New Hennessy cognac more friendly to cocktails

* Hennessy Black going on sale nationwide

* 1st big US launch in 50 yrs; meant for use in cocktails

NEW YORK, June 1 (Reuters) - Cognac, a drink once associated with the upper crust of the Old World, has been embraced by a new generation of hip-hop loving Americans. Now Hennessy is trying to expand its appeal even further.

The world's top-selling cognac brand, owned by French conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA LVMH.PA, is launching a new product called Hennessy Black, a lighter cognac meant to be mixed in cocktails rather than sipped on its own.

Hennessy is launching the product nationwide after testing it in select markets earlier this spring. It said this is its first major product launch in the United States in 50 years.

The suggested retail price for Hennessy Black is $39.99 per bottle, putting it at a premium to the Hennessy VS (very special), which often sells for around $30, but still less expensive than the higher-end VSOP (very special old pale) and XO (extra old) versions.

Cognac is a type of brandy named for the Cognac region of France where it is made. It has a long, rich history of being associated with French notables such as Napoleon Bonaparte. Yet since the early 1990s it has been favored by young, urban drinkers, and has been celebrated in numerous hip-hop songs, including “Pass the Courvoisier” by rapper Busta Rhymes.

Hennessy is the No. 1 cognac in the world, according to Impact Databank, outselling Remy Cointreau SA's RCOP.PA Remy Martin, Pernod Ricard's PERP.PA Martell and Fortune Brands Inc's FO.N Courvoisier. It is the world's 17th-biggest branded spirits brand.

In the latest quarter, revenue in LVMH’s alcoholic beverage business jumped 18 percent to 635 million euros, or 14 percent of the group’s total revenue of 4.47 billion euros. The company also makes Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon champagnes, 10 Cane rum and Belvedere vodka. (Reporting by Martinne Geller, editing by Dave Zimmerman)