When it comes to Cognac, most people are aware of the “Big Four:” Hennessy, Martell, Courvoisier, and Remy Martin. As with all spirits, some of the better buys aren't necessarily the most well-known brands, which brings us to Hardy.
Let's talk today about the VS in particular. Now, “Very Special” cognac seems like a pretty fancy designation—until you realize that there isn't anything lower. VS means only that it's been aged for a minimum of 2 years, which is a drop in the bucket for anyone used to drinking scotch so old it could walk into a store, point to its label as proof of ID, and buy itself. In the world of cognac, “VS” grants you the same level of exclusivity and clout you'd get from a “VIP” car wash or an "Executive Level" gym membership.
As a little guy, Hardy has to do things just a little bit better to steal market share. Their VS, for example, is aged for 5 years, so by French standards they could call this a VSOP if they really wanted to. (If you don't have any idea what I'm talking about, click ye here.) And I'll say this: given that I can count the spirit's age on the fingers of one hand, it's remarkably genteel for what it is.
If you want to have a short primer on the sophistication and delicacy of cognacs, this would be a great place to start. The trip begins with the aroma of dried fruit with just a touch of mint and earthiness. Unlike the candy-sweet American brandies I've had, the Hardy tastes a lot more natural on the palate. Look for some canned peaches, dried apricots, papaya, and just a touch of almond to keep things interesting.
Finish-wise, there's lots of fruit and cinnamon for sure—and it lasts for a surprisingly long time. It's also very pleasantly tannic, which I attributed to the grapes used as a distillate base (although I could just be crazy). I think red wine drinkers will find a lot to like here.
Let me reiterate that the Hardy VS is not an ass-kicker. The goal is not to obliterate your palate with a single, overriding taste sensation. Some might criticize it as a little vague or depthless, and cognac can sometimes be a hard sell for dudes used to drinking cask-strength flavor berserkers on the regular. In the Hardy VS, there's a little fruit, a little oak, and a little spice. It's all delicately balanced, and on the whole, a nice way to wind down rather than amp yourself up.
At about $30, there's also great value here. I'd go so far to say that I'd take this over most single malt scotches in the same price tier. (I actually like the VS better than Hardy's VSOP.) If you've ever been on the fence about the spirit category, throw this in your cart and see what cognac has to offer.