5 Minutes With Hennessy’s New Master Blender
After a 50-year tenure, Hennessy’s master blender Yann Fillioux is passing the cellar keys to his nephew Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, who will be the eighth generation of the Fillioux family to craft cognac at the famous French maison. During a cognac-pairing lunch in Hong Kong, we caught up with Renaud for a quickfire chat about the “water of life”.
Where do you most enjoy quaffing a snifter of cognac?
I could be partying with friends at a beach house during the summer drinking Hennessy VSOP with a few ice cubes and a drop of water or it could be winter and I’m at a family dinner and it’s getting cold so I’m drinking a glass of neat Paradis Imperial. I don’t think there needs to be one place, one experience—there can be many!
Tell us about your favourite cognac and food pairing.
The classic one is cognac and chocolate. They are amazing together. If you want something delicate and elegant then I would suggest millefeuille with vanilla cream paired with Paradis Imperial. It’s an incredible combination.
Is it okay to mix cognac in a cocktail?
People think cognac cocktails are new. They are not. They were just forgotten! My grandmother showed me an old leaflet called “The Art of Mixing,” which was created by my great-grandfather in the 1940s. He was a fifth generation master blender for Hennessy. So we’re not inventing cognac cocktails—we’re just reinventing them, bringing them back. While I prefer XO or Paradis Imperial neat, Yann and I recently drank a cocktail at my house made with VSOP, homemade ginger ale, fresh lemon and lime, and a touch of sparkling water. It was really quite delicious.
What is the biggest misconception about cognac?
That it is strong. Some people think it is stronger than whisky but it is not. People shouldn’t be afraid of cognac…taste it first and make your own decision.
What does the French town of Cognac mean to you?
It means a lot. Cognac is where I was born, where I grew up, where my family is based and it’s home to the Hennessy headquarters so it’s also where I work. So you can see that it represents a large part of my life. It is the source of my passion and my pleasure. It is the heart of everything I do both professionally and personally.
Your uncle’s final creation before his retirement is a limited edition cognac called Hennessy 8. There are only 250 bottles in the world. Each one is crafted in hand-blown Baccarat crystal, designed and signed by renowned artist Arik Levy and costs HK$300,000. Why should we dash out and buy one?
Because it is, in my opinion, one of the best cognacs that has ever existed. Hennessy 8 represents the story of my family. It is a combination of the efforts of all the master blenders from my family who have worked for Hennessy for 250 years. They didn’t create the eaux de vie used in Hennessy 8 to become famous, they did it because they believed in perfectionism and true quality and Hennessy 8 is the one expression of all their savoir faire, all their knowledge and I don’t know any other house in the spirit world where you’ve got so many generations of one family involved for such a long time. I see Hennessy 8 as the culmination of my family’s quest for perfection.
How would you describe the experience of drinking Hennessy 8?
When you taste it you realise that it has an amazing palate of aromas. You discover an endless world of flavour with a touch of precision, of elegance and the right level of maturity— it is perfectly aged but not old. You’ve got a delicate spicy character, elegant fruity notes, a freshness. All these characteristics are just at the right level, pushed just to the right limit, expressed to their true potential without being overpowering.
Are you daunted by the prospect of taking over from your uncle who has been the master blender at Hennessy for 50 years?
I wouldn’t say daunted because I have worked alongside him as his mentee for more than 14 years so I feel ready—he has taught me well. And if I have a question, well, he only lives 100m from my house so I know where to find him!