A few months back, an email landed in my inbox from a Belgian man claiming he was the world’s biggest Hennessy collector. When I clicked the link to his website I encountered a nearly nine minute-long video of a man in a tilted Los Angeles Angels cap and baggy Hennessy T-shirt. In the video, he speaks from behind a table covered with hundreds of Hennessy bottles in a European accent that’s hard to place given his Ali G-like cadence. “Wassup, Henny fam?,” he says. “This ya’ man, Don Henny.”
Don Henny is perhaps the world’s largest collector of Hennessy Cognac—and that’s virtually all he collects. “My collection, it really started by accident,” Don Henny, whose real name is Olivier Cocquyt, tells me over the phone. He was 19 at the time, out drinking with a friend in Aalst, just outside of Brussels, where he lives. “One night I saw it at a bar. I remember having heard it in songs from Mobb Deep, Snoop, Capone-N-Noreaga. I saw it and I thought, ‘I know this. I know this Hennessy.’”
He tried it and immediately loved it. When he went to a liquor store the following day to buy his first bottle, he encountered a special release listed for 120 Euros and pulled the trigger. The flavor profile was was unlike anything he’d encountered in a spirit before. He became obsessed, to the exclusion of any other brand of Cognac. “No brand can touch my soul or spirit like Henny,” he says.
Don Henny, now 39, owns a Hennessy lighter and Hennessy high-tops. He “pimped” his Audi with a Hennessy decal on the back window. In the house he shares with his young daughter, there is a wall in a back room with the Hennessy logo custom-painted on it, while the living room plays host to over 300 Hennessy bottles, 15 to 20 of which are open at any given time, with more stashed in the cellar.
He has a girlfriend, he tells me, but he doesn’t really have or want a career. “I’m fully busy with this collection,” he says, before explaining that “for the moment I work in a factory that distributes medicines. Just to keep me a bit busy. But normally I don’t go to work because the collection takes up all my time.”
If you guessed that a small Belgian town doesn’t exactly get a ton of rare Hennessy, you’d be right. Most of what Don Henny buys comes from other foreign collectors in what he calls his “worldwide Henny network.” He has a “Russian guy” who visits him five times a year with a haul of bottles. He’s purchased a 1920s VSOP from a collector in Guatemala, which cost about $90 to ship to Belgium. He’s visited the brand’s headquarters in France twice, and shopped “like a boss” while he was there.
Still, despite having one of the largest private Hennessy collections in the world, there are a few bottles Don Henny doesn’t own—like the Hennessy 8, which was only released in a 250-bottle run, and which Don Henny claims was pre-sold to “rich guys.” He also covets, but unfortunately can’t afford, the Beauté du Siècle, “a very cool bottle” which comes in what he describes as a “huge coffin” and costs around $200,000.
He has bottles worth as little as $5, and as much as $10,000, though he has no idea what the entire collection is worth. But, he tells me with a bit of lamentation in his voice, “If I would calculate how much I’ve spent on Henny in my life, I could probably have bought myself a fucking Ferrari.”
A Tour of Don Henny’s Favorite Bottles
Don Henny has three of these hand-blown crystal carafes, each housing liquid that’s been blended from more than 100 eaux de vie aged from 40 to 200 years. Of the $5,000 “prestige” product, he notes, “It’s very cool. I have them displayed in my TV cabinet, with all three next to each other.”
This 1998 Asian-only export was produced to celebrate the brand’s 130th anniversary in Japan. It’s packaged in an elegant Baccarat crystal decanter with a stopper and sold in a silk-lined box. Only 1,868 bottles were made, which means, according to Don Henny, that this is a bona fide “#moneymaker.”
A mere 20 bottles of this expression were created for a 2014 event held at Chapter21, a basement nightclub in Amsterdam. The party was held to celebrate the city’s art history, but Don Henny attended to snag some bottles, which came in five different hand-painted variants. “I was able to get all five,” he explains. “Only me and Hennessy have them. The rest were opened at the party.”
Don Henny has five “dusty” bottles of what is now labeled Hennessy VS—i.e. their youngest expression. He’s only opened one of them, from the 1930s. “In the early days I didn’t know the value, I just opened the bottles,” he explains, noting that he now struggles with the fact that some bottles can increase in value a hundredfold. “It’s beginning to weigh on a lot of Henny collectors these days, opening bottles. That’s a bit of the dark side to it, when you’re a really passionate collector.”
Don Henny has a solid collection of Hennessy special releases bottled in Baccarat crystal, like the Nostalgie de Bagnolet, a discontinued duty-free offering that is packaged in a fold-out box that depicts the brand’s lovely Château de Bagnolet. As Don Henny notes, “Henny has the greatest bottles I think.”