~ NI Hennessy Connoisseurs discover secrets of the world’s most iconic Cognac brand ~
Three Northern Ireland bartenders travelled to Cognac for an immersive training experience at the home of Hennessy and, having returned home, are putting their newfound knowledge to good use in bars across NI this festive season…
Michael Young of The Vault in Banbridge, Mark McConville of House of Zen in Belfast and Emer Kennedy from new Belfast bar, Blacklist (and formerly of APOC, Belfast), were named this year’s winning Hennessy Connoisseurs at a live final in The Muddlers Club in Belfast in August.
The winning trio were among nine finalists to battle it out in front of an international judging panel in a grand finale in The Muddlers Club, Belfast in August, impressing judges with their signature Hennessy cocktails and clinching the coveted title of Hennessy Connoisseurs.
The prize winning bartenders received a VIP trip to Cognac to visit Maison Hennessy and Chateau de Bagnolet, courtesy of Dillon Bass, where they received one-on-one training and a tasting with one of Hennessy’s tasting committee, a once in a life time experience.
The Hennessy Tasting Committee is comprised of a panel of expert-oenologists who meet daily to carry out a rigorous grape selection process, tasting upwards of 50 eau-de-vie (translation: water of life) samples a day and over 10,000 a year. Members have to stay silent at the meetings for their first 10 years; listening to and absorbing the knowledge of the master blender for a decade to ensure they fully understand the eau-de-vie of the spirit.
Highlights of the trip also included a visit to the Hennessy Cooperage, where the bartenders learnt about the craft and heritage of the brand and were shown how a barrel is made from start to finish.
Commenting on the experience, Laura Blair, brand manager for Hennessy at Dillon Bass said: “Visiting Maison Hennessy and Chateau de Bagnolet is an incredible opportunity for any bartender or expert, and our winning trio of Connoisseurs were thrilled to experience it first-hand.
“The distillery has been around for over 250 years and is steeped in tradition. The tasting committee is a historic process that exemplifies the care and consideration that goes into each drop of Hennessy. Our Hennessy Connoisseurs have learnt a great deal about the world famous cognac, bringing this knowledge and expertise back to Northern Ireland and further afield.”
Winning Connoisseur, Michael Young of The Vault, Banbridge, clinched his title despite having a broken arm and wowed the judges with his signature cocktail, Bisou Francais, meaning ‘Sweet Kiss.’
Reflecting on his experience, Michael said: “The whole experience was brilliant from start to finish. The competition forced me out of my comfort zone and ended up giving a huge boost to my confidence. Visiting Hennessy and learning more about the production process and which grapes are used in each drink was fascinating.
The competition offered great opportunity for growth, progression and support. I met a lot of other bartenders and have made great friends out of the other two winning Connoisseurs, Mark and Emer.
Getting the chance to meet influential people in the drink industry in and Dillon Bass was also very beneficial and these connections will be useful in the future.
“I am back working in The Vault and pursuing a career as a chef. My eyes have been opened to a range of different drinks and cocktails that could be used as a pairing with food and I am keen to explore this further.”
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