What Is Hennessy, And How Should You Be Drinking It?

Hennessy is recognizable within pop culture, but not everyone is clear on what goes into making this popular liquor. It is a Cognac, which is a type of brandy that is made from grapes and manufactured in Cognac, France. Hennessy uses Ugni White grapes that are harvested once a year, per the company's website, and then pressed, fermented and double distilled to make eau-de-vie. It takes roughly 12 kilograms of Ugni White grapes to make one liter of eau-de-vie which is distilled between October and late March.

To become Cognac, that eau-de-vie wine must be aged in wood casks. Those casks help interact with the eau-de-vie to give Hennessy both its flavoring and color, per Spruce Eats. Most of Hennessy's products end up with 40% alcohol content, and the different types of Hennessy are predicated on how long they age in the casks, and that influences their flavor. Gwendoline Poirier, a Cognac expert and tour guide for Hennessy, described their VS expression — short for very special — which is the top-selling bottle and is aged for at least two years. "[I taste] fresh fruits, grapes, and citrus flavors," she told Insider in 2019 while adding that it had other "vanilla" undertones.

Hennessy's other two main expressions include V.S.O.P. or "very superior old pale," which ages for at least four years, and XO or "Extra Old" which ages for at least 10 years. The type of bottle you drink dictates whether you should drink it straight or in a cocktail.

Why adding water is good with any type of Hennessy

Generally, it is recommended that the Hennessy expressions that have been aged longer, such as XO, should be enjoyed neat. Poirier suggests drinking Hennessy XO in a curved tulip-shaped glass. "[You can] really enjoy the color thanks to the shape and for the aroma to get to your nose," the cognac expert told Insider. 

If you want to add ice to the older Hennessy expression, then switch to a tumbler glass. Diluting a drink of Hennessy XO with a bit of water can also be beneficial. "Water will create a sort of explosion of the molecules, of the aromas, so it's easier to find the aromas," Poirier said. Adding mix with the XO bottle is not frowned upon. "Even the tasting committees are always adding a bit of water," she said.

If you're enjoying an older expression such as an XO neat, then it's suggested to leave the bottle out at room temperature, according to Liquor Laboratory. Although, go ahead and chill a bottle of Hennessy VS or VSOP, especially if you are adding it to a cocktail. The brand encourages imbibers to mix VS into a Summit, which is a cocktail made with lemonade, ginger ale, and lime.

In the end, Hennessy is not overly stringent about how their product should be enjoyed. "It's more advice ... Otherwise, just have fun," Poirier said. The brand even offers suggestions for how to make a Hennessy and Coca-Cola.

Hennessy mixed drink options

Hennessy and Coca-Cola is the most popular way to enjoy the Cognac in a mixed drink. Besides being an easy cocktail to construct, many believe the natural oak, vanilla, and caramel flavors of Hennessy truly complement the profile of the soda. On the Hennessy website, the company gives suggested portions to make the perfect Henny and Cola. In a glass with ice, add 1.5 oz of Hennessy VS along with 3.5 oz of your preferred cola. Garnish with a wine wedge to add even more flavor. If cola is too sweet, or you want to cut down on calories, then mix Hennessy with soda water instead. 

Fans of Henny and Coke were sent into a tizzy in March when one TikToker claimed the brand was releasing a pre-mixed version of the cocktail. Although there was no evidence from Hennessy that they were actually releasing pre-mixed drinks, there was some chatter on Twitter about the potential product.

While the VS bottle can pair great with cola, the brand recommends making a sazerac with a bottle of their VSOP. This involves rinsing the glass with absinthe before making the drink and then mixing it with simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and spices. All of these fall into the category of suggestions and should not be viewed as steadfast rules. The only rule should be to enjoy Hennessy any way you choose.