Anthony Hardy was an Englishman who fell in love with France. As a London wine and spirits merchant, he took every opportunity to escape the city and visit his neighbor to the south, with the Cognac region as his favorite destination. In 1863 he moved there permanently and founded his own Cognac house, adopting the French rooster as his company’s symbol and changing his name to Antoine in the process. The enterprise prospered, and today is run by Benedicte Hardy, Antoine’s great-grandson and the fifth generation of family ownership.
In today’s beverage market, the importance of family ownership can’t be overestimated. We live in an era of consolidation, a time when multi-national beverage conglomerates are buying up wine and spirits brands at a dizzying rate. While it’s true that many proprietors stay on for the customary five-year stint after selling, the focus of the enterprise almost always changes. Strict quality control and pride of ownership often take a back seat to corporate profit targets.
For the past three decades, Hardy has subscribed to a philosophy of haute couture in its bottle design, a concept usually associated with dresses that have five-figure price tags. The analogy is a good one, because the Hardy bottles are nothing if not beautiful. The philosophy culminates in the packaging for their top Cognac, Perfection ($8,500), which comes to the consumer in a unique carafe designed by Jacques Hardy and Cristallerie Daum, and their commitment to style is evident at every point in their product line.
Several months ago, Hardy released Legend 1863 ($60, 80 proof/40% alcohol) to the U.S. The date is not a vintage designation, but rather a reference to the year the house was founded. The Cognac was created from selected eaux de vie from the Petite Champagne district, blended with a touch of Borderies, and aged up to 12 years in toasted Limousin oak. True to their haute couture concept, Legend 1863 is presented in a sleek, stunning bottle of sculpted glass.
On the nose, Legend 1863 offers a complex assortment of aromas: floral scents mingle with hints of citrus, chocolate, and menthol. The Cognac is just as interesting in the mouth—rich and full on entry, then expanding in the mid palate with delicate flavors of mocha, vanilla and lemon peel. The long finish has echoes of citrus and coffee. In addition to enjoying it neat, the company recommends it in a Sidecar; if you’ve had a large meal and are feeling adventurous, I’d consider making a Stinger. All in all, legend 1863 is representative of the house of hardy: the texture is ample yet elegant, and the value for money ratio is excellent.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.