Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No. 5 Brings Artisan Craft To An Exclusive Brand

Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No 5 on a bar
Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No 5 on a bar - Dave McQuilling/Tasting Table

Imagine having a lot of high-quality materials that just aren't right for a particular job. That's an issue Hennessy faces on a regular basis. The storied cognac blender buys up vast amounts of "eau-de-vie" -- which is the unaged distilled spirit brandies and cognacs are made from. Sampled by a panel of master tasters, the eau-de-vie are selected by batch to blended together and age into the final Hennessy products.

Given its popularity, you can expect Hennessy needs to buy lots of eau-de-vie. However, not all make the cut. There's nothing wrong with the batches that don't go on to become Hennessy XO, V.S. or V.S.O.P. -- they may in fact, be wonderful eau-de-vies. They're just not what Hennessy's master blenders are looking for. Normally, these unselected eau-de-vies just don't fit the flavor profile of the classic product -- allegedly, Hennessy V.S.O.P. has tasted the same since when King George IV requested a "very superior old pale" back in the 18th century.

When Hennessey has high-quality (leftover) eau-de-vie on its hands, the company won't waste or resell it. Instead, it lets its master blenders go wild, and create something unique from the better samples they've tasted. This is where Hennessy's "Master Blender" editions are born from. Every once in awhile, these blends emerge into the world of cognac, and at a recent Hennesy event, we were fortunate enough to have a taste of the Selection No. 5.

Some recommendations are based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer/distributor/etc.

Read more: 23 Cocktails To Try If You Like Drinking Gin

What Is The Master Blender's Edition?

Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No 5 on a bar
Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No 5 on a bar - Dave McQuilling/Tasting Table

This isn't the first time Hennessy has put together a single batch of special cognac. As its name suggests, Master Blender's Selection No. 5 is the fifth time version where unused eaux-de-vies have been mixed together to create a one-off celebration of blending prowess. It's predecessor, the appropriately titled Master Blender's Selection No. 4, had similar tasting notes, especially in relation to the orange flavors present.

No. 5 is still a unique mix that won't be replicated by the company in future. The first Master Blender's edition was released in 2016, and Hennessy has used the concept as a way to celebrate the distilleries it works with ever since. This spirit was crafted under the watchful eye of Hennessy Master Blender Renaud Fillioux de Gironde, an eight-generation blender whose family has determined the taste of Hennessy's output since the company was founded.

According to the company's information, the blend consists of an eaux-de-vies that combines products from 18 different distilleries, each family operated and exclusively partnered with Hennessy. After selection, the eaux-de-vie is seven-years matured in French oak barrels. The goal behind Gironde's chosen blend was to highlight the artisans that make up the selection, and sure enough, there is a uniqueness to this bottle that feels hand crafted. This is the first release of a Hennessy Master Blender's Selection in three years.

Availability And Price

Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No 5 on a wall
Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No 5 on a wall - Dave McQuilling/Tasting Table

This is a limited-run blend. If you do want to grab a bottle or two for your collection, then expect to find the 750 milliliter version on sale for around $99. In terms of pricing, it's around double what you may pay for a bottle of Hennessy's standard V.S.O.P should you manage to find one on the lower-end of the pricing spectrum.

However, in terms of exact scarcity, the cost of sleeping on this bottle might be a bit more costly. Although you may find it hanging around for some time, this isn't an expression Hennessy will recreate once those stocks run out. Logically, the company will move on to Master Blender's Selection No. 6 instead. As a reputable international brand, only a certain portion of the limited production is coming to the United States.

Currently, Hennessy does have the option to get a bottle shipped from its website. That said, a cursory search shows that option is limited based on state regulations. The same can be said for online alcohol retailers. In person, your best bet to locate this bottle will be a specialty liquor store or in the duty-free section of a major airport.

How Does It Taste?

Hennessy cognac in a snifter glass
Hennessy cognac in a snifter glass - Dave McQuilling/Tasting Table

On the nose, Hennessy promises spice, cocoa, and candied orange. In my experience it does deliver there. On tasting, the initial flavor is noticeably sweeter than standard Hennessy, before plateauing for a little while. This middle ground is where you'll taste some very prevalent oak notes, and it's a welcome detour before you finally make your way towards a pleasantly fruity finish. Orange is certainly the most standout fruit flavor, though there are definitely hints of other citrus popping in throughout your journey.

In terms of alcohol content, at 43% Master Blender's Selection No. 5 has a touch more bite than standard Hennessy, and is the only one from the cognac maker that's bottled at this percentage. That doesn't translate to harshness; the blend is mellower than standard Hennessy, and Hennessy already isn't in any way harsh. Master Blender's No. 5 sits calmly on the tongue and guides the drinker through a delightful little range of flavors rather than blasting them with everything in quick succession.

Beyond its flavor, it's unique in the aroma, which is earthy, rich, and grounded. The most important thing about Master Blender's Selection No. 5 still holds true: It's a very nice cognac.

What Foods Can You Pair It With?

A row of Hennessy bottles
A row of Hennessy bottles - Dave McQuilling/Tasting Table

Like most other cognacs, Hennessy's Master Blender's Selection No. 5 will do very well with strongly flavored and fatty cheeses. Think Roquefort, or Stilton. Something heavy and creamy that requires a hefty amount of alcohol, a little sweetness, and some strong flavors if you want to cut through it. So if you need something a little stronger than wine to go with a pungent cheese, then this could be a perfect pairing.

Dark chocolate also goes surprisingly well with this blend. It's usually something I have on hand when sampling Scotch, but the fruitiness on offer with this cognac works well with the dry, waxy, bitterness of something heavy in the cocoa department. Whether that's in a dessert or a cocoa rubbed steak is your decision.

If Christmas is a special occasion for you, and requires a special spirit, then you could always use Master Blender's Edition No. 5 to light your Christmas pudding. You will have to blend it into a little butter before basting it onto the pudding though, and it is advisable to use something a bit cheaper for that purpose. For a less destructive use, and one that will again make use of the strong orange flavors present in the liquid, consider using Master Blender's Edition No. 5 instead of rum when looking for something to soak a cake in.

How To Drink Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No. 5

Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No 5 in a snifter
Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No 5 in a snifter - Dave McQuilling/Tasting Table

While Hennessy Master Blender's Selection No. 5 can be used in a wide manner of beverages, I'd recommend enjoying it the same way I did. Pour a little in a snifter or similar funneled glass, savor its scents, and take small sips, allowing the spirit to work its way across your tongue. Take a few sips of water from a separate glass to cleanse your palate in between sips. This allows you to work your way through the cognac's layers of complexity and discover everything it has to offer. The first sip is always a warm-up anyway.

In terms of cocktails, I'd recommend anything that requires cognac and has an orange or citrus twist. So a Sidecar is obviously the first mixed drink that springs to mind, though a non-whisky hot toddy may also work. As Master Blender's Selection No. 5 is a cognac, a Sazerac is also a solid shout -- and may be the best way to celebrate this unique spirit while adding a bit of a Mardi Gras twist. Enjoying Master Blender's Edition as part of a cocktail a way won't allow you to work your way through it's flavors in the same manner, but sometimes a bit of additional liquid will open a spirit up in new ways. At the very least, you'll get to experience Hennessy's limited liquor in a mix that compliments a lot of its core elements.

Master Blender's Selection No. 5 Vs. Hennessy V.S.O.P

Hennessey Master Blender's No. 5 label
Hennessey Master Blender's No. 5 label - Dave McQuilling/Tasting Table

You may be wondering how it compares to the Hennessey products you're likely already familiar with. When compared to standard Hennessy's best seller, its V.S.O.P., Master Blender's Selection No. 5 is very much a case of sweet apples and oranges. As in you don't get those apple notes you tend to get with the French company's flagship blend, and receive prevalent orange notes instead. The two spirits are very different, and are a great demonstrator of how much range you can get with something like cognac.

The scents you'll encounter when nosing both spirits is equally different. Again, the V.S.O.P. is heavy on the apple notes and has far less spice than its limited edition sibling. It's special, but something many of us are used to. Master Blender's No. 5 is a spicy, orangey, treat that is equally worthy of both a humid summer afternoon staring out at some water, and a festive evening by the fire. It feels like a bit of an occasion drink, like something that will set the mood.

In terms of pricing, it's unlikely to come as a surprise that the single-batch, limited run, stuff is more expensive. Hennessy V.S.O.P. will usually set you back between $50 and $70 depending on where you are and the liquor store you're purchasing it from. Compared to the price point of $100 for the Master Blender's Selection No. 5, the cost is relatively comparable.

Is It Worth It?

Bottles of Hennessy lined up
Bottles of Hennessy lined up - Dave McQuilling/Tasting Table

Even though the Master Blender's Selection series is not a completely fresh concept overall, having a new iteration in the form of the No. 5 — especially after three years — is exciting. It's always going to be intriguing to taste something new from a legacy, luxury brand like Hennessy. But along with a build-up of anticipation comes the chance that the final product can let you down even harder. In the case of this bottle, however, it's a hit.

If you're a Hennessy connoisseur, then the Master Blender's Selection No. 5 is going to be on your must-taste list. Both the aroma and flavor offer a distinctness that separates it from other cognac's in the maker's lineup and the larger market. It's a smooth, easy-drinker, whether you want to sip it neat or pair it with a small nosh. Consuming it imparts a sense of careful craft. Plus, there's an interesting story behind it, the bottle looks good on the shelf, and at $100, it's a nice bottle that won't crash the bank.

Plus, there's a degree of collectability to the Master Blender's Selection series. Some people have an penitence for completing sets, and this is the latest part of what will be an increasingly scarce line from a prestigious company in the liquor trade. As nice as it tastes, there's as much an argument for not drinking it as there is for working your way through the bottle. Liquor can be a very good investment sometimes.

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