Let me tell you about Hennessy. 50 million bottles a year worldwide, which represents around 40% of the total production of cognac. So, it's the biggest of the Big cognac houses.
The house was founded by Richard Hennessy in 1765. He came from Ireland as many of the earliest cognac founders. Others, like Jean Martell where from the Channel islands, where French was widely spoken.
Hennessy remained in the hands of Richard’s descendents for five generations and then, in the earaly 70s, the house was merged with Moët et Chandon, the legendary Champagne brand and became Moët Hennessy. It was one of the first corporate moves that signaled the beginning of the end of the big family cognac houses.
16 years later, in 1987, Hennessy -excuse me, Moët Hennessy- was bought out by Louis Vuitton, the biggest luxury conglomerate in the world which, naturellement, is French. LVMH was kind (or tactful) enough to maintain the House’s patriarch, Kilian Hennessy (who by then was 80) on the company's advisory board. But take my word, make no mistake, the Hennessy House from that day on was to be much more a corporation than a house.
Now, what’s wrong with being a huge corporation? Nothing, intrinsically speaking; there is nothing wrong with Hennessy being a transnational corporation in the global arena. In fact, if I have to verbalize the bottom line of what I think of Hennessy, I’m quite positive about them because they have tried hard to remain a high-quality cognac maker at the same time that they sought to conquer new markets. And they went on about that and, be sure, playing hardball.
We must remember that at that time England was by far the biggest market for cognac.
After what amounted to a long drawn strategic brainstorming, they made it very hard bet on the Afro-American market or, rather, to talk to the market connected to popular music, particularly rap, hip-hop and gansta… Very far away from the traditional cognac market of refined, socially integrated professionals and entrepreneurs. The new management kept trying to broaden the social base for the products, introducing new concepts like transparent, colorless cognacs ("Pure White"), nearly black ("Hennessy Black") and established an image of macho rapper drink. 2009 marked a relatively bold turning point, in an effort to mellow an image that was increasingly bound to the American ghetto: Hennessy released a (rather mediocre) VS in honor of the election of Barack Obama, with a completely black bottle with golden letters, "In Honor or the 44th President." Did it succeed to dampen down the association of the brand with such morally ambiguous celebrities like Wu-Tang Clan, Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg, Onyx, 2Pac, Eminem, Xzibit, Nas, and nDr. Dre who found suddenly a creative urge to mention cognac in their songs? It is doubtful whether Tupac’s song about Hennessy ("that dark shit.") may finally find its way into the anthology of modern American poetry. My friends, selling 50 million bottles of cognac a year ain’t no easy way, as the Black Rebel Motorcycle would put it.
But then, Hennessy has good cognacs, definetly. Their XO, created by Maurice Hennessy, is quite good and has maintained its quality well. It doesn't come cheap and it hasn't the personal twist of a Raymond Ragneau or a Fillioux, not even of today's Cordon Bleu, but it's still a great cognac whioch will always have a public.