When is it Okay to Use Hennessy X.O Cognac to Make Cocktails?

Purists on both sides of the bar have strong opinions about how to serve and drink extra-aged, rare or otherwise unique spirits.

The (perhaps overused) adage that the customer is always right and should therefore be allowed to enjoy the drink they’re paying for however they want can induce eye rolls or stronger reactions from some people.

This strict adherence to purist spirits principles applies to every category of spirit, essentially. One of these is Cognac.

It can be cringe-inducing to say that any spirit, beer or wine is “having a moment,” particularly when they’ve been around for centuries. However, Cognac has been enjoying seemingly increased interest from bartenders and guests.

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Much of this interest revolves around classic cocktails, some of which were originally made with Cognac. Throughout the years, bartenders in America replaced Cognac with other spirits. Over time, some bar guests were under the impression that drinks like the Sazerac were only ever made with whiskey.

Cognac is incredibly versatile and therefore lends itself well to cocktails. However, there are those who believe it’s unacceptable to use extra-aged and special expressions of Cognac like Hennessy X.O to make cocktails.

Hennessy X.O is a blend of more than 100 eaux-de-vie. An eau-de-vie is a clear, unaged fruit brandy and the term translates to “water of life.” In the case of Hennessy X.O, the blend of carefully selected eaux-de-vie is aged for up to 30 years in French Limousin oak barrels.

According to Jordan Bushell, national Hennessy ambassador and Cognac historian, Hennessy X.O was created in the late 1800s. A third generation member of the Hennessy family—Maurice Hennessy (referred to as Maurice I)—asked his master blender Emile Fillioux to create a Cognac for him.

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Maurice I did a lot of entertaining at his two homes in Cognac and Paris, and he would share his personal blend with guests. Eventually, he gave in to his friends’ requests to make this extra aged Cognac available to them and others to buy. Being a businessman, Maurice I came up with a name—X.O for “extra aged”—and the first-ever XO Cognac was brought to market.

As Bushell explains it, Maurice I and subsequent Hennessy family members haven’t demanded that consumers of X.O adhere to strictly enjoying this special Cognac neat. Maurice-Richard Hennessy, the great-great grandson and eighth-generation of Hennessy, prefers his X.O over ice made from boiled mineral water left out to cool before being frozen in an ice tray.

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So, when is a special spirit like Hennessy X.O “allowed” to be used to make cocktails? When multiple generations of the Hennessy family say so. After all, it’s hard to argue with the family responsible for crafting the liquid in the bottle.

Enjoy making the Hennessy X.O cocktails below for your guests. Cheers!

Champs’Elysees #2

Recipe courtesy of Hennessy

  • 1.5 oz. Hennessy X.O
  • 0.25 oz. Yellow Chartreuse VEP
  • 0.25 oz. Wildflower honey syrup (1:1)
  • 0.25 oz. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 Gooseberry to garnish

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake to chill, and fine strain into a coupe. Garnish with a gooseberry on the rim.

Tasting Notes: Herbal and balanced with floral tones and depth of fruit with the spice and herbal notes blending together in the finish. The tart gooseberry is a perfect foil to the cocktail.

Bamboo #2

Recipe courtesy of Hennessy

  • 1.25 oz. Hennessy X.O
  • 1 oz. Verdelho Madeira
  • 0.75 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • 1 bar spoon Demerara syrup (5ml)
  • 1 Baldi olive (wrinkled, black, oil cured) to garnish

Add all liquid to a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill. Strain into a Nick & Nora glass and garnish with Baldi olive.

Tasting Notes: Dry and roasted, this cocktail shines with the olive and the correct food pairing, such as scallop agua chile (cucumber, sweet and sour Fresno chili, Alizari olive oil, and salmon roe).

Extraordinary Vieux Carre

Recipe courtesy of Hennessy

  • 1 oz. Hennessy X.O
  • 1 oz. Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban
  • 0.75 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 bar spoon Bénédictine
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Peychaud bitters
  • Luxardo Cherry and orange twist to garnish

Add all liquid to a mixing glass with ice and stir to chill. Strain into a rocks glass with or without a large ice cube. Garnish with an orange twist and a cocktail cherry. This classic Cognac cocktail is believed to have first been served in the 1930s at the iconic Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans.

Tasting Notes: Bold flavor and creamy finish. Coats the mouth. Candied orange is a strong note.

Smooth Operator

Recipe courtesy of Hennessy

  • 2 oz. Hennessy X.O
  • 0.5 tsp. Rainwater Madeira
  • 0.5 tsp. Walnut oil
  • 1 Star anise pod

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass without ice (this is a room-temperature cocktail). Stir for 30 seconds to combine all ingredients. Pour into an ISO tasting glass or rocks glass. Garnish with star anise pod and serve.

Tasting Notes: Super soft on the palate, with hints at all the deep flavors of Hennessy XO. Smooth and velvety on the tongue—the ultimate expression of XO in a cocktail.

Chocolate Julep

Recipe courtesy of Hennessy

  • 1.5 oz. Hennessy X.O
  • 0.25 oz. Crème de chocolate liqueur
  • 0.25 oz. Maple syrup
  • 2 sprigs Chocolate mint
  • 2 dashes Chocolate bitters
  • Chocolate mint truffle to garnish
  • Mint sprig to garnish

Add one mint stalk to the base of the julep cup with the syrup and press the stalk with a muddler to extract the flavor. Add a half-cup of crushed ice and fill with liquid. Top up with crushed ice and garnish with chocolate truffle and a chocolate mint stalk.

To extend an olive brand to the spirits purists:

Hennessy X.O neat

Recipe courtesy of Hennessy

  • 1.5 oz. Hennessy X.O

Served neat and up in a tulip glass without garnish.