What ought to be a tasting of Hardy cognac morphs into a spirited discourse with Bénédicte Hardy, an attorney turned brand ambassador, writes JUSTIN NG
A spirited discourse with Bénédicte
It Is a Monday MornIng but there is no dreaded Monday blues. In its place is a l iquid 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-greatgranddaughter 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 fat her), ‘ T his isn’t what I want to do; I want to be in t he wine business.’ My father was taken aback saying, ‘What? Wine business? A fter 10 years of s tudies?’”
Adamant that she would quit law, her father offered her t he 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 t ime 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 f ruitiness, w ith notes of r aisins, p ears and vanilla.
“Our blender takes so much pride i n 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 eauxde-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.