WHEN KENNY MET ‘RICHARD’…We go behind-the-scenes at Hennessy’s (invitation only) HQ, learn about some weird and wonderful products, and get the lowdown on Kenny’s hunt for the elusive ‘Richard’.
Sitting by a roaring fire with a glass of brandy in your hand…now that’s how to relax and take thing’s easy at Christmas!
Unfortunately, for some of us (well, me anyway) our compulsion for cognac extends a bit beyond that fireside festive tipple. In fact, I don’t mind telling you that the task of trying to complete Home Delivery Wine’s Hennessy collection had become something of an obsession.It was one of the reasons why I was particularly looking forward to my trip to Hennessy’s Headquarters. That, and the fact that a visit to Maison Hennessy is by Invitation Only.
So, throughout my two-day excursion behind the scenes at Hennessy a little voice in my head constantly reminded that this was an opportunity not to be missed. If I was ever going to complete the collection (we needed the premium Richard Hennessy from the list of seven magnificent bottles that comprise this particular Hennessy’s line-up) it had to be here and now.
Staying in the picturesque town of Cognac, our whistle-stop trip began at Maison Hennessy, on the banks of the Charente River. Shown into Hennessy’s inner sanctum, we learned about the Cognac making process, a system of distilling, blending, and barrel selection that has earned Hennessy a staggering 50% share in global cognac sales.
And in a world dominated by computers and tech, it’s refreshing to know that the key component in the creation of Cognac is the human capacity for skilled and instinctive judgement.
When distilled (twice) Cognac is crystal clear, like a glass of water. The colour and flavor stems from barrels, each graded A - E according to age. Eight Master Blenders taste the distilled product and allocate it to a barrel (a decision-making process that can take as little as 4 seconds in some cases).
I know what you’re thinking. To those people muttering: ‘I wouldn’t mind tasting the finest Cognac all day for a living’, just bear in mind that each ‘would-be’ MB must first spend ten years tasting 10,000 samples per year. That’s 100,000 samples before you can even be considered for the position of Master Blender.
It was a collaboration between Hennessy’s brilliant Master Blenders that created the only bottle missing from our collection, the eponymous Richard Hennessy. A tribute to the Irishman who founded the Hennessy empire back in 1765, it’s a ‘rare and precious’ Cognac that is on sale in only maybe five outlets in the entire UK.
Exclusive, expensive, and let’s also throw in ‘elusive’ for good measure, even ‘Richard’ doffs his cap to the bottle I encountered in Hennessy’s new Gift Shop. Gift shop probably conjures up the wrong images, for this is a stunning state-of-the-art facility that houses some truly weird and wonderful products (many exclusive to certain sections of the international market).
One that really caught my eye was the Beaute Du Siecle, an ornate work of art designed to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kilian Hennessy, who presided over the house of Hennessy from 1945-75. Created by Jean-Michel Othoniel as a contemporary take on a traditional liqueur chest, this elegantly housed bottle just happened to have a ‘Not For Sale’ sign. I brief enquiry revealed that this particular case and bottle was in a different league. Price? Well, let’s just say we moved on rather swiftly.
Throughout the trip I was struck by Hennessy’s incredible attention to detail, and cleanliness. Everything is buffed and polished to perfection, in fact you could see your reflection staring back from the traditional Charentais copper pot stills. There was even a reminder not to touch the pots, as it takes two hours to polish out a finger mark (clearly, they’ve timed it).
Despite the distracting attractions (we enjoyed a stunning meal cooked by Hennessy’s own chefs and an extensive product tasting on the second evening in Cognac), I couldn’t get ‘Richard’ out of my mind. So, on the final day, and just as our bus was about to leave, I raced back into the Gift Shop to ask, more in hope than expectation, about the possibility of purchasing.
I was in luck. There was a bottle back in stock. Then, with a real sense of theatre that was only missing the drum roll, Hennessy staff in ceremonial black gloves, tenderly opened out the display and showed me the bottle.
Finally, after years of chasing, ordering, waiting, I had a Richard Hennessy to add to the Home Delivery Wine stock alongside Paradis Imperial (a rare blend of 19th and 20th century Cognacs); Hennessy Paradis (a smooth and elegant cognac with a price tag of £500 plus); Hennessy XO (always best served over ice, in my opinion); Hennessy VSOP Privilege (inspired by the vision of Milan-based artistic duo Carnovsky); Hennessy Fine (young and stylish); and Hennessy VS (perfect for cocktails and served it to us at Hennessy with pure apple juice, cranberry juice, a slice of fresh lime, and our own personal glacier…that’s a lot of ice).
Brandy has always been a Christmas gift favourite. At Home Delivery Wine, we offer fantastic prices on Hennessy, Courvoisier, Miguel Torres, and other brands of Brandy & Cognac. If you need advice, we’d be more than happy to help.