Review: Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 2
Give Hennessy some credit: It isn’t resting on the old school laurels of brandydom. It’s innovating and experimenting and constantly releasing interesting stuff (for better or worse).
Its latest gamble is the Master Blender’s Selection series, a line of two Cognacs — so far — that really mess with the way Cognac is supposed to be made. Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 1 was a slightly overproof expression (as far as I can tell, I’ve never encountered it). Now, Hennessy Master Blender’s Selection No. 2 is out, and it ups the ante.
As Hennessy notes, here, “the eaux-de-vie are aged at least 10 years, and were each aged for 18 months in young coarse-grained French oak barrels before being transferred to old barrels for additional aging.” If you didn’t catch the nuance, it’s in the part about the young coarse-grained French oak barrels. This is new oak, not old, used barrels, that this spirit spends its first year and a half of life in. That’s unheard of in Cognac, where new oak is really never used at all. In fact, the only spirit that uses new oak to any serious degree is one that will be familiar to any Drinkhacker reader: Bourbon.
There’s a reason, methinks, why this cognac was shown off at last year’s WhiskyFest. A gateway between brandy and bourbon, its time in new oak really does a number here, starting with a nose of nutmeg, vanilla, and a sharp black pepper note — filtered through that raisiny, incense-heavy note that is immediately unmistakable driven by Cognac.
The palate is even more in line with whiskeydom, loaded up with notes of cinnamon rolls, more vanilla, and loads of cracked black pepper. There’s a tannic grip to the spirit, driven by wood, which leads to a spicy finish that one could easily mistake for rye whiskey. There’s a lingering sweetness, though, that again takes you back to France — notes of plump raisins, brown sugar, and cinnamon-spiked whipped cream reminding you that Kentucky is far, far away.
As both a whiskey nerd and a lover of Cognac, I like it a great deal.