HARDY BUT VEL­VETY

What ought to be a tast­ing of Hardy cognac morphs into a spir­ited dis­course with Béné­dicte Hardy, an a or­ney turned brand am­bas­sador

AugustMan (Malaysia) - - Liquid Assets - WORDS BY JUSTIN NG PHO­TOS BY HARDY COGNAC

IT IS A Mon­day morn­ing but there is no dreaded Mon­day blues. In its place is a liq­uid far more in­vig­o­rat­ing. It is am­ber in colour. Seated next to me is Béné­dicte Hardy, a lawyer turned Hardy cognac brand am­bas­sador. How­ever, she is no mere brand am­bas­sador, for the Cognac re­gion was her play­ground while grow­ing up. “Peo­ple al­ways find me more in­ter­est­ing than the other brand am­bas­sadors,” she quips. “That is be­cause they aren’t from Cognac.” True to her word, she has plenty of tales to share, which even bona fide cognac con­nois­seurs may not be aware of.

Béné­dicte is the great-great-grand­daugh­ter of An­thony Hardy, an English­man whose adu­la­tion of cognac drove him to found the French mai­son bear­ing his sur­name in 1863. I ask her how she ended up in the cognac busi­ness. Her re­ply is sim­ply, “I grew tired of law, de­fend­ing peo­ple who didn’t need to be de­fended.”

“I said (to my fa­ther), ‘This isn’t what I want to do; I want to be in the wine busi­ness.’ My fa­ther was taken aback say­ing, ‘What? Wine busi­ness? Af­ter 10 years of stud­ies?’”

Adamant that she would quit law, her fa­ther of­fered her the op­por­tu­nity to join the fam­ily busi­ness in­stead. How­ever, Béné­dicte had one con­di­tion: she wanted to be in a coun­try where she could speak her mind. “He asked, ‘Which coun­try would you like to go to?’ I an­swered, ‘The United States.’”

Af­ter spend­ing some time in the US and get­ting to know the busi­ness in­side out, Hardy re­cently took up the role of brand am­bas­sador, which al­lows her to travel and speak to oth­ers who share the same pas­sion. “Kuala Lumpur is my first des­ti­na­tion and it hap­pens to be my first visit to Asia,” she says

with a laugh. “You’re (Malaysians) prob­a­bly drink­ing higher qual­ity, higher aged co­gnacs (com­pared to Amer­i­cans), which has al­ways been a tra­di­tion of yours for years.”

Hardy Leg­end 1863

“The Leg­end is what we called a su­per

VSOP,” Béné­dicte shares, cit­ing that it is aged longer, hence a step above a con­ven­tional VSOP. The Hardy Leg­end 1863 is a brand new of­fer­ing by Hardy. It was rolled out to the mar­ket last year and comes in three sizes, in­clud­ing minia­tures.

“We dis­cov­ered that there was a mar­ket par­tic­u­larly in the Far East for some­thing just be­neath XOs but above the VSOP. The taste pro­file was some­thing that our blender re­ally put to­gether,” she en­thuses, be­fore con­tin­u­ing to ex­plain that typ­i­cally Hardy uses only Grande and Petite Cham­pagne, the two best dis­tricts in Cognac. “But my un­cle was our blender for many years. He had a pref­er­ence for Borderies, which is num­ber three. So when we went for this new blend, our blender said, ‘We should use Petite Cham­pagne, Borderies and Fins Bois (num­ber four) for the style that you wanted to achieve.’

“The unique­ness of this blend comes from the way he (the blender) dealt with cooperage houses. We have three cooperage houses. The one that he used for this prod­uct, in par­tic­u­lar, ac­cepted to do a deeper pen­e­tra­tion of the flame into the French oak ‒ the Li­mousin oak ‒ and be­cause of this, we have more vanilla, mocha, cof­fee and cap­puc­cino flavours. Mostly what you have on the nose is cof­fee and what lingers on the palate is cap­puc­cino.”

Hardy XO Rare

The Hardy XO Rare en­cap­su­lates the quin­tes­sence of the Hardy house. It is blended from top two re­gions in Cognac ‒ about 40 per­cent of Grande and 60 per­cent of Petite Cham­pagne. “It is a 20-year-old blend,” Béné­dicte says. “As you know, the cham­pagne name comes from the fact that we share the same soil as Cham­pagne, which is east of Paris, while we (Cognac) are south­west of Paris.” The cognac is re­mark­ably smooth. It veers to­wards fruiti­ness, with notes of raisins, pears and vanilla.

“Our blender takes so much pride in the blend and the way he se­lects the eaux-de-vie makes all the dif­fer­ence. The le­gal age for XOs is 10 years but we age it for 20 years. Be­cause of that we don’t need to add any colour­ing,” she ex­plains. Why dou­ble the age­ing process? “It is a loss to make a gain ‒ that is how you get the best. The heart of the dis­til­la­tion is the only thing we keep, even though we dis­til with lees, which is im­por­tant to get the tex­ture and flavours,” she puts it sim­ply.

Hardy No­ces d’Or Sub­lime

“The rea­son it is called No­ces d’Or is be­cause it is 50 years old. No­ces d’Or in French means golden an­niver­sary. All the eaux-de-vie in this blend are aged for 50 years but sep­a­rately, and then they are blended,” Béné­dicte ex­plains. The Hardy No­ces d’Or Sub­lime is a flo­ral cognac with notes of bud­ding lilac. Its nose is well bal­anced with fruity, flow­ery and slight woody notes. A lively al­co­hol on­set gives fresh­ness to its sub­tle taste of can­died cher­ries.

So the eaux-de-vie don’t start at min­i­mum 50 years? “No, they are all 50. That is the dif­fer­ence be­tween most cognac houses and us. Be­cause of that our prod­ucts are more har­mo­nious on the palate ‒ rounded and soft. There is no al­co­hol flavour. We use wa­ter in the course of blend­ing. The blender adds wa­ter three or four times to aid the age­ing fac­tor and (that con­trib­utes to) the smooth­ness of the prod­uct. If you only add wa­ter at the very end be­fore you blend, the prod­uct is warmer on the palate and the wa­ter sep­a­rates from the al­co­hol.

“In or­der to make that (cognac) suc­cess­ful, you need room, wa­ter and a spe­cial recipe, which we have. We didn’t in­vent it (the recipe), but we per­fected it with our blender,” Béné­dicte sums it up. AM

“THE UNIQUE­NESS OF THIS BLEND COMES FROM THE WAY HE (THE BLENDER) DEALT WITH COOPERAGE HOUSES“

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