When it comes to distilling, they’ve been around the block a time or eight. And when you’re resting on the shoulders of generational giants, the pressure is on to not just carry the torch, but to go big instead of settling for just good enough.
So we took the opportunity to sit down with Jordan to talk more about Hennessy’s new Master Blender’s Selection No. 4 release, while exploring the brand’s storied past and its deep connection with the Black community.
Can you tell us a little more about Hennessy as a brand and the range of products it creates?
V.S.O.P was the first one to be marketed as an aged Cognac. Hennessy started that in 1817. It started with VOPs, which were Very Old Pales, and the prince of England — who became George IV of England — asked for a superior version. And in 1818, we shipped off that Cognac.
That’s where V.S.O.P came from. Hennessy was at the forefront of that, realizing an opportunity. X.O, in 1870, was also the creation of the Hennessy family. And, this was all before they were the largest brand.
What generation of Hennessy was most innovative?
It’s always about passing it forward in the sense of, "I can play around with all the eau de vie I want if I'm Renaud. But, it's now incumbent on me to put something down today that will be equal or better 50 years from now." The goal will always be to be better, but there's great pressure on that.
How did you end up in the spirits industry and work your way up to a Global Brand Ambassador at Hennessy?
My mother and father believe that if you have an education, you should use it in some way. And so, they said, "Well, you've got this course now. Why don't you try it?" So, I said, "All right.” Gave it a try, and just fell in love with it.
The guy who ran Canada for Hennessy was at the launch, loved them, and asked me to compete in the Belvedere competition to become Belvedere's global ambassador.
That eventually became a permanent job, and they loved me talking about the mixability of Hennessy. That was 10 years ago now.
1. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would say life. Like, immortality.
2. How would you describe Hennessy in three words?
Bold flavor. I only need two.
3. What is your favorite music and what drink goes with it?
I like a lot of different things, but if you were going to ask the people closest to me, it would be classic rock. I'm sad that Oasis is considered classic rock now. But, Oasis is my favorite band on the planet. To drink, I’d have cocktails. A variety of different cocktails, because they go all over the place for me. I'll just sit and listen to albums, back to back.
4. What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
I would have some rare Hennessy that I hadn't opened yet and a steak with a blue cheese crust.
5. Assuming Hennessy is your favorite, what's your second favorite Spirit?
Can you give us a quick overview of the Master Blender’s series and what it’s aiming to achieve?
The Master Blender’s series is evolving and changing, but what it is at its core is an expression of a moment. Cognac is really like chaos at its very core because of the grape.
Whisky and Rum are going to have a singular distillate that is consistent. And, Cognac does not. Every eau de vie is going to be different.
What’s the flavor profile of Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 4?
But then, under that bottom lip, you get fresh apricot coming through, and a fruity spice — almost like fruitcake, but not quite as heavy on the spice. And then under the nose, some of those flavors continue, but you also get creaminess, like a praline.
What he means by "crispiness" is the snap of a biscuit or something like that. That's crispiness, but it's almost the energy of the actual act. There's a brightness and energy in a lot of the flavor profiles of No. 4, which he was specifically looking for.
What are some good food and spirit pairing options for Master Blender’s Selection No. 4?
Those kinds of things work super well. So, honeyed pastries with apricot compote in the middle, or chutneys that have a stone fruit base to them, would play off really well in these areas. Grilled meat always works with Cognac, because that barrel just complements it so well.
I also love to stick to those direct flavor comparisons and work in those ways. Something simple people could do is have some pralines and dried apricots beside them as they sip.
What’s the history of Hennessy with rappers and the Black community?
In France, we can look at people like Josephine Baker, who in the 1950s, was a brand ambassador for Hennessy. She went over to make her fortune in Paris where she was beloved and a star of night life there and later became a war heroine in the underground movement. But, she was an ambassador for Hennessy in the 1950s.
In the '50s, we were the first spirits brand to advertise in Ebony magazine. In 1953, we were the first spirit brand to advertise in Jet magazine. In 1969, Herb Douglas, who had worked for us in sales and won a bronze at the Olympic Games in London in 1048, became a vice president at Hennessy, and he was one of the first African-American VPs in corporate America.
What are some words of encouragement that you can offer someone who’s just not sure if Cognac is their jam?
If you're afraid because you don't know what it is, well, it's a dark spirit. There are so many other dark spirits out there that share different ideas and common aspects of being aged in oak.
And, if you're somewhere in between those two bodies, I would say, look to the rest of the spirits world and how they view Cognac. Because Cognac is viewed by so many spirits, historically, as the benchmark of the best.
Which member of the Hennessy family would you want to have a drink with?
He was the one who realized that to grow the company, he couldn't be there making it all the time. He was the one who got a man by the name of Jean Fillioux to be the first Master Blender.