A Rare Spirit Comes to Canada

 Cooper Tardivel, bartender at Hawksworth and storyteller extraordinaire, has been to Remy Martin’s cellar in France where the rare cask of cognac was discovered.
Cooper Tardivel, bartender at Hawksworth and storyteller extraordinaire, has been to Remy Martin’s cellar in France where the rare cask of cognac was discovered.

From the heart of France to the corner of Georgia and Howe, a rare, limited edition cognac connects Canada to historic firsts and generations of artisans.

Sometimes an occasion calls for champagne: a job well done, another year behind us. But sometimes the occasion calls for something stronger, richer, more thought-provoking — the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900, the end of World War II, the first flight of the Concorde in 1984.

For the Winston Churchills among us, there is Louis XIII from the house of Remy Martin, a thick, complex cognac that kings, queens and presidents have used to toast mighty occasions for more than 100 years. The only one blended with century-old eaux de vie, a distillation of grapes from the Grande Champagne region of France, no other cognac carries the same pedigree. Remy Martin is the only large-scale cognac house fortunate enough to have preserved the aromatic end product of superlative French soil even as armies fought two world wars on it. 

“They’re incredibly humble,” says Cooper Tardivel, Head Bartender at Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver, about the cellar masters at Remy Martin. He visited them in November, after learning that Hawksworth would be the only establishment in Canada to serve Louis XIII Rare Cask 42,6. 

During his visit, Pierrette Trichet,  Remy Martin’s cellar master for 38 years, told him she’s “only a vehicle of the eaux de vie of a few generations ago.” Her palate directs the blending of 1,200 different distillations of eaux de vie to ensure each sip of Louis XIII tastes exactly as it did in 1929 when it was enjoyed by guests of the legendary Orient Express train to Constantinople, the same as every bottle before and since. Tasting and memorizing the profile of each cask led her to discover something unexpected. 

“One magical day,” Tardivel begins, “Pierrette was tasting and she found that there was potential that this one [cask] could be great on its own, no [more] blending necessary. So she stopped blending that particular barrel. She came back to it and came back to it. She got her deputy cellar master [her apprentice] to try it” and they agreed. Rare Cask 42,6 should be offered separately — a rarity among rarities connoisseurs would be grateful to taste. 

A total of around 700 bottles were offered to private buyers and key establishments around the world. Of the four bottles that came to Canada, only one is available to the public — the one at Hawksworth. Finding a bartending team that knows, appreciates and passes on the full story was vital to the 300-year-old company. As Tardivel puts it: 

“For a lot of people it would be a novelty. We understand the literally thousands of people that it took, the generations that it took to get to this point. It will be a sad day when we sell out of it because it might not ever happen again. Even if they do it again, it will be different than this one. Louis XIII will always be the same profile whereas the Rare Cask is a snapshot in time.” 

So what does a spirit of the century taste like and what kind of food should you pair with it? According to Chef David Hawksworth, “surprising,” and “absolutely nothing!”   

“I’m a skeptic of most things and I thought, ‘Honestly, how different could the Rare Cask be?’ But it’s much richer, fuller, quite dry. It is very special.” 

“To really have an appreciation of it,” Tardivel says, “you have to have a clear memory of what Louis XIII is like: very broad, washes over your palate, it lingers for a very long time. Rare cask is very concentrated: stewed figs, dates, fresh, rich. The higher alcohol content, though slight, is noticeable because it carries those flavours quite intensely. What I had imagined in my mind wasn’t at all what I got.”

Curious to try it? Keep in mind that one ounce of the Rare Cask will set you back four figures. But Tardivel and Hawksworth probably won’t mind if you stay a few hours to savour what lifetimes of dedication taste like. 

Photography by Milos Tosic