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What is in a Hennessy Old Fashioned?

The Hennessy Old Fashioned is a delicious twist on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail that uses Hennessy cognac as the spirit base instead of whiskey. With just a few simple ingredients, this French-inspired cocktail packs a smooth and flavorful punch. Here we’ll explore everything that goes into making this sophisticated drink.

History of the Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is one of the oldest known cocktails, dating back to the early 1800s. It was popularized at private social clubs in the United States, especially the Old Homestead Club in Louisville, Kentucky. The original recipe called for a sugar cube soaked in bitters and club soda, muddled with a bit of water. Rye whiskey was then added and the entire concoction was served over a large ice cube in an old fashioned glass (thus the name).

Over the decades, the Old Fashioned saw many variations as it increased in popularity across America. The type of whiskey used changed based on regional tastes, from rye to bourbon to Tennessee whiskey. The use of fruit as a garnish became commonplace, typically an orange slice and cherry. The Old Fashioned became synonymous with the emergence of cocktail culture in America.

The Birth of the Hennessy Old Fashioned

As the Old Fashioned riffing continued into the modern era, creative bartenders began experimenting with substituting different spirits in place of whiskey. Bourbon was the most common, but some used rum, brandy, or scotch. Eventually, cognac was incorporated, taking advantage of its similar flavor profile to many brown spirits. Thus, the Hennessy Old Fashioned was born, utilizing the most well-known cognac brand on the market.

The use of Hennessy as the base spirit provides a fruit-forward flavor layered with oak and spice. It creates a smoother, less harsh drink than the classic whiskey version. While Hennessy VSOP is most common, any variety can be used depending on how much richness you want the cognac to impart. Many bartenders tweak the supporting ingredients to better complement the cognac as well.


The ingredients for a Hennessy Old Fashioned are simple, with ratios that can be adjusted to taste preference. Here is one common recipe:

  • 2 ounces (60ml) Hennessy cognac
  • 1/2 ounce (15ml) simple syrup
  • 3-5 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • Orange peel for garnish
  • Luxardo cherry for garnish

Let’s go through each one of these ingredients in more detail:

Hennessy Cognac

The star of the show. Hennessy is the world’s best-selling cognac, produced in the Cognac region of France from a strict growing and distilling process. The grapes used are Ugni Blanc, Folle Blanche, and Colombard. The result is a smooth, warming spirit with layers of fruit, oak, and spice.

Most Hennessy Old Fashioned recipes call for using VS classification cognac. VS stands for “Very Special” and is Hennessy’s youngest blend, aged for at least 2 years. It provides bright fruit flavors like apple and grape and lighter hints of oak. VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale), aged for at least 4 years, can also be used for a more intense cognac taste.

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water dissolved together into a liquid syrup. It’s used to sweeten cocktails in a more uniform way than plain granulated sugar which can crystallize.

In an Old Fashioned, simple syrup balances out the bitterness imparted by the bitters. The amount can be adjusted based on preference, anywhere from 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce.

Angostura Bitters

Angostura bitters are a concentrated botanical liquor infused with herbs, spices, and roots. It packs an intense flavor punch in just a few drops. The bitters are made from a secret recipe but known ingredients include gentian root, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Just 3-5 dashes of Angostura bitters give the Hennessy Old Fashioned signature aromatic qualities, adding layers of spice and herbal notes. The bitters also have a digestive effect when consumed.

Orange Bitters

While Angostura bitters are the backbone, orange bitters add citrus complexity. Orange bitters contain extracts of orange peel, caraway seed, cardamom, and other spices. Just a couple dashes integrate orange essence into the cocktail.

Orange Peel

Expressing an orange peel over the Old Fashioned releases its natural aromatic oils. This adds another bright citrus layer to the drink. The peel can also be used as a garnish.

Luxardo Cherry

A classic Old Fashioned is always garnished with a cherry or two. The Hennessy Old Fashioned uses Luxardo cherries. These Italian candied cherries are soaked in a sugar syrup flavored with Maraschino liqueur, giving them a Signature Luxardo flavor.

Tools Needed

Part of the craft of mixing cocktails is having the proper implements. Here is the cocktail gear you’ll need to make a Hennessy Old Fashioned:

  • Cocktail shaker – A two-piece metal shaker to shake/mix the ingredients
  • Jigger – A special double-sided measuring cup for getting cocktail ratios right
  • Bar spoon – A long spoon for stirring
  • Muddler – A blunt stick for mashing ingredients like sugar cubes or fruit
  • Citrus/vegetable peeler – For removing citrus peel
  • Old fashioned glass – Short tumbler to serve drink in, ideally with thick base
  • Ice cubes – Preferably larger cubes that melt slower
  • Cocktail napkin – To rest tools on and wipe spills

Having these tools and some technique will allow you to mix drinks with flair like a professional bartender.

How to Make a Hennessy Old Fashioned

Now that we’ve covered all the ingredients and equipment, let’s go through the key steps to mix up this fantastic cognac cocktail:

  1. Add 2 sugar cubes to an old fashioned glass and douse them with 2-3 dashes each of Angostura and orange bitters.
  2. Crush the sugar cubes with a muddler until broken down and the bitters are distributed.
  3. Fill the glass halfway with large ice cubes.
  4. Add the Hennessy and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  5. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds until well chilled.
  6. Strain the cocktail into the prepared old fashioned glass over fresh ice.
  7. Express an orange peel over the drink to release the oils.
  8. Garnish with the orange peel and a Luxardo cherry.

Stirring the finished cocktail gently with a bar spoon will blend everything together seamlessly. Serve and enjoy this outstanding riff on a classic!

The Perfect Hennessy Old Fashioned

Like any cocktail, there is some room for variation in the Hennessy Old Fashioned based on individual tastes. Here are some tweaks that can optimize the drinking experience:

  • Use a higher-end Hennessy like XO or Paradis for a more refined cognac flavor.
  • Increase the simple syrup to 3/4 ounce for sweeter flavor balance.
  • Add a dash of cocoa bitters along with the orange to introduce chocolate notes.
  • Muddle a slice of orange or lemon with the sugar instead of peeling as garnish.
  • Serve in a rocks glass over a large ice cube instead of cubed ice.
  • Substitute a Cognac-soaked cherry for the Luxardo cherry as garnish.

The possibilities are endless! The key is using quality ingredients and finding the right ratios that please your palate. Sip slowly and savor all the subtle flavors in each sip.

Enjoying your Hennessy Old Fashioned

A well-crafted Hennessy Old Fashioned deserves to be enjoyed properly. Here are some tips for sipping this drink like a true connoisseur:

  • Use a room temperature glass so as not to dull the flavor when chilled.
  • Take small sips to experience each layer of flavor individually.
  • Breathe through your nose after each sip to get the aroma.
  • Hold the drink in your mouth a moment before swallowing to appreciate the mouthfeel.
  • Pair it with a mild cigar, chocolate, or selections of cheese and charcuterie.
  • Drink slowly – this cocktail is all about savoring, not quickly imbibing!

The elegance of the Hennessy Old Fashioned demands respect and attention. Find a comfortable chair, put on some relaxing music, and treat yourself to the entire experience one exquisite sip at a time.

The Hennessy Old Fashioned’s Place in Cocktail History

The longevity of the Old Fashioned cocktail is a testament to its timeless appeal. While the Hennessy riff adds new life with a smooth cognac spirit, it keeps the drink firmly rooted in tradition by holding onto the original template that made it a classic.

Fans argue whether the Hennessy Old Fashioned strays too far from the original whiskey-based version. But all great cocktails evolve over time by putting new twists on familiar flavors. The use of cognac likely originated from bartenders experimenting with substitutions based on available inventory.

The Hennessy Old Fashioned stands proudly alongside the Negroni, Margarita, and Martini as cocktails that spawned a family of variations. It sits comfortably at the intersection of innovation and enduring admiration for the way things were always done.

Similar Cocktails

The creative possibilities of the Old Fashioned format have inspired many similar cocktails. Here are a few kindred spirits of the Hennessy Old Fashioned:

French 75

This sparkling concoction also uses cognac as the base spirit. It adds lemon juice, simple syrup, and champagne for a light and lively flavor profile in a flute glass.

Vieux Carre

Meaning “Old Square” in French, this New Orleans classic also features cognac but mixes in rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine herbal liqueur, and bitters.

Jack Rose

Applejack brandy replaces the cognac in this cocktail highlighted by lemon juice and enhanced with grenadine for sweetness.


The Boulevardier swaps out cognac for bourbon and adds Campari and sweet vermouth for a stiffer, richer drink.

Between the Sheets

This Prohibition-era cocktail contains cognac along with rum, lemon juice, and triple sec for a citrusy, tropical vibe.

The Future of the Hennessy Old Fashioned

Cocktails generally go through cycles of widespread popularity followed by periods of dormancy as drink trends change. The longevity of the Old Fashioned makes its future unlikely to fade any time soon, especially with creations like the Hennessy Old Fashioned keeping it feeling fresh.

New takes on this drink will arise as bartenders continue to experiment – perhaps mezcal or Japanese whisky will make their way in as base spirits. But the core essence of bitters, sugar, citrus, and spirit endures as a winning formula.

Classics have staying power for good reason. With its smooth and sweet cognac edge, the Hennessy Old Fashioned gives no indication of going out of style anytime in the foreseeable future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Hennessy Old Fashioned the same as a normal Old Fashioned?

No, the key difference is that a Hennessy Old Fashioned uses cognac as the spirit base rather than whiskey, which is used in a traditional Old Fashioned. The Hennessy imparts fruitier, sweeter flavors.

What kind of glass do you serve a Hennessy Old Fashioned in?

It is typically served in an old fashioned glass, which is a short, stout rocks glass. This shows off the cocktail’s colors and allows you to add a large ice cube.

Can I make it without simple syrup?

You can, but the drink may come out quite stiff and spirity without the sweetener. The syrup smooths out the flavors. You can use a sugar cube instead but it may not dissolve entirely.

Is lemon peel an acceptable garnish?

Lemon can work but orange peel is more traditional and complements the cognac better. An orange slice is also garnish option. But lemon won’t ruin the drink if that’s all you have.

What’s the difference between an Old Fashioned and Manhattan?

A Manhattan uses rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters while an Old Fashioned is just whiskey/brandy, bitters, and sugar. The vermouth makes the Manhattan a bit sweeter.


The Hennessy Old Fashioned brings together the smooth richness of cognac and the balanced bitter/sweet qualities of a timeless cocktail formula. Its sophistication rewards slow sipping to uncover the mixture of fruit, oak, and spice underlying each sip. With its French flair, the Hennessy Old Fashioned gives a refined twist to the drink that started it all.