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Distillery of the Week • Hennessy Paradis Imperial

With sales of about 50 million bottles a year – translating into more than 40% of what is sold around the world in that spirit category – Hennessy is the undisputed “Emperor of Cognac”.  The River Charente flows through the charming French town.

With sales of about 50 million bottles a year – translating into more than 40% of what is sold around the world in that spirit category –  Hennessy is the “Emperor of Cognac”. The River Charente flows through the charming French town situated between Angouleme and Saintes, and is just some 100 km north of Bordeaux.

The distillery in Cognac was founded 255 years ago in 1765 by military officer Richard Hennessy. The Irishman was a Jacobite who supported tolerance for Catholicism and Irish autonomy. Many such like-minded souls found their way to France which was sympathetic to their beliefs. It was Hennessy’s son James who in 1813, gave the company its name which carries till this day as Jas Hennessy & Co.

Closer to our own times – in 1971 – fifth-generation direct descendant Kilian Hennessy spearheaded the company’s merger with Moët & Chandon, thereby creating Moët Hennessy, the largest producer of champagne (30 million cases a year) and cognac in the world. The drinks giant is part of LVMH or Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, the global luxury powerhouse.

Paradis Imperial is the creation of 7th Generation Hennessy Master Blender Yann Fillioux (right). Nephew Renaud Fillioux de Gironde (left) is current 8th Generation Master Blender. The Filliouxs – servants, custodians and guardians of cognac – are a fabled family linked inextricably to the legendary house.

The Paradis is where the most precious and oldest eaux-de-vie are kept. The most ancient are more than two hundred years old. Only 10 out of  10,000 or 1 out of 1,000 casks will become a component of Hennessy Paradis Imperial. The odds are easier to win America’s Got Talent.

Justly famous for its VSOP or Very Special Old Pale and XO, even more lifted above the clouds is Hennessy Paradis Imperial. The bottle itself is magic to behold. And to hold. If looks and touch can kill, cognac aficionados are ready victims. Particularly when lips meet ethereal spirit.

Paradis Imperial is the creation of 7th Generation Hennessy Master Blender Yann Fillioux. The Filliouxs – servants, custodians and guardians of cognac – are a fabled family linked inextricably to the legendary house. The creation of such an emblematic cognac as Paradis Imperial can only be entrusted to an equally illustrious clan. The words of Maison Hennessy suggest as much.

“Hennessy Paradis Imperial embodies the pinnacle of the art of selection. From any harvest, the average number of eaux-de-vie with the potential to join this blend are a rare few: only 10 out of 10,000. The Master Blender defines the right ageing conditions to raise a fine eau-de-vie to its point of elegance: the decisive and fleeting moment when the eau-de-vie reaches its full potential, ready to join the Hennessy Paradis Imperial blend”.

Selection is severe to the point of exacting.

Master Blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde leads a committee of seven which, in the course of a year, tastes around 10,000 samples (averaging 50 to 60 eaux-de-vie on a tasting day). The work starts at 11 am and ends around 1 pm. During that time, no telephone calls can be made or received.

Portrait of 5th Generation Master Blender Raymond Fillioux (grandfather of Yann) watches over the selection and discussions in Hennessy’s famous tasting room.

The two words – Paradis Imperial – offer clues as to what will make the cut. Will we – when we taste the eaux-de-vie – enter “Paradise” and experience being “Imperious”. To become a part of Paradis Imperial “good” is far from adequate. As for “great”, that is just a stepping stone to be considered, like a casting audition for an actor to clinch a would-be role.

Only 10 out of  10,000 or 1 out of 1,000 casks will become a component of Hennessy Paradis Imperial. The spirit so selected is essentially an Academy Award winning cognac. Its “performance” and “role” in the blend must stand the test of time. And have been around for some time in the first place. Between 30 and 130 years old to be exact. (Hennessy XO is between around 12 and 30 years).

The person with the final say as to what gets into Paradis Imperial is 8th Generation Renaud Fillioux de Gironde (Uncle Yann having created the iconic cognac). The young aristocrat has the French spirit coursing through his every vein and fibre.

Thierry David goes through the rituals in serving Hennessy Paradis Imperial. The iconic cognac contains eaux-de-vie that are more than a century old.

Paradis Imperial next to its younger brother Hennessy X O. The former contains eaux-de-vie that are between 30 and 130 years old, while X O checks in between 12 and 30 years.

Renaud Fillioux de Gironde leads a committee of seven which, in the course of a year, tastes around 10,000 samples (averaging 50 to 60 eaux-de-vie on a tasting day). The work starts at 11 am and ends around 1 pm. During that time, no telephone calls can be made or received. When a person is first inducted into this hallowed circle, that new entrant cannot speak for the first 10 years of tastings. Instead he (there is now, for the first time, a woman) or she tastes, listens, and learns.

They don’t cut corners, take chances, or make compromises at Cognac Hennessy. Remember that the waiting list to get into Paradis Imperial is 1 out of 1,000 casks. The odds are staggering.

It’s easier to win America’s Got Talent.

A Love Story in Cognac

Chateau de Bagnolet is essentially a love story.

Today the property of Cognac Hennessy, Bagnolet was built in 1810 and purchased in 1841 by Auguste Hennessy as a present to his wife Claudine Irene d’Anthes, whom he had married in 1833.

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