If you've ever ordered a cognac at a trendy restaurant, you've no doubt witnessed the bartender making a show of heating a snifter with hot water before filling it.
It's a dirty little secret (at least it was) that the renowned cognac house of Hennessy prefers to serve Hennessy X.O on the rocks. I learned of this firsthand a number of years ago when I had dinner with Maurice Hennessy and, to my amazement, he handed me a tall glass full of ice and Hennessy X.O as an aperitif.
He had a good laugh at my shocked face, and then explained, "Cognac and ice was the first long drink, even before scotch on the rocks."
Before I could even ask about the tradition of heating the cognac snifter before serving, he had another good laugh.
"That's not the best way to enjoy cognac," he said of the glass-heating ritual. "Do that and what you get when you put your nose in the glass is a big whiff of alcohol. The wonderful complexity, especially of an older cognac, is completely lost."
He went on to say that the ice served to tame the smell of alcohol and allowed the nuance of fine cognac to shine. Over ice, the cognac exhibited a floral note with aromas of dried fruits and spice. And the fire on the palate was subdued, reducing the burn on the finish.
In the years since I've kept my dirty little secret, sharing it only with close friends I thought might appreciate the beauty of aged cognac. But I've just learned that Hennessy recently commissioned architect Paul McClean to design a Hennessy X.O ice bucket, which was unveiled at an event last week in Beverly Hills, California.
Now that the word is out, you, too, can shock and amaze your dinner guests with that most surprising cocktail.