A Single Batch, Never to Be Replicated

A Single Batch, Never to Be Replicated

“Never stop, never settle.” Hennessy’s slogan may have come on the scene comparatively recently to its long history, but the phrase is rooted in eight generations of Cognac mastery.

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.
With their past powerhouse production, Hennessy has good reason to rest on its laurels. But as their Global Brand Ambassador Jordan Bushell shares, the company’s ethos has always been: "Let's challenge ourselves. Let's push forward. Let's always try to better ourselves."
And nothing captures that as well as the new Master Blender series — a limited edition line created to be a personal statement from eighth-generation Master Blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde. Each bottle represents a single-batch of a special liquid that attempts to change traditional perceptions of Cognac.

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?

Jordan: At Hennessy, we have a goal to make the world's best Cognac. Now, we understand that's impossible — every single person on this planet has different taste buds, different likes, different dislikes. But along that path, we're going to create my favorite, your favorite and someone else's favorite. These will all be different.
That's really been a driving force of Hennessy through eight generations of the Master Blender’s family — the Fillioux family. That generational thing comes into play, where it's all about building on what the generation before you did. You know, pass it forward and make it better. That idea weaves its way into so many different aspects.
The goal will always be to be better, but there's a great pressure on that.
Back in 1865, Hennessy created the three-star classification — or the star rating system — that became three-star for V.S and five-star for V.S.O.P. The general idea being that no matter where you were in the world, more is better. The more stars on the label indicated a higher price point for the Cognac. Today, we would say it doesn't mean it's necessarily better. We just think of it as different.

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?

Jordan: It's almost like Tom Brady says: “What's your favorite ring? It's the next one." And, I would say every generation has been more innovative than the generation before it, because they have those shoulders to stand on.

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?

Jordan: I was actually working as a lifeguard trainer. But, it was all day time hours. So I took a bartending course with a friend of mine, never intending to be a bartender.

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.

Cocktails just clicked for me. I got immediate gratification off guiding people into a drink. I ended up leaving the club I was at and working for bars that allowed me to explore that more. Bars with huge back bars that let me explore the Scotch realm and everywhere that I was exploring on my own, but in a controlled setting.
And, that led me to cocktail competitions. Hennessy Black launched at the bar I was running in Toronto. And the cocktails they sent me didn’t really fit what we were doing, so they gave me a couple bottles to play with and I elevated them.

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.
So, I lost the Belvedere. I came in the final eight. But the Hennessy team was looking for somebody to do some stuff for them — an ambassador for a short stint.

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?
Single Malt Scotch Whisky. My grandparents were all Scottish heritage, and so I grew up drinking that. It makes a lot of sense to me as there are a lot of parallels there.

Can you give us a quick overview of the Master Blender’s series and what it’s aiming to achieve?

Jordan: It's really about expressing Cognac in different ways. Yann Fillioux started it with No. 1 and No. 2, and then passed it off — and the role of Master Blender — to Renaud, his nephew.

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.
What he means by "crispiness" is the snap of a biscuit...

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.
So, the core range is difficult enough to create consistency in because you're making the same dish out of sometimes different spices. Master Blender’s Selection is about a singular expression or a journey or a feeling that the Master Blender wants to convey or play with.
And so, Master Blender's is an expression of a moment, but it's also this underlying birth of a legacy.

What’s the flavor profile of Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 4?

Jordan: I'll walk through the flavor. Under the bottom chin, you get the grape, and then under the bottom lip, it's the grape meeting that barrel for the first time. And so, you do get a lot of the lighter notes — that honeysuckle jasmine and even orange flower.

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.
Brightness and energy duality between the two. Spicier than number 3, which was sultry and velvety, this one has a brightness to it. Similar to #2. It has aspects of V.S with youthfulness, V.S.O.P, with lasting power and finish. No. 4 is brighter than X.O. It’s made of equal parts of 4 growing regions in Cognac.
The idea here is that there's a crispness. Which is funny, because to hear Renaud say it, there is no French word to describe “crispiness.”

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?

Jordan: You take the creamy, caramel notes and you can go into flan or crème brûlée — a classic crème brûlée would work really well with this. You get that Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influence with honeyed dates or honeyed apricots with almonds.

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?

Jordan: It dates back to 1896. It goes back quite a long way. Maurice Hennessy, the third generation, was raised to believe all men were created equal. Now, that's a really easy thing to say for somebody who was really wealthy and white at that point. But, it's a different story when you look at the extremes he took it to.
He shared those beliefs with William Jay Schieffelin and the Schieffelin family. The Schieffelin family has been importing Hennessy since 1794 — that was the first import to the United States. It later became Schieffelin Somerset, and then Moët Hennessy USA.

I think the man had an incredible vision. The man took what his generation before him did, and expanded on it, making it better.
But in 1896, William Jay Schieffelin and Maurice Hennessy specifically saw that the Black working man in New York was heavily disadvantaged and taken advantage of in deplorable conditions. So they started a non-profit to fight for Black working rights. That non-profit later merged with several others to form what we know today as National Urban League.

William Jay Schieffelin was also committed to investing in other areas of American or African-American business. He had a close friendship with Booker T. Washington, who founded Tuskegee Institute. And so he would take people down on his train from New York down to Tuskegee so that he could support Booker T. Washington and the creation of that institute.
Following that along, in 1909, we became one of the first corporate sponsors of the NAACP, and certainly the first spirits sponsor. But, you also have to look at the French influence.

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.

So, why do rappers sing about Hennessy?

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.
Closer to now, we were the only wine and spirits company serving as a founding corporate donor of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington. We supported the Thurgood Marshall College Fund through sponsorships every year, working with their high performing Black students to get them financial assistance and introduce them to contacts within the corporate world.
We just finished that up with Unfinished Business, an ongoing support of Black, Asian, and Latino small-businesses that were hit harder than most other businesses during the COVID crisis.
So, why do rappers sing about Hennessy? Because their grandfather and their great-grandfather, who fought for Black rights, had Hennessy at the table in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was there.

What are some words of encouragement that you can offer someone who’s just not sure if Cognac is their jam?

Jordan: I would say that there are lots of different ways to drink Cognac. So, if you're scared because it's a brown spirit, and you think it's going to be overpowering or large, put it on ice.

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.
Every eau de vie is going to be different.

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?

Jordan: I would say James Hennessy. He was a second-generation Hennessy, Richard's son. And, on all their bottles it says, "JAS Hennessy & Co” because James was the first ambassador for Hennessy.

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.
So, Jean Fillioux was Richard's cellar master. He was the one that was shipping out the barrels for all the orders. He was intimately knowledgeable about all our stock. James put him in charge of creating the product, while James went out and embodied the product and got it out to the world.
I think the man had incredible vision. The man took what his generation before him did and expanded on it, making it better.

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