So a couple of months back I was invited by the folks at Hennessy on a very special trip to Cognac, France. It was to celebrate their first-ever global campaign for Hennessy Paradis Impérial, the brand’s pinnacle Cognac that retails for about $3,000. The campaign is designed to exemplify the ultra-precise selection that goes into every bottle. The trip, dubbed Made of Precision after the campaign, had some truly memorable moments.
The trip started with a direct flight into Paris late in the evening. After spending the night in France’s beautiful capital, it was time to officially start our trip to Cognac! The next morning we headed to Le Bourget Airport. Once Paris’ main airport, it’s now used only for private flights.
After a quick 45 minute flight into Cognac’s Angoulême Airport, we were picked up via shuttle and taken to lunch at La Bataille, the beautiful Cognac vineyards belonging to the Hennessy Maison. Upon arrival, we were greeted by amazing staff, varieties of delicious food, incredible 360-degree views, and of course bottomless Hennessy. Now if that’s not a proper welcome, then I don’t know what is!
From there we made our way to Le Peu Distillery to learn about the distillation process. Le Peu Distillery was built in 1962 and is located in the heart of Cognac’s grande champagne region. Personally, I’ve always loved learning about the behind the scenes aspects of products – whether it’s food, wine, electronics or anything else. I feel like you gain more of an appreciation for something once you learn just exactly what it takes to achieve the final product.
Hennessy, like all other Cognac, must go through a double distillation process which takes place in copper Charentais stills. The stills are composed of a boiler, still head, swan’s neck, and condenser. After the double distillation, you’re left with a colorless eau de vie of about 70% alcohol. It’s the aging process after that adds color and drops the alcohol to about 40%.
Our next stop was to check out the age-old art of barrel making. The cooper or barrel maker plays a huge role in the world of Hennessy as they spend countless hours/days/months, both making new barrels, as well as restoring previously used barrels. Having access to so many barrels that vary in age is a very beneficial tool for distillers to have because it plays a huge role in overall flavor. For example, new barrels allow for more flavor to be drawn from them. Thus, during the aging process, if certain flavors are lacking, distillers will use newer barrels to balance things out. On the other hand, as the spirit matures, an older barrel can be used to polish off or “perfect” its flavor profile.
From there, our tour took us to the tasting office (Grand Bureau de Dégustation) located at the Hennessy headquarters. Inside is a room with seven seats, and it’s where the biggest decisions regarding Hennessy are made by the Master Blender and Tasting Committee. Each day, at approximately 11 am, the Tasting Committee, led by the newly appointed eighth-generation Master Blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, meet for a tasting session. These sessions include tasting eaux-de-vie to determine which will be best for the final Hennessy blends.
The Master Blender’s role is particularly important for Paradis Impérial as the blend represents the legacy and craftsmanship of eight generations of Master Blenders. Created by former seventh-generation Master Blender Yann Fillioux in 2011, Paradis Impérial is crafted from the precise process of selecting eaux-de-vie with the most finesse. In an entire harvest, only 10 out of 10,000 eaux-de-vie are eligible to become part of this particular blend.
After some free time, we were invited to the Founder’s Cellar to check out the Made of Precision art installation as well as a tasting with Renaud Fillioux de Gironde and Michelin-starred dinner by Guy Martin.
The art installation named The Quest was created by London based design studio Marshmallow Laser Feast. The idea here is to capture the process that the Hennessy Master Blender goes through in finding the finest eaux-de-vie to making the elite Paradis Impérial. A pretty cool way of adding a contemporary touch to such a traditional and iconic brand.
As for dinner, what can I say – from start to finish everything was done to perfection. The photos don’t do the experience much justice.
And that my friends, is how my Cognac trip played out. I would again like to thank all the folks at Hennessy, the world’s best-selling Cognac, for putting together an amazing itinerary and memorable experience. Till next time!