The Hardy cognac house was founded by an Englishman, Antoine Hardy, in 1863. It has stayed in the family's hands over the last century and a half. The House of Hardy overlooks the Charantes River, within the town of Cognac.
The VS expression is the youngest that Hardy releases, aged for a minimum of five years in limousine oak casks. It is bottled at the standard 40% and is likely chill filtered, caramel colored, and treated with boise (shavings or powdered oak, to accelerate the extraction of color and tannins).
Nose: jammy berries, liquid raisins, gentle oak, orange peel, dry-ish grapes, light brown sugar, dark cherries. After adding a few drops of water, it becomes rather floral, which integrates well with the grape notes.
Taste: sweet with grape character throughout, jammy fruit (raspberry/cherry) turning into polished wood with a touch of sawdust in the middle, gently bitter edge, bittersweet fade. After dilution, it becomes flatter and less sweet, the flavors become more indistinct, but some nice bittersweet chocolate overtones show up.
Finish: orange peel, bittersweet floral oak, slightly vegetal, grape residue, a touch of pepper
This is not a complicated cognac, but it is honestly quite enjoyable. Quality-wise, I think this is comparable to a respectable blended whisky - it's not going to make you think too hard, but it's nice to drink. While it's crept up in price here in Oregon, it's still available for about $25 in many places. At that price, it's hard to find a better deal for actual cognac. Additionally, that makes it cheap enough that you don't need to feel a single twinge of guilt about using it for cocktails.
In a Sidecar, it brings everything that you would expect from cognac: nice apple notes, French oak, vanilla, and something a little floral. Paired with Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, I did feel like I either needed to use a bit more cognac or to ease off on the orange liqueur to keep balance. If you're usually a less aggressively orange liqueur, then I wouldn't worry. While it'd be nice if Hardy upped the bottling proof, I've never felt like it wasn't able to assert itself in cocktails.
Japanese Cocktail Variant
2 oz brandy
1 oz lemon juice
0.75 oz orgeat
1 dash Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass
The nose is redolent of cognac, accented by the bitters and nutty notes from the orgeat. The sip begins with cognac riding underneath subdued lemon, segueing into orgeat, then letting the cognac shine on its own. The bitters don't peek out too much, buttressing the other ingredients instead of pushing out in front. Overall a nice twist on a brandy sour.