Hennessy has been making cognac for more than 200 years, and today it’s the biggest and best-known house in the world. Even people who couldn’t tell you what cognac is will still order a Hennessy. Its VSOP expression treads a nice middle ground: Aged for a minimum of four years, it has greater depth and complexity than the younger VS expression, but it’s still fruitier and less oaky than the longer-aged XO bottlings. This balance makes it shine as a sipper or mixed into cocktails like the Sidecar and Sazerac. VSOPs are also more affordable than XOs, which makes them a good starting point for exploring the world of cognac.
Classification VSOP cognac
Distillery Hennessy (Cognac, France)
Cask French oak
Still Type copper alembic charentais
Proof 80 (40% ABV)
Aged at least 4 years
As the original VSOP cognac, Hennessy is still the benchmark for what a VSOP is supposed to taste like.
It’s a great introduction to the category: People who don’t even know what cognac is still know Hennessy.
A bit overly sweet, which may appeal to novices but could turn off experienced cognac drinkers
It’s overpriced compared to VSOPs of similar quality—you're essentially paying a surcharge for the prestige of the Hennessy name on the bottle.
Color: A vibrant reddish amber. Cognac producers often add coloring to darken the hue of younger expressions. In this case, it’s easy to see why, because it looks beautiful in the glass.
Nose: Rich, sweet, and autumnal, with big notes of apples and honey, cinnamon, and clove. A bit of dry oak helps balance everything out.
Palate: Understated notes of plum, ripe grapes, and melon, followed by rich dark chocolate, caramel, and oak. It’s richer on the palate than the nose, with the fruit playing more of a supporting role, but the lasting impression is that of a slightly overbearing sweetness.
Finish: Long and oaky, with leather and dark chocolate notes complementing the spice of the wood
Hennessy is so ubiquitous that it seems like more serious cognac drinkers ignore it, or at least take it for granted. It certainly isn’t going anywhere, but it’s still worth revisiting—it set the standard for what VSOP cognac should be back in 1817, after all. And while it may (or may not) have changed over the centuries, it’s still a fine representative of the category: rich, complex, multidimensional. Its only flaw is that it’s a little too sweet, with fruity notes that lean syrupy.
V.S.O.P. Privilège is a quality sipper, but it really stands out in cocktails like the Sidecar, Vieux Carré, or the Sazerac, where its richness makes it a solid and flavorful base spirit that doesn’t get overwhelmed by mixers. Is it worth its hefty price tag, though? With a $60 suggested retail price, it’s one of the more expensive VSOPs on the market. For gifting purposes, the Hennessy name on the bottle is probably worth the extra bucks, particularly if the giftee is a cognac novice. If buying it for yourself, especially for mixing, there are other VSOPs (Courvoisier, Martell, and D’Usse, to name a few) with less prestige, perhaps, but which will give you more bang for your buck.
VSOP is truly a spirit fit for a king: In 1817, England’s Prince Regent and future King George IV requested a “very superior old pale” cognac from Hennessy, and a category was born. More than two centuries later, Hennessy’s is still among the best-selling VSOP cognacs in the world.