Jackson Biko was sandwiched between alcohol royalty and had this to say
Before I took the lift at Sankara Nairobi’s second floor Artisan to meet the 8th Generation Hennessy family I ran into a
gentleman, a writer and a proprietor of a luxury portal. He was due to meet the Hennessy duo after me. He had on a swanky three-piece suit complete with a silk tie. Dapper, just dapper. I wanted to place a fedora on his crown to complete the ensemble. Feeling the lapel of his suit between my thumb and finger, I said, “Are you getting married after this?” I was in jeans. I had thought of wearing a suit myself because I was told these gentlemen are like royalty but I didn’t because I hardly never wear a suit and when I do (the last time was in 2015), I always imagine that the whole world can tell I’m not used to suiting up based on how ill at ease I look in them. It’s like after leaving the dentist with numb cheeks, you always imagine everybody can tell how “swollen” your face is.
Artisan is the open bar where they curate expensive artwork for sale and the Hennessy gentlemen sat – befittingly – under one of those paintings. There was the elderly Hennessy and the younger Hennessy. They both got to their feet as I, together with the their country’s marketing ombudsman – approached. As protocol dictated, I started by shaking the hand of the elderly Hennessy who was tall and towering. The Younger Hennessy was sharp and crisp like a clean bite of a green apple. He had a well tailored suit, most likely a designer. And he wore the hell out of it. His uncle, on the other hand, was worn by his big floaty suit that seemed to say, “I don’t care, I’m a Hennessy after all.” He could have been anyone’s uncle.
Wait, he was the younger Hennessy’s uncle. Although it was 10am in the morning they offered me a drink from a bottle of Hennessy VSOP that was celebrating 200 years – almost as old as the design of the Old Hennessy’s suit, I suspect.
Because I don’t drink Hennessy (or any cognac for that matter) and I certainly don’t drink in the morning I said, “No thanks, it’s too early for a drink.” The older man chuckled and said, “Oh come, it’s never too early for a Hennessy.” He was the charmer and the storyteller, it turned out. But sitting with these two gentlemen and juxtaposing our conversations later was a study of two generations even though they were both the 8th generation Hennessy.
The older Hennessy, for instance, was more travelled, he dropped names of unknown parts of West Africa where he lived for a while and dropped dates from a time I wasn’t born. The younger Hennessy is yet to see the world as much as his uncle has but what he has seen he has quickly tried to figure out. Whereas the Older Hennessy sat the hell back with confidence, legs apart at times, almost like he was waiting for his cigars to be brought, the younger Hennessy sat upright, hands on thighs, back ramrod straight. His answers were like a well curved cube, with the exact right angles, every sentence well thought out, every comma deserving of its usage, clipped sentences that make great reading for a business paper that takes itself seriously. Whereas his demeanor was studious, his uncle’s was chill, the kind of people who tell you, “Oh come on, don’t be like that, have another drink.”
The older Hennessy had more knowledge having lived longer life but since he was seated like a Don most times, his answers were delivered in the same relaxed Don-fashion. He had more poetry in his words and while the younger Hennessy wanted to prove, the older Hennessy had already proven.
The Older Hennessy struck me as the kind of guy you would have loved to have a drink with in an old pub with a large wooden counter and a fan that doesn’t work, while the younger Hennessy seemed the kind of guy who had a drink in a posh pub served by a tuxedo barman with a white beard. Older Hennessy loved his drink the way his forefathers loved their drink; with water or neat, while his nephew was more experimental with cocktails because he’s living in an age of free wifi and Kanye West. Ambition thudded through the younger man’s suit, I recall, like an animal straining on his leash.
And so it was a beautiful collision of generations of sorts. I sat in the middle of this beautiful fork of personality, time and age. But mostly I marveled at how it must feel like to have your last name recognised almost everywhere in the world. “Hi,
my name is John Hennessy.” Creased brow. “Are..are you…the..Hennessy? As in the drink?” “Yup. That’s me.” Problem with having a friend like that is that you can’t order, a Remy Martin or Martell when you are with them. It would be a betrayal to their name.