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A Highly Spirited Affair

The invitation went something like this:

Dear Spud,

Hennessy would like you to come and sample some cognac and cocktails. Thursday, 3.30pm. You free?

Yours etc.

Notwithstanding the fact that I am not much of a brandy drinker, I recognise free drink when I see it the need to go forth and sample such things for the greater good of my readers. Besides, I am fond of brandy butter, brandy snaps and I’ve even been known to have the odd brandy alexander, so it’s not like I had a massive aversion to the task at hand.

Seeing Hennessy in a new light

Seeing Hennessy in a new light

So, with my sampling boots on, I headed off for what turned out to be quite an educational affair (honest, guv).

For a start, I can tell you that Hennessy is a thoroughly French enterprise, but was founded by an Irish man back in 1765. Perhaps the name explains why there’s a bottle of Hennessy lurking at the back of every Irish drinks cupboard. Or why Ireland is the 4th largest market for Hennessy in the world after the US, China and Russia. And that’s not per capita, people. That’s 4th largest in total. It seems that other brandies don’t get much of a look-in in this country.

And brandy it is. That particular kind of brandy that originates in the Cognac region of France and which must adhere to strict requirements in terms of its production in order for it to be designated cognac. At the heart of the process is wine which is double distilled to produce a 70% proof substance known as eau de vie. That is then aged and blended to produce various cognacs. Even the youngest of the cognacs made by Hennessy contains eau de vie which has been aged for a minimum of 8 years, while some of the oldest are blended from eau de vies that have been hanging around for anything up to 200 years.

Fair enough, says you, but what about the important stuff. How did it actually taste?

I’d have to day that my first and lasting impression as we worked our way through samples of Hennessy VS, VSOP, XO and Paradis was of a kind of caramel. I read later about the concept of rancio, a taste peculiar to fine cognacs that has indeed been described as being like caramel but a little bitter. There was a definite mellowness with increasing age too and the Paradis, my favourite and the eldest of the bunch, was very mellow indeed. At €325 a bottle, however, I don’t think I’ll be finding any of that at the back of my drinks cupboard anytime soon. We also got to look at (but not taste) the cognac that costs €1800 per bottle. The drinks, it seems, weren’t that free.

Alan mixes the Hennessy cognac cocktails

Mixing it up

After the cognacs, we moved on to cocktails, for which Hennessy, by and large, recommend using the younger cognacs. So, yes, the bottle that you have at the back of the cupboard will do nicely. Our cocktail specialist, Alan, impressed all present with his mixology. We sampled Hennessy VS with ginger ale and ice which, I have to say, made for a very pleasant summer drink. We had the miami, a union of Hennessy VS, mint, lime juice and sugar syrup and Hennessy’s answer to the all-pervasive mojito. There were several others too, though I think that my head, like the cocktails, was probably getting a bit muddled by then!

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The Hennessy Miami

Based on watching Alan, these seem roughly to be the proportions that he used, though, in the interests of thoroughness, I did have to mix one or two of these myself using that bottle from the back of the cupboard. I’ll just say that these proportions tasted good to me – though I have seen versions on the net that use relatively more cognac, so, if you feel like making it more alcoholic, be my guest.

Oh, and I guess you could try this with other cognacs but, shhh, don’t say I said so.

You’ll need, per serve:
  • 2 tblsp Hennessy VS
  • 1 tblsp lime juice
  • 1.5 tsp sugar syrup (made from half & half sugar & water)
  • 4 or more mint leaves
  • ice cubes
You’ll also need:
  • Cocktail shaker and general cocktail paraphernalia would be handy and kindof professional-looking but really not essential – you just need something with a lid to shake this in
The Steps:
  • You can either watch the video of Alan below or…
  • Bang the mint leaves between your palms to release some of the oils, tear and add to your cocktail shaker (real or improvised version).
  • Add the cognac, lime juice, sugar syrup and some ice cubes, shake well and serve over ice.
The Variations:
  • Alan did another version of this when we were there, adding some apple juice and manuka honey and it was rather nice
The Results:
  • Cocktail for one, though you’ll undoubtedly need to make more than that

To see how the miami is really done, here’s a video that Damien took of Alan in action (and, yes, you do get to see me briefly, off to the side inhaling mint leaves, how exciting is that?). Damien’s post on the event has links to more video footage for those who are interested.


  1. The Duo Dishes

    Freeee booooze. We’re with you on that. This looks so fun! We should’ve gone to school for mixology. :)

  2. jenn

    Ooo…I’ve always been intereseted in the whole creation of certain drinks. Plus, free booze. Who could say no to that? LOL. Looks like a fun even. I may have to try that Miami sometime.

  3. Tangled Noodle

    Fun! Given my fondness for mojitos, the Hennessy Miami sounds delicious; cognac with ginger ale reminds of Jameson and Ginger. (Hmmm . . . I’m feeling a bit thirsty all of a sudden. . . )

    By chance, did anyone mention any kind of food pairing? I’ve seen many ‘Food and Spirits’ pairing classes locally (usually for Scotch) and wonder how cognac could be matched.

  4. Lori

    Cognac is one liquor I don’t know much about. I’m thinking I should give it a try. Love the drink. It reminds me of a Mint Julep minus the lime and with bourbon of course. And you know I have to love those having lived in KY. I’m such a bourbon girl, and like it or not Brazil has turned me into a scotch girl as well. They can’t get enough Johnny Walker here.

  5. Cognac

    Seriously, not much a brandy drinker? Try it out! It’s without a doubt, my favorite. Many people have to acquire the taste… wing it!

  6. Jenni

    DS, you are the Luckiest and most In Demand Spud ever! What a cool opportunity to drink for free. Um, I mean, do research for us, your devoted readers! The Beloved is more of a cognac man, but I think I could be persuaded to make that Miami. In a pitcher. :)

  7. OysterCulture

    I love watching the master mixologists in action =) I’ve seen the banging before with an orange peel and could not tell exactly what he was doing to the poor thing, thought it was mostly for show, nice that he explained the process, although after drinking a few of those, I’d not remember much of anything.
    What a fun post! Only thing better would to be there and sample in person.

  8. Sophie

    Indeed, free drinks!! MMMMM,…sounds so tasty!!

    Lovely pictures too!

  9. Daily Spud

    Duo Dishes: now, if I could only find somewhere that does degrees in mixology – I’d enrol us all :)

    jenn: It was a fun event indeed and, if you like lime & mint in your drinks, then the miami is worth a try

    Tangled Noodle: ah, there was no mention of food pairing and I was obviously sufficiently muddled that it slipped my mind to ask – maybe I’ll just have to invite myself back for another tasting!

    Lori: I know from my Brazilian sister-in-law that they do indeed like their whiskey in Brazil, as they do in Ireland; as for me, gin is my own spirit of preference, though I will certainly be persuaded to try cognac more often now

    Cognac: thanks for dropping by – be assured that I am persuaded to try cognac more now!

    Jenni: miami, in a pitcher, but of course – I’ll come over and assist (with inhaling the mint leaves & such, you understand :) )

    OysterCulture: well, I guess what you are reading here is the sum total of what I remember – I’m pretty sure there was a lot more that I forgot, lol

    Sophie: thanks, I just couldn’t say no :)

  10. SippitySup

    You get invited to the best stuff. GREG

  11. Daily Spud

    I did think this particular invite was pretty cool as these things go!

  12. Daniela Sabatini

    Hello all, I work with Hennessy and organised the tasting session that Aoife attended. We are delighted to read all these comments about Hennessy and have noticed that some of you are interested in food pairing with cognac.
    I have loads of information about this but it is in a big pdf, so please email me at this address daniela@brennansabatini.com if you would like me to send you the file. I will also post some of the recipes on our Hennessy facebook page soon. http://www.facebook.com/HennessyCognacIreland

  13. Jenny

    Yum! I just tried Hennessey for the first time and loved it. This drink sounds great!!

  14. cognac Junkie

    If you drink Hennessy in a cocktail why not use the Hennessy White. It’s the right choice for such a drink

  15. Daily Spud

    Well, Cognac Junkie, Hennessy White is something I’ve never come across, so I’ll just have to take your word on that.

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