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Hennessy X.O (Extra Old) Cognac

Review: Hennessy X.O (Extra Old) Cognac   93.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published December 20, 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. Hennessy XO Cognac traces its development back to 1870 when Maurice Hennessy created a special cognac for him to share with his closest friends. This cognac meant for his ‘inner circle’ was given the name X.O to denote it as an “extra old” cognac. This X.O designation has become a labeling standard used throughout the industry, and today denotes an older Cognac style which must meet a minimum age requirement of 6 years for all of the eaux de vie within  its assemblage.

The subject of this review is the modern Hennessy X.O 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 Hennessy Distillery’s copper pot stills, and then selected eaux-de-vie is set down to age (some for as long as 30 years) in french oak casks which have constructed from old growth oak timbers.

Hennessy XO SAMIn the Bottle 4.5/5

The Hennessy X.O arrives in the stylish decanter and box display shown to the left. The decanter is embossed on the sides with depictions of grape clusters and vines as well as with a crested X.O symbol above the label. The label itself (on the bottle) is a simple affair, as if to say that surely the name ‘Hennessy’ upon the front of the bottle is enough to arouse excitement.

And, ‘Hennessy’ is probably enough to arouse excitement in the traditional cognac markets where consumers are familiar with Cognac; however, where I live in the in the hinterlands of Canada (well, not quite the hinterlands), we do not really know a lot about Cognac, let alone about Hennessy. A little information about the company’s place in history and why their Cognac may be special would be helpful if placed within easy reach of the consumer.

In the Glass 9.5/10

When I pour a small sample of the Hennessy X.O into my tulip shaped glass (a glencairn if you want to know), I see the spirit has a rich bronze colour. 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 downwards to the remaining spirit at bottom of the glass.

The initial aroma displayed a strong indication of oak and wood spice with firm scents of caramel and raisin buried within that spiciness. The oak is dominant; however, there is enough caramel sweetness and raisin-like fruitiness to compliment the oak and entice me to go further.

I decided to wait for a few minutes to allow the spirit to breathe, and the reward was well worth the trouble. The oak did not diminish; however other scents and smells began to climb up into the breezes to greet me. I notice thick fudgey chocolate, Christmas fruitcake, dark baking spices such as allspice, vanilla, cinnamon and clove, as well as rich dark brown sugar, and roasted walnuts which have all found themselves in harmony with the oak in the air above the glass. I could also discern bits of espresso coffee dancing within the oaky breezes.

There is plenty of oak on display; but there is much more as well.

In the Mouth 56/60

The X.O Cognac is surprisingly soft as it enters the mouth. Flavours of chocolate caramel seem to be melded with oak sap and rich baking spices. There is less sweetness than was implied by the nose and the cognac seems to grow drier and spicier as you sip. It takes a while for me to notice the fruit, but impressions of dark dry raisins grow in my consciousness with each sip, and although I initially thought I would have preferred more sweetness, by the time my sample glass had emptied, I had changed my mind, and decided that the ration of sweetness vs oak vs fruit was just about perfect.

In the Throat 14/15

The exit is long with a montage of caramel, chocolate and oak spice coating the palate, then lingering there seemingly forever. As you savour the experience, a menthol-like coolness slowly grows and then diminishes taking the caramel/chocolate/oak spice montage with it.

The Afterburn 9.5/10

Often when I taste encounter a well-aged spirit, I find myself wishing for more sweetness to counterbalance the bitterness of the oak; but here, with this Hennessy X.O I have found a spirit which is obviously full of oak, yet it carries only a gentle sweetness forward to provide balance. The magicians at Hennessy have given life to the oak, yet (probably through careful barrel management) they have not allowed that life to turn bitter with age. The result is an X.O cognac which is simply wonderful!

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

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Suggested Recipe

Cognac Old Fashioned

Old fashioned (Cognac)SAM_13932 oz Hennessy X.O (Extra Old) Cognac
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash Fees Cocktail Bitters
1/4 to 1/2 oz Sugar syrup (to taste)
Ice
Lemon Peel zest

Add the Cognac, the bitters and the sugar syrup to a Rocks Glass
Stir and add ice
Add a twist of Lemon peel zest

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!

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As always you may interpret the scores I provide 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 rum or whisky.  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 more 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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