarship representatives. But that didn’t stop Hennessy from carving out some time to taste cognac at The Oceanaire with a few interested parties.

Hennessy emanated born superiority with his stately eyebrows and a European accent that couldn’t be pinpointed by a mongrel American like myself. Yes, this was the perfect patriarch figure for some of the most popular cognac on earth.

Hennessy, Maurice’s people told me, comprises 60 percent of the cognac market — 65 percent of the cognac market in Bloomington. Apparently in our time of economic downtroddenness, people still want to drink the best. And if you can afford — or pretend to afford — to drink the best, Hennessy has a few options for you.

Cognac, the spirit named after its grape-harvesting region in France, hails from the early 17th century. It predates the first American cocktails, which were born in the 19th century. But Maurice and Co. claim that cognac and rum were the first spirits to be incorporated in mixed drinks: Vodka was still the domain of Russia; Scotch whisky was still in Scotland. Guess what went into the first mint juleps? Cognac. A slap in the face to those Southerners who insisted on eating only “Freedom Fries” a few years back.

If you honor Hennessy’s cocktail legacy, you’ll likely do it with the slightly aged VS or “Very Special” edition, which can run you a mere $30-$40 per bottle but gain you exponential ounces of cool. The price point and taste appeal to the younger consumer, though classic cocktails like the syrupy, citrusy Sidecar will still impart a bit of maturity. Drink it alone, and you may get hints of caramel in the nose, licorice at the back of the throat. The farther up you go in age and price with Hennessy — VSOP, XO, Paradis — the darker, the more integrated and the mellower the spirit becomes.  

The varieties’ stories are worth mentioning: The VSOP, which held a bit of tangerine nuance for me, was created for an English king. And the Paradis, designed as an homage to one of the Hennessy descendants, is gentle yet pungent, like drinking silk. This one’s also fit for a king — or a dictator like Kim Jung-Ill, who is a noted fan of this varietal.  

No amount of tasting notes will quite impart cognac’s nuances unless you experience it yourself.  Mixed drinks and food pairings are a good way to acquaint yourself without being, you know, left alone on the first date with something as daunting as a Hennessy.

Asian fruit offers a nice tangy juxtaposition that you can try in the “One Hundred Kisses” recipe with XO Hennessy, which also goes well with chocolate and spicy food. Foie gras, caviar and sushi provide tactile complements to the spirit’s rich mouthfeel.

And if this all seems too snobby for you, think of it as the poor but smart man’s cognac. For in these frugal times, even Louis XIII-lovin’ rappers may be sippin’ some Hennessy on the sly. 


Courtesy Stephanie Krol/McFarland Cahill Communications

Hennessy Pom Sidecar

1-1/2 oz. Hennessy VS
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. pomegranate juice
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
Dash of orange bitters
Fresh thyme

In a shaker, combine all ingredients. Shake over ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with fresh thyme.

C’est Si Bon

1-1/2 oz. Hennessy VS
2 fresh strawberries
1/2 oz. Monin cinnamon syrup
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
Muddle the fresh strawberries with all ingredients, shake and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a strawberry slice.

Hennessy XOXOXO
(One Hundred Kisses)

1-1/2 oz. Hennessy XO
1/2 oz. Mymoune Rose Syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. Moët & Chandon White Star
1 small ripe black mission fig, plum, prune (or other red fleshy fruit in season)
Thinly sliced star fruit

In shaker, muddle fruit (pits removed) with syrups. Add Hennessy XO, lemon juice and ice. Shake well and strain over ice into cocktail glass. Top with Champagne and garnish with slice of star fruit.

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