Maurice Hennessey poses with a bottle of Hennessey XO at Crustacean restaurant… (John Shearer / Invision…)
I've always thought of Cognac as a drink that should be sipped. And it is. The smooth honey-colored liquor hits your tongue and warms your throat as it goes down, eliciting an "ah" sigh that deserves a leisurely pause of enjoyment. So when I found myself sucking down Cognac cocktails faster than the waiter could bring them Monday night I alarmed myself -- but when Cognac connoisseur and eighth-generation Hennessy family member Maurice Hennessy toasts you with a pink Cognac cocktail, you drink it.
Hennessy visited the Crustacean restaurant in Beverly Hills on Monday for a Cognac tasting. In addition to serving the Hennessy Privilege V.S.O.P, Hennessy X.O., Paradis and Richard Hennessy, the restaurant prepared four cocktails to drink along with dinner. And there went my second Cognac misconception corrected. Cognac is quite good in a long drink paired with food.
The cocktails included the Red Dragon, (Hennessy V.S., Crème Yvette violet liqueur, muddled raspberries, Thai basil, lemon and ginger beer), Hennessy Ginger (Hennessy V.S., lime, simple syrup and ginger ale), Hennessy Berry (Hennessy V.S., cranberry, pineapple and lime) and the Hennessy Citrus (Hennessy V.S., lemon and lime and simple syrup). They were all light, fruity and easy going down with crab, shaken beef and the restaurant's signature garlic noodles.
Here are some highlights from dinner with Hennessy:
What's something not widely known about Cognac?
MH: When we do cocktails, it's not a marketing ploy of the 21st century. Cognac was created by the Dutch in the 17th century. The word "brandy" is Dutch. The idea was -- as wine was very cumbersome -- it didn't keep well, so they were distilling it and calling it brandy. When they wanted to drink it, they drank it as a cocktail with water to recreate wine.
What is your first memory of drinking Cognac?
MH: When I was young I had Cognac on a piece of sugar on Sundays. I liked it on a piece of sugar because it tasted like sugar. I started to really like it when I was like 23 or 24 years old. I just like the taste, but it takes some time. It's a sophisticated drink, so it took some time.
How involved are you in the making of Hennessy?
MH: I'm a farmer. I have my boiler hats at times and boots and I go in the vineyard and, you know, do things with grapes and things and so I'm a supplier of Hennessy. I'm one of the 1,700 suppliers which supplies Cognacs of various farms, various vintages to Hennessy.
What's the best food pairing for Hennesy VSOP?
MH: Asian food in general, but I would say that Vietnamese because that's what I do when I'm in Vietnam. I drink Hennessy VSOP with ice and bottled water.
Hennessy is a fixture in popular rap culture. What do you think of the Hennessy image portrayed in music videos, etc.?
MH: Hennessy has always tried to feel the pulse. When it was not the rapper, there were pictures of some singers of the '40s and '50s with Hennessy. We had jazz before rap was invented. Hennessy was mentioned in books. People drank Hennessy in the '20s; even our advertising was adapted to the young crowd, 20-somethings of the times. So rap, it's not us who invited the rap, it's the rap artists who mentioned Hennessy and it was one of the most used brands in rock songs.