Out-of-the-blue task for today: without thinking too hard and long, go ahead and name ten of the world’s most respected and popular spirits brands. As spirits enthusiasts, we can probably agree on many of them. We can take it to the next level by tackling a similar task by category: scotch, tequila, bourbon, etc. Spirits enthusiasts would likely agree on many of those choices as well.
When you think of the Cognac category–and there are any number of crème de la crème brands–you’ll most likely land on Hennessy in the blink of an eye.
The brand’s history is magnificent. Real history that involves war, aristocrats and familial pride.
We recently connected with Hennessy’s Julien Pepin Lehalleur. Julien is the Global Brand Education & Training Director for the company, and he was able to share some insight regarding Hennessy’s yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Cigar & Spirits Magazine: Tell us about how you became affiliated with Hennessy.
Julien Pepin Lehalleur: It was a long and intense journey to get to the holy grail of spirits. I joined Hennessy as the Global Brand Education & Training Director in October 2018. However, my career at Moet Hennessy started in 2000, with Ruinart Champagne as business controller. I then moved to fashion for Dior Couture managing wholesale in Europe for five years. After that, Krug Champagne in the U.S.A. and Asia. Finally, two years in travel retail as Key Account Director on Dufry.
How rewarding is it for you that you represent Hennessy and that it’s recognized as an iconic brand?
Pride of belonging to this incredible Maison is the common trait to all Hennessy employees. Very rewarding, yet very challenging to be up to the task of representing the number one premium spirit in the world, the leader of cognac and the most important wine and spirits brand of the LVMH group. But I adore when people in key markets (such as the U.S.A., our number one market) look jealously at me when I tell them I work for Hennessy, in Cognac, France.
Please share with our readers a bit about the history and prestige of the brand and how that tradition and authenticity informs Hennessy today.
Hennessy was founded in 1765 by Richard Hennessy, an Irish aristocrat who joined the troops of French King Louis XV to fight the British who were ruling in Ireland. After eight years on the battlefield, he quit to learn the trading of spirits–eau-de-vie or “water of life”–with his cousins in Flanders which is now what we now know as Belgium. He settled in Cognac, where he deemed the eaux-de-vies to be of superior quality and reputation. The company was then passed on to his son James who rapidly developed the business internationally with the very first shipment to the U.S.A. in 1794. And so on and so forth for eight generations.
The roots of the brand are fascinating.
Yes. But what sets Hennessy even further apart is the fact that this is actually the tale of two families who have worked hand in hand for eight generations. In 1806, James Hennessy named Jean Fillioux as the first master blender for Hennessy. This position was then occupied by his son, and this carried on until nowadays, with Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, who took over after his uncle Yann Fillioux in 2017.
Hennessy is a global luxury brand and unique in its ability to embrace local cultures all over the world.
This transmission of skills, secrets, savoir-faire and above all of an incredible qualitative stock of eaux-de-vies is unique in the world of spirits. Together with his tasting committee, the gatekeepers of tradition and quality at Hennessy, Renaud gathers daily to taste some 60 eaux-de-vie–12,000 samples per year. They also look after over 500,000 barrels and 3,000 demi-johns, most probably the largest reserve of eaux-de-vies in the world, and certainly the most ancient, with some over 200 years old. This unparalleled reserve allows Renaud and his tasting committee to craft a portfolio of very different cognacs, from our Hennessy Very Special to some of the most prestigious cognacs in the world, such as Hennessy Paradis or Richard Hennessy.
Who would you say is the typical Hennessy connoisseur these days? Or maybe there isn’t a typical enthusiast…
Hennessy is a global luxury brand and unique in its ability to embrace local cultures all over the world. It’s fascinating to see how people around the world feel close to our values. In each country where Hennessy settled, it adapted itself to local culture and customs. The brand found its public and thanks to this versatility, consistency of excellence and quality it has become the number one cognac house in the world. You’d be surprised to see how differently people drink it around the globe. There’s absolutely no archetype for the Hennessy lover.
What are the most popular or prestigious sellers?
It varies drastically from one country to another. I can just tell you that Hennessy is present in the most high-end restaurants and hotels around the planet, as well as in the most renowned wine and spirits retailers.
What are the unique aspects that make Hennessy elite, collectible and sought after?
At Hennessy, the price of our cognacs is driven by the rarity of the eaux-de-vies composing the blend. The rarest cognac in the permanent collection is Richard Hennessy, a tribute to our founder, created in 1996 by 7th generation master blender Yann Fillioux. This incredible cognac is an assemblage of our rarest and oldest eaux-de-vies. Only 12 barrels–around 9,000 bottles–are released annually so this is a must-have for collectors and serious aficionados. We also have even more limited editions, sold through very selective distribution, created in very limited quantity, or even made-to-measure by the master blender. Cognacs belonging to the “Edition Rares” are the epitome of cognac-making so highly praised.
How does a new Hennessy drinker discover your cognac?
Hennessy is present in over 150 countries. The brand is a major player in travel retail and is well-distributed in key on-trade accounts such as restaurants, cocktail bars and hotels. Hennessy is also a sponsor at important sports and music events. And we have famous Brand Ambassadors in the hip-hop community, boxing with Canelo Alvarez, or reggaeton music with Maluma. Since 2020, Hennessy is the official spirit of the NBA. As you start to understand, Hennessy is brand that cannot be unnoticed.
Why would a new consumer or a seasoned enthusiast select the brand?
It’s a safe choice as the number one cognac–the prestige of the brand through international recognition. There must be a reason behind such success, meaning that if undisputed quality was not there, we wouldn’t be able to withstand that leading position. The width of our portfolio and the versatility of our cognacs allows everyone to find a cognac that will suit their palate. The brand is enjoyed in many ways–neat, on the rocks or even in classic cocktails for some of our cognacs, from Hennessy VS and VSOP to Hennessy X.O. Last but not least, a consumer may also choose Hennessy because he or she has been introduced to the brand by a sommelier, a bartender, a caviste or through a friend who’s in love with Hennessy.
What should we be on the lookout for in 2022 and beyond?
You’ll see more presence through the NBA, and get ready for more Editions Rares–meaning collectible and increasingly rare and collectible cognacs in the years to come. Our master blender has been working for a long time to prepare the arrival of new ultra-rare blends, new Hennessy Paradis formats and an exciting brand campaign. This decade is a very exciting one for Hennessy, nevertheless we face a challenge–we do not have enough eaux-de-vie to face the growing demand!
Matt Randolph is an award-winning writer and editor living in Santa Fe, N.M.