Hennessy’s XO cognac is the original example of the category, and a fine one at that: It’s flavorful and oaky but not overly tannic or astringent, making it an excellent sipping option for cognac novices. However, you can find better XOs at a cheaper price.
Classification XO cognac
Distillery Hennessy (Cognac, France)
Cask French oak
Still Type copper alembic charentais
Proof 80 (40% ABV)
Aged at least 10 years
The gorgeous bottle and box, along with Hennessy’s name brand recognition, make it an excellent gift.
It’s flavorful and oaky but not overly tannic or astringent, making it a good XO for cognac novices.
Quite pricey for an XO cognac, which is the most expensive category to begin with
The Hennessy name, which draws in cognac newcomers, makes it less interesting for serious aficionados.
Color: Deep reddish amber, which not only reflects a long time spent in oak, but can also be evidence of the caramel coloring which many cognac houses add to their products
Nose: Rich dark fruits, along with a hint of cracked pepper
Palate: It takes a little while for this one to rev up, but hold it on the tongue for a bit and butterscotch, caramel, candied orange peel, and dark stone fruits gather strength, along with cinnamon spice and oak. What starts off subtle ends up big and full-bodied.
Finish: A moderate oaky spice dominates on the back of the palate, culminating in a dry finish with a gentle alcoholic kick. Fruit and oak linger equally on the long afterglow.
Hennessy isn’t just the best-known and most popular cognac brand: The house literally invented the XO category back in 1870, when Maurice Hennessy instructed his master blender to create an “extra old” brand.
More than 150 years later, Hennessy still makes a very fine XO. It’s full-flavored but not harsh, with a nice balance of fruit and oak that makes it a good starter XO for cognac drinkers who are just getting into the older stuff (before 2018, the minimum age for an XO was six years; now it’s at least 10).
That said, the entry fee for the O.G. XO is steep: At more than $200, it’s on the pricey end of the spectrum for the category. And while it doesn’t disappoint, this bottle may appeal most to the non-expert who’s buying it for the name and the eye-catching packaging rather than the cognac itself. It’s a very good sipper, but one that doesn’t stand out from its popular peers like Rémy Martin, Martell, or Courvoisier. Cognac devotees, meanwhile, would likely point out slightly lesser-known houses like Frapin, Camus, or Delamain that give you more bang for your buck.
If you think of the cognac category as Hennessy and Everything Else, this is a flavorful, punchy XO that looks as good as it tastes. For serious cognac fans, there are better and cheaper expressions out there, but this bottle is still worth a try at least as a baseline for the XO category.
In 1870, Maurice Hennessy, who ran his family’s company at the time, asked his master blender to create an “extra old” blend of eaux-de-vie aged longer than typical VSOP expressions for his personal use when entertaining. The new expression proved to be such a hit that Hennessy released it as the first-ever commercial XO cognac in 1872.