Hennessy VS Cognac: Everything You Need To Know

Hennessy is a leading brand among various cognacs available today (via Rolling Stone). It is very popular in bars and homes across the U.S. (via Statista). Hennessy has even spawned its own slang term; the popular term "drinkin' Henny," is specifically used to refer to drinking Hennessy brand cognac (via Dictionary.com).

Cognac is a type of French brandy. Brandy has been used for centuries as medicine: French monks were so taken with its medicinal properties that they labeled it "eau-de-vie" which translates to "water of life" (via Greatist). Cognac was also typically enjoyed as a digestif (via Eater). 

Hennessy cognac arrived in U.S. markets in 1794 and has since grown to acquire a stronghold on the Cognac market (via The Spruce Eats). According to Slate, the drink was consumed and popularized by African American soldiers and jazz musicians who spent time in France during and between both world wars. 

Like other cognacs, Hennessy is made from white grapes that are fermented into wine and then aged in barrels for at least two years, leading to this drink's fruity, oaky taste, and deep amber color. In order to be labeled as Cognac, the harvesting of the grapes and the production must take place in the Cognac region of France.

Hennessy V.S Cognac is the company's flagship cognac. It has a bit more bite than other cognacs and boasts a whopping 80 proof, or 40% alcohol (via Difford's Guide). There's so much to know about this cognac and this company. 

The founding of Hennessy

Hennessy is named after its founder, an Irish military officer and businessman by the name of Richard Hennessy (via VinePair). Hennessy's founder is Irish and the drink is therefore often mistaken as a whiskey; however, Hennessy is a French cognac that was created and established in France (via District Magazine).  

When Richard Hennessy was 19 years old, he followed in the footsteps of Irish men who were leaving Ireland to join the French army; these men were known as the "wild geese." After the war, Hennessy decided to enter the cognac market and established a business. In 1765 he set up his own distillery in Cognac and began producing his own cognac. 

By 1794 Hennessy was being exported to the United States (via Hennessy). In 1804 Hennessy revolutionized the cognac industry and began to export labeled glass bottles to enable worldwide recognition of the product name and help build the status of the brand.

The company managed to prevail through the French revolution, allowing Hennesy's son James to take the business to new heights. In 1806, Richard Hennessy appointed Jean Fillioux as the very first Hennessy Master Blender to ensure the quality of the product. 

It survived prohibition as a prescription medicine

The American policy of prohibition was enforced from 1920 to 1933 and made it became illegal to sell or consume alcohol (via History Extra). Breweries and alcohol producers during this time had to find new ways to make money just to stay afloat (via The Mob Museum). Some breweries started selling malt syrup and yeast.

Wineries began selling grapes and raisins to customers (via MassLive.com). Several wineries made wine specifically for religious practices since this was one of the few exceptions to the prohibition. Producers of hard liquors had to get more creative, though. Doctors during the prohibition frequently wrote prescriptions for alcohol (via Smithsonian Magazine). During the time, alcohol was thought to aid health issues such as indigestion and cancer. 

Hennessy, of course, was intent on surviving and wanted in on the action. Thankfully William Schiefflin offered Hennessy as a prescription option at his drugstore, which enabled the brand's continued success. Eventually, Schiefflin gave up the pretense, and Schiefflin & Co. became a key liquor distributor (via Maxim). 

Hennessy invested in the African American community

According to VinePair, African Americans are the major proponents of Hennessy Cognac. It all began when African American soldiers returned from France after the world wars having developed a taste for cognac (via Slate). After the war, scotch began to be marketed to French consumers, causing cognac producers to look toward U.S. markets to make up for the decrease in revenues. 

In the 1950s, Hennessy began advertising in magazines geared toward Black Americans such as Ebony and Jet; these were the first advertisements of their kind in America at the time. Hennessy didn't just advertise to the African American community, they invested in it. VinePair notes that the company also began hiring African Americans into leadership positions in the company. Herb Douglass, a bronze medal Olympian from Pittsburgh, PA, was the vice president of urban market development. He was the third African American man to acquire this kind of position in a leading business.

VS stands for "Very Special"

Want to impress your friends and family with your cognac knowledge? There is a simple way: There is an entire grading system that is used to indicate the age of brandies on bottle labels (via VinePair). Generally, the older the brandy, the pricier it becomes.

VS literally stands for "Very Special." Yes, that is the real term for this category of Cognac. Hennessy Very Special Cognac is generally aged for two to five years (via Difford's Guide). It is the youngest in Hennessy's line of cognacs and is also the most well-known (via Cognac.com). The brand offers several easy-to-prepare cocktail recipes for the Hennessy V.S. cognac.  

VS is followed by VSOP or "Very Superior Old Pale" on the grading scale and refers to brandy that has been aged for at least four years. Finally, brandy aged for six years or more is labeled XO for "Extra Old." The Hors d' Age category refers to extremely old cognacs.

It's hard not to wonder who exactly came up with these terms. But now that you're aware of them, you can impress people with your very special cognac knowledge.

Hennessy V.S Cognac flavor profile

As noted, the V.S Cognac is Hennessy's youngest and least expensive offering. Due to its young age, it hasn't had sufficient time to mellow or build the kind of flavor complexity possessed by other higher-ranking cognacs (via Cognac.com). This is not to say that this popular cognac doesn't have an enjoyable flavor profile. 

According to The Spruce Eats, Hennessy's cognacs tend to have the traditional burnt wine flavor of brandy, which is slightly dampened by the oakiness. The V.S cognac is noted as having hints of almond, fruit, and vanilla as well as a peppery finish. The harshness of the V.S is likely caused by its relatively young age. 

This cognac certainly has a bit of a bite, though it is not wholly unpleasant. Flaiver describes it as having a medium finish with a residual taste of grape, which is probably more pleasant than it sounds. The drink offers a warm, fruity-nutty flavor with a bit of a kick.

The process of creation

Even hundreds of years after its founding, the Hennessy V.S, along with all other cognacs, is made in Cognac, France (via Hennessy). The V.S Cognac is made from ugni blanc grapes, which are harvested and turned into a low alcohol white wine (via YouTube). The wine production process for cognacs begins in October, when grapes are typically harvested, pressed, and fermented for five to seven days (via Difford's Guide).

The wine is then taken to one of three Hennessy distilleries, all of which have 10 traditional copper stills each. Unlike wine that is intended for bottling and consumption, Cognac wine goes into the distillation process still cloudy, with the lees, or the juice and the pulp, still present, which adds body to the liquid. Cognac is generally distilled twice. The distillation process spans from November to March. Following distillation, the cognac is transferred into oak barrels to age for at least two years.

How Hennessy V.S compares to other cognacs

The V.S is Hennessy's youngest designation of cognac. Younger cognacs tend to have a lighter coloring (via Painturaud Freres). For this reason, some cognac houses add caramel coloring to their VS Cognacs to make them appear darker and longer-aged than they actually are (via Cognac Expert).  

Aside from the physical appearance, the Hennessy V.S.O.P differs from the Hennessy V.S in terms of taste. The Hennessy V.S.O.P has a stronger flavor of wood and, since it has been aged longer, is noticeably smoother than its V.S counterpart (via BlackTailNYC.com). Due to this longer aging process, the V.S.O.P is more expensive per bottle as compared to the Hennessy V.S (via Wine & Liquor). 

And, for the Hennessy X.O, which is aged for at least 10 years, the price can range between $199 and $229 per bottle. Hennessy also offers specialty blends such as Hennessy Black, a young blend aged in old oak barrels that is ideal for mixology as well as the Richard Hennessy, a blend aged in historic barrels which carries a price tag that would make you weep. The Hennessy V.S is best for those looking for a solid, standard, and affordable Cognac. It is widely available and you will know exactly what you're getting into with this variety. 

The price point

We are not going to sugarcoat it: Cognac is an expensive drink (via Liquor Laboratory). The high cost can be attributed to the high quality of materials that are used to make it as well as the extended periods of time the liquid spends resting in barrels. 

A 750-milliliter bottle of Hennessy V.S typically runs between $33.99 to 38.99 per bottle. While this isn't exactly cheap, the fact that a bottle of Hennessy V.S.O.P starts at $83.99 puts things into perspective and makes Hennessy V.S easier to swallow. That being said, Hennessy V.S is more expensive than other VS options; it is considered a mid-range Cognac option (via The Spruce Eats). 

According to Congac.com, the V.S cognac is priced between 5% to 20% higher than competitors. How does Hennessy get away with charging so much for bottom-shelf Cognac? The answer is simple: Hennessy is a known and trusted brand, meaning that they can charge a higher price due to the recognition associated with the brand name. Between the Hennessy brand's status and the supply shortages caused by the climate, Hennessy can often justify charging a hefty sum for the V.S Cognac. 

The best way to drink Hennessy V.S Cognac

Cognacs such as Hennessy are best consumed neat without ice in a tulip-shaped glass called a snifter (via Liquor Laboratory). A snifter is a traditional brandy glass that enables imbibers to properly enjoy the unaltered flavor, aromas, and overall experience of the brandy itself. If you are looking to mellow the flavor of the Hennessy V.S, which can be on the harsh side, you can also drink it on the rocks, which means with ice (via The Spruce Eats).

The Hennessy V.S can also be consumed in a short and wide glass called a tumbler glass and served with two large cubes of ice (via BlackTailNYC.com). The more ice you use, the more diluted the Cognac will be. Of course, given its youth and relative affordability as compared to other Hennessy products, the Hennessy V.S makes for an excellent mixing cognac. 

Hennessy's website describes the V.S as a good mixer and goes on to list a plethora of cocktail recipes they recommended the Cognac for. Liquid Bread Mag recommends various different mixers for Hennessy from ginger ale to cranberry juice. As Gwendoline Poirier, a tour guide for Hennessy told Business Insider, the strong flavors of Hennessy V.S make it an excellent option for cocktails such as the Summit.

Hennessy is the highest-selling cognac brand

Hennessy V.S is the top-selling Cognac in the world, and not by a small margin (via Decanter). This iconic brand effortlessly outpaces all other options. In 2019, Hennessy outperformed the second highest-selling brand by more than double (via The Spirits Business). According to Statista, Hennessy accounts for 69% of the global sales volume and 26% of the market share in the U.S. in 2020. Not bad for a French company started more than 250 years ago by an Irishman.

As has been previously mentioned, Hennessy V.S remains wildly popular in spite of the fact that it is relatively more expensive than other similar varieties (via Cognac.com).  This can be partially attributed to customer perceptions, which hold this brand in high regard and associate it with high standards, quality, and goodwill. Hennessy's adaptability and investments in the community have also helped this brand stay the top-selling Cognac in America. 

The bottle label is very special

The Hennessy label is instantly recognizable: The logo, which sits over the company's name, depicts an arm holding an ax above the words "Maison Fondée 1765" which translates to "House Founded 1765." The logo pays homage to the founder Richard Hennessy's family's coat of arms (via 1000 Logos). The Hennessy coat of arms was not originally a part of the label, rather, it was adapted for the label after Richard Hennessy's death. 

Grapevines surround the name and the logo, as well as the  "very special" designation (via Hennessy). It's not this historic logo alone that makes the Hennessy V.S label so special. What could be more special than these embossed details? Light. The vines and logo on the bottle are contoured with black light luminescent details which make the label glow when it is exposed to certain kinds of light, making it ideal for parties, bars, and nightclubs. Additionally, a limited-edition 2015 Hennessy V.S label also featured a design of fluorescent colors that glowed in the dark under black light, giving the bottle a special glow (via 2Luxury2.com).

It is mentioned in over 1,000 songs

Cognac has long been associated with music culture: It was popular among jazz musicians in France and receives continued recognition in hip hop music (via Cool Accidents). According to VinePair, Hennessy has been mentioned in more than 1,000 songs. The brand is referenced in songs such as "Hennessy” by Tupac, "One Dance" by Drake, and Cardi B's hit "WAP," to name just a few. 

Cardi B's sister's stage name, Hennessy Carolina, is inspired by the drink. In 2015, the brand commemorated its 250th anniversary by naming famed hip-hop artist Nas as its brand ambassador. This connection between Hennessy and hip hop transcends domestic and national boundaries: As Congo-born artist Youssoupha said in an interview with Hennessy "the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Hennessy Cognac is rap, American rap. It's rap from the U.S. that I grew up with and enjoyed." 

Hennessy's ability to stay present in pop culture has helped it stay relevant across generations. Even though it's a drink that many people remember their grandparents drinking, it doesn't get categorized as an old drink. Hennessy has stayed present in the zeitgeist, giving the brand a wonderfully timeless quality. 

Hennessy remains committed to investing in Black leadership

Hennessy is well-loved among the African American community (via Cocktails Distilled). Historically, the company has hired and promoted Black Americans within their company (via VinePair). Now, the brand is taking this ethos a step further and helping Black businesses grow. This is why Hennessy, in collaboration with the Marcus Graham Project founded the Never Stop Never Settle Society (via PR Newswire).

Hennessy's impetus for creating the campaign is fighting the inequality and adversity that Black entrepreneurs face in America (via Hennessy).  The program provides $50,000 grants to Black entrepreneurs through a $1 million fund created by the company (via Black Enterprise). 

The society also provides networking opportunities through membership in a Black-owned digital networking community, The Gathering Spot as well as mentoring from executives within the Moet Hennessy company. Entrepreneurs who meet the designated requirements can apply to the program on the Hennessy website.