As a student, Bénédicte Hardy chose Geneva over New York’s Columbia University because she wanted to ski in her spare time. And after spending ten years studying maritime law, she amazed her father by deciding she wanted to enter the family business after all.
Today, she’s the fifth generation to head the Cognac house that bears her name and travels the globe as their Brand Ambassador. She has said that “we make Cognac the most feminine way imaginable, the reverse of robust,” and extols the virtue of a style that is supple and soft. Is there a connection between that style and her gender?
“The house style was really set by my uncle,” she explains. “He wanted something clean and accessible that people could enjoy immediately. And we age longer than the other houses, which adds depth and removes the rough edges.”
Founded in 1863, Hardy produces 60,000 six-packs of Cognac each year, nearly half of which is sold in North America. Their history gives them the advantage of older stocks that can be blended into their releases at every quality level. Their entry range begins with V.S. ($35), V.S.O.P. ($50) and X.O. ($135), and includes the popular Legend 1863 ($60), a blend positioned between V.S.O.P. and X.O. and dominated by 12-year-old Cognac. “We use charred barrels to create an earthy, flavor,” she says. “We wanted Bourbon drinkers to taste it and immediately feel at home.”
At the top levels, Hardy has embraced a “haute couture philosophy” that elevates the bottle itself to the level of the spirit inside. “To open a bottle of Hardy Cognac is to discover a rare work of art,” she says, and that statement is borne out by the Lalique carafes that contain their rarified Four Seasons series. “Many of the big houses work with Baccarat for their top Cognacs, but I wanted to collaborate with Lalique because I felt they were more prestigious, elegant and special.”
The blend for the Four Seasons is based on Cognacs set aside by her father between 1914 and 1940, with a different flavor profile for each season, and include stunning decanters such as L’Eté (summer, $16,500) and Printemps (spring, $17,300). “It’s no different than paying a large sum of money for a painting,” she says, “except there are collectors who buy two sets: one to drink, and another to keep.” While still beautiful, the more affordable Prestige series ranges from $200 to $1,550.
However, she realizes that works of art like those are in a different universe from what people consume every day, and she is actively involved in promoting Cognac as a natural drink that can be enjoyed. “People are realizing that brown spirits are a very versatile product,” she says. “The entire category of V.S.O.P. is delightful in a long drink or a mixed cocktail. If you look at the most famous pre-Prohibition cocktails—the Sidecar, Sazerac and French 75—the best of them contained Cognac as a primary ingredient. Mixology is both the past and the future.”
And what about the future of Hardy? Although she has two children in their early twenties, their career paths are not yet set, and Bénédicte is mindful that she came to the business late in life. “For us, upholding the tradition and carrying the torch was an honor. Hopefully the younger generation will see it that way.”
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first two novels, Friend of the Devil and The American Crusade, are available on Amazon; his third novel, Impeachment, will be released in October.