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Hennessy Very Special Cognac

Review: Hennessy Very Special Cognac  85.5/100  
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published January 1, 2015

Jas Hennessy & Co., is reported to be the largest Cognac producer in the world today. The company was founded in 1765 by an Irish Officer in the army of Louis XV, Richard Hennessy. 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 would be called a “very superior old pale cognac”. This was apparently the genesis for the initials VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), and these initials have become a labeling standard used throughout the industry to this day.

In 1865, Maurice Hennessy, the great-grandson of the original founder, devised a cognac classification system based upon varying numbers of stars which defined the quality of the bottled spirit. Again the classification devised by Hennessy was later adopted by the entire industry. Today, Hennessy’s Three Star Cognac, is now known as Hennessy Very Special (VS).

Hennessy Cognac is produced from the fruity Ugni Blanc grape picked from one of the four great crus of the Cognac region (Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois). The grape wine produced from the Ugni Blanc harvest is (of course) double distilled upon Hennessy’s own copper Charentes Stills, and then selected eaux-de-vie is set down to age for several years in french oak casks which have constructed from old growth oak timbers.

Incidentally the youngest Cognac eaux de vie in a blend which is labelled Very Special must be aged for at least 2 years in French Oak.

Hennessy V.S.In the Bottle 4/5

The Hennessy VS arrives in the traditional long-necked Cognac bottle shown to the left. As is usually the case with cognac, it is sealed with a corked closure in this case protected by a golden coloured metal foil. I wish the front label had more ‘pop’ but for an entry-level spirit, the presentation is more than adequate.

In the Glass 8.5/10

I began my examination of the Hennessy Very Special Cognac by pouring a rather large sample into my glencairn glass. The spirit displays a vivid amber colour with some reddish hints which indicate the spirit has just turned the corner on the way from an amber hue to copper. I gave the glass a tilt and a slow twirl and saw that the liquid was very slightly thickened and dropped medium-sized drooplets down the inside of my glass which released medium-sized legs rather quickly. The initial aroma if full of fresh oak accents, caramel toffee and rather nice fruity smells resembling orange peel and raisins.

I allowed the glass to breath for a few minutes and was pleased by the melding of aromas that resulted. The oak, the caramel toffee and the fruit all coexist harmoniously with no particular element outshining any other. I notice some new smells of rich vanilla and honeycomb rising into the air; as well, some nutty smells of almond and walnut are wafting in the breezes as well. There are a few hints of chocolate and coffee and I must say that the aroma of the VS has surprised me with its rich character and balanced aromas.

In the Mouth 51.5/60

The initial flavour of the well decanted spirit brings forward surprising flavours of caramel chocolate wrapped around oak spice and roasted walnuts, and baked raisins. I also taste some nice cigar tobacco, subtle hints of orange liqueur, canned apricots and peaches and perhaps some underlying fresh yellow fruit and green grape. Again the flavours are working very well together and I am finding Hennessy’s VS Cognac much smoother and richer than I was anticipating from a cognac which may contain eaux de vie spirit as young as 2 years old. I have read that there are over 40 cognac spirits in the blend which makes up Hennessy Very Special and that some of these spirits may be as old as ten or eleven years. The smoothness and the richness of flavour I have experienced seems to verify those statements.

In the Throat 13/15

The smooth nature of the spirit continues all the way through to the exit which is full of oak spice and wonderful bittersweet chocolate nuances. Some might mistake the spice for a bit of burn, but that would be a mistake as the spice stays at the back of the palate and does not continue down the throat. The wonderful bittersweet chocolate lingers making this VS Cognac a very appealing sipper.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

As you can tell from the body of my review, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Hennessy Very Special, which was presented to me a more of a cocktail spirit; but which I found was also a very nice sipper.

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


Suggested Recipe

I found this recipe on the Hennessy Cognac website (which has quite a few more great looking recipes). What appealed to me about the recipe is how similar it is to my own Heretic Cocktail I designed last winter. Hennessy and I agree that orange and lemon are great complimentary flavours for brandy or Cognac!

Blood Orange Bitters SAM_1369Blood Orange Bitters

2 oz Hennessy Very Special
1/2 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
1 oz Fresh Squeezed Blood Orange Juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1/3 oz Agave Syrup
Strip of Blood Orange Peel

Add the first five ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice
Shake until the sides frost
Strain into a chilled rocks glass with ice
Garnish with a strip of Blood Orange Peel

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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