When it comes to cognac, most people think of it as a stiff drink with very little room for experimentation, and that it should be drunk neat, or on the rocks – that isn’t particularly the case with the Hennessy VS (Hennessy Very Special), as we learnt from mixologist, Osmund Bernard.
In an intimate and exciting cocktail making session with Osmund, using the versatile Very Special, we got to discover the more ‘fun’ side to cognac, and how we can ‘drink it wrong,’ so to speak
During the session in Veintidós in Bangsar, Osmund Bernard, who was listed the Diageo World Class Bartender, gave us a brief introduction about the history of cognac, and the versatility of the Hennessy VS in particular.
Next Osmund demonstrated exactly how simple it is craft your own cocktail, by using whatever ingredients you have lying around the house. He picked a volunteer to create one of his signature cocktails, the Dragon’s Mule – named as such as its main component is dragon fruit and it’s served in a mule mug – which was then served to all the guests.
Then the fun began, as guests were invited to one by one, pick from the array of ingredients and craft their own cocktails, according to their liking with the Hennessy cognac.
Guests let their creativity flow, and come up with truly exciting concoctions, according to their own liking and taste buds. One came close to a spiked masala chai, another came up with an alcoholic tom yum – which was truly amazing, and our very own A-Lister Neal Edwin dropped a whole chilli into his drink, for a spicy rendition of the VS.
As the fun night was coming to an end, guests got to make one last cocktail to take home as well, not to mention, they even walked away with a limited-edition Hennessy Very Special Cocktail Shaker set, that is currently on sale at supermarkets as well as on Boozeat, so guests could continue making fancy cocktail creations at home, especially during the festive season.
Meanwhile, as the guests headed back home to enjoy their takeaway drink, or craft their own cocktails, we sat down with Osmund Bernard to find out more about himself and the Hennessy VS.
Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you got into the bartending scene?
Well, it’s by chance honestly. As I was studying for my Engineering degree, I worked part-time behind the bar to support myself through university. And that’s when I realised I actually enjoyed bartending very much, the lifestyle/socialising is one but also my love for culinary got me hooked behind the bar to experiment with many types of cocktails using food ingredients. Among the places I worked at was 7ate9, WIP, and then the Souled-Out group itself, and after 5 years I was given an offer to set up Ikki bar, and the rest is history. Of course, I occasionally do brand events such as this as well.
What made you want to start creating cocktails using cognac?
It all began circa 2018/2019 when Hennessy approached me to create cocktails with a local flavour for an event. It had to incorporate local ingredients like ginger and lime, etc… because the guests were local and Hennessy wanted them to appreciate its premium cognac with a touch of familiarity. That’s when I discovered how versatile Very Special is, and that I can play around with many ingredients even at home, especially local ingredients.
What are some of the differences between Hennessy VSOP compared to the VS?
Well, VS stands for ‘Very Special’ and is aged for at least between 2.5 to 5 years in French oak barrel, and it is a blend of 40 eaux de vie. Whereas VSOP means ‘Very Special Old Pale’ with at least 4 to 15 years being aged in French oak barrel and contains a blend of 60 eaux de vie.
Flavour wise, with the VSOP I would prefer to use premium ingredients and “Christmassy flavours” such as berries – any sort of berries, instead of local ingredients, which complements the VS better. However, as long as a balance is observed, you’ll have a great cocktail with either cognac.
Why would you suggest the use of local ingredients?
It’s easy to get, and can be found at home. So you can get creative at home, especially during this lockdown period. It helps to have some fun by creating a cocktail base in the comfort of your own home with easily sourced ingredients. Nothing wrong to “do it wrong” or in other words, you don’t have to follow protocols, as long as you are having fun and enjoy your drink.
Would you create a cocktail using XO?
Definitely not; I love to enjoy it neat. Why? because the XO that has been aged for at least 57 years, and the efforts of the Master Blender should be appreciated. Plus I wouldn’t want the flavours to depreciate by mixing it with other elements or liquors.
That being said, one of the strangest cocktails I’ve been asked to make, which broke my heart, was to mix coke and lime with XO. While it tasted alright, I’d still rather drink Hennessy XO on its own.