How French cognac was imbued with Irish spirit
French brands Hennessy and Delamain are descended from the Irish, while some new Irish whiskeys owe a lot to France
In the 18th century, Irish businessmen were very prominent in the Cognac region. Two houses are direct descendants of Irish families and many others had strong Irish connections. These are detailed by historian Louis Cullen in his book The Irish Brandy Houses of 18th-Century France (Lilliput Press).
Hennessy is well-known. The family has been involved in Cognac since 1724 and there are still several Hennessys involved. Maurice travels the world as brand ambassador, as well as selling grapes from his vineyard to Hennessy. His brother Frédéric lives in the original Hennessy homestead in Cork. The Hennessy three-star is very popular in this country. Richard Hennessy created the first XO for his friends. The current version is a real treat.
DelftwareThe other “Irish” house is Delamain. Nicolas Delamain settled in Ireland in 1639. His descendent Henry was the first in Ireland to fire delftware with coals, examples of which can be seen in the National Museum, and were illustrated in a series of stamps. Henry’s nephew James Delamain moved from Dublin to France and, in 1759, formed a partnership with his father-in-law, proprietor of one of the oldest cognac houses. The company is still owned and run by two descendants of the original Delamain, and is one of the only family-owned companies in Cognac.
Delamain is unique amongst cognac houses in that it produces no three-star or VSOP cognac. The entry level is an XO, and that is made from 25-year-old spirits (XO or extra old needs only to be six years old). They do not add caramel or syrup to make it darker and sweeter, hence the name Pale & Dry. It is my favourite Cognac.