JEWEL IN THE CROWN

STEPHEN SHORT ex­plores how Hen­nessy con­tin­ues its reign in the world of cognac

#Legend - - DRINK -

IF BRANDY IS the aris­to­crat in the room, then cognac is the king. It’s the time-hon­oured li­ba­tion of pres­i­dents and roy­alty, and con­tin­ues to be a jewel in the crown of French com­merce. And that’s no idle boast. Sam­ple this list of the top 10 des­ti­na­tions for cognac in 2017, in de­scend­ing or­der by num­ber of bot­tles sold: the US (82.6 mil­lion), China (25.5m), Sin­ga­pore (24m), Eng­land (9.9m), Germany ( 5.5m), France (4.3m), Latvia ( 3.7m), Hong Kong ( 3.5m), Hol­land (2.9m) and South Africa (2.6m). Last year, the in­crease in cognac con­sump­tion in China and Hong Kong alone grew by 31 per cent, se­cond only to Latvia, which recorded a more than 140 per cent in­crease over 12 months. France it­self, both the throne and royal court of cognac, ac­counts for a mere 2.2 per cent of the world’s con­sump­tion.

Mau­rice Hen­nessy helps over­see this prove­nance.

He’s the global brand am­bas­sador for Hen­nessy and from the eighth gen­er­a­tion of the di­rect de­scen­dants of Richard Hen­nessy, the Ir­ish­man who founded the house in 1765. Born in 1950 in Neuilly near Paris, he spent his youth in Cognac, read agri­cul­ture at univer­sity in Paris and af­ter a few years in West Africa, was in­vited to join the fam­ily firm. His bap­tism was pub­lic re­la­tions in France, fol­lowed by five years in Lon­don for the de­vel­op­ment of the Bri­tish mar­ket. Since re­turn­ing to Cognac in 1984, he trav­els reg­u­larly in Amer­ica (both North and South) and Europe. Along the way, he dis­penses Hen­nessy train­ing pro­grammes across the globe, and con­ducts tast­ings to de­velop and en­hance brand aware­ness and ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

While Hen­nessy’s po­si­tion atop the cognac em­pire re­mains largely un­chang­ing – Rémy Martin, Martell, Camus and Cour­voisier duke it out be­low – its clien­tele has shifted with the times and the changes wrought by tech­nol­ogy. How has the con­sumer changed since the ’80s and ’90s? “The Hen­nessy drinker is younger and more dar­ing,” he says, quaffing a glass from a re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tion that saw de­signer Marc New­son re­cal­i­brate a lim­ited edi­tion bot­tle of Hen­nessy XO, which stands for Ex­tra Old. “When I was young, well, the sim­ple idea of putting ice in the glass was just un­think­able. But now it’s my best drink.”

It’s clas­sic meets con­tem­po­rary from the top down – and in the case of New­son’s bot­tle, bor­rowed ret­ro­spec­tively. “I think when Marc stood in front of the old bot­tles de­signed by my un­cle in 1947, he was in awe,” he re­calls. “All he did was take away the grapes and leaves dec­o­rat­ing it, cre­at­ing a sim­ple but el­e­gant new shape.

And col­lec­tors loved it.”

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