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Hennessy Privilege V.S.O.P. Cognac

Review: Hennessy Privilege V.S.O.P. Cognac   (88/100)
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published December 05, 2014

Jas Hennessy & Co., is the largest Cognac producer in the world today with sales that exceed 45 million bottles per year. The company was founded in 1765 by Richard Hennessy who was an Irish Officer in the army of Louis XV.  Fifty two years later, in 1817, Hennessy Cognac was so highly regarded that the Prince of Wales, (who later would become King George IV of Great Britain) asked the Hennessy House to produce what was termed a “very superior old pale cognac“. This was apparently the genesis for the initials V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale), and these initials have become a labeling standard used throughout the industry to this day.

The subject of this review is Hennessy’s Privilege VSOP Cognac. The spirit is produced from the fruity Ugni Blanc grapes which have been harvested from the four great crus of the Cognac region (Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois). The grape wine produced is (of course) double distilled upon the Hennessy Distillery’s great copper pot stills and then selected eaux-de-vie is set down to age for at least 4 years in french oak casks which have constructed from old growth oak timbers.

SAM_1355In the Bottle 4.5/5

The bottle presentation for the Hennessy Privilege VSOP is shown to the left. (As you can see there was a bit of snow in the air when I took the picture.) The bottle seems to have a shape which I associate more with rum or scotch than I do with cognac. Perhaps the fact that single malt scotch sales have began to overtake cognac sales in France has led to some rethinking about the positioning and the presentation of this new VSOP Cognac.

I like the bottle and the attractive box it arrives in, although I would prefer to see a bit of effort put into designing a more modern or eye-catching label, as well as into educating the potential consumer about the Hennessy brand. In my neck of the woods, very little is known about cognac, and some information about the use of copper pot stills and old growth oak timbers could only serve to enhance the spirit’s perception.

In the Glass 8.5/10

The Cognac spirit displays itself as a bronze coloured liquid similar in hue to the colour of a lightly tarnished penny. I gave the glass a tilt and a slow twirl and saw that the liquid was slightly thickened and (after a few moments) began to drop medium-sized droplets down the inside of my glass which released thickened legs as the spirit ambled back down into the bottom of the glass. The initial aroma displays a rich combination of oak spice and vanilla with leathery cedar accents. To some extent the oak dominates covering over the fruity scents of green grape and raisin.

After a few minutes the breezes above the glass show me impressions of rich tobacco, dark baking spices, (vanilla, brown sugar, nutmeg, allspice and cinnamon), sticky marmalade, apricot brandy and hints of maple. The fruitiness of the glass increases as well with more raisin-like smells as well as some dried figs and dates. The nose is assertive, perhaps a touch more oaky than I would expect, but enticing nevertheless.

In the Mouth 53/60

The scents in the breezes translate extremely well into similar flavours across the palate with perhaps more fruit showing through in the form of fresh green grape and raisins, and the oak perhaps taking a step back to allow those fruits to shine. That is not to say the oak has diminished, rather it’s presence seems to have melded into the fruit, and now it acts as a spicy component which puckers the mouth and highlights the other flavours within the spirit. There is some nice honey and caramel sweetness, lovely baking spices, as well as rich underlying tobacco and roasted walnuts.

Everything is rich and inviting.

In the Throat 13.5/15

The exit features plenty of oak spice to warm and pucker the palate; however, I should point out that I perceive very little if any burn. Flavours of green grape, raisin, tobacco and maple all linger within that oak spice.

The Afterburn 9/10

Hennessy Privilege VSOP is an excellent Cognac which I enjoyed thoroughly as I sipped it. The spirit is full of rich oak and vanilla and, if you allow your glass a little time to breathe, also brings forward a bevy of rich fruit flavours. There is also a touch of maple sweetness which seems to bring everything together nicely.

I found the spirit also excelled when I put it through a few paces as a high-end mixer (see recipe below)!

You may click this link to read some of my other Brandy and Cognac Reviews


Suggested Recipe:

When I was contemplating a cocktail for the Hennessy Privilege VSOP, I wanted to put a modern spin on a traditional (or maybe the right word is ‘classic’) cocktail. I began with Leo Engels 1878 Brandy Crusta, and after a few additions and subtractions, I arrived at what I call the Medusa Coil.

Medusa Coil SAM_1382Medusa Coil

1 1/2 oz Hennessy VSOP
1/4 oz Disaronno Originale Amaretto
3/4 oz fresh Lemon Juice
2 dashes Fees Cocktail Bitters
1/2 oz Simple syrup
Lemon coil

Add the first five ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice
Shake until the sides frost
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with a lemon coil
Add a small lump of ice to the center of the lemon coil

Please Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret the score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing spirit. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)




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