Bernard Hine was born and brought up “above the shop”, The House of Hine, on the banks of the River Charente, in Jarnac, France so it is true to say that Cognac courses in his veins and has been ever-present in his life.
He went to Hamburg University to study German and Edinburgh University to learn English before becoming
apprenticed to his father, Robert, and uncle François to learn the family trade.
It soon became clear he had a natural flair for the production side of the business; sourcing the finest eaux-de-vie from Grande and Petite Champagne, the top two Cognac crus, and nurturing these precious young spirits to maturity with the keen sense of smell and taste essential for the art of blending.
Latterly, he has travelled the world as an ambassador for Hine and for Cognac. In the office he is known as Mr. B and around the world as Mr Cognac.
Here are his Top 10 Cognac watering holes.
The Coburg, The Connaught Hotel, London
The Coburg Bar always seems to be buzzing whenever you drop in morning, noon or night. The recent extension offers more space and a wonderful view across Carlos Place and the new back bar a wider selection of drinks.
A visit is a sensory experience. Music and lighting change with the time of day, a blazing log fire warms the room in winter and lightly scented candles refresh the air.
The Coburg offers a terrific choice of XO Cognacs from all the main houses together with a celebration through Hine vintages from 1914 to 1982. An historic cocktail list offers the Alexander, Sidecar and Sazerac, to name but a few.
If guests are feeling peckish they can nibble on a salad, sandwich, hot or cold tapas created by Hélène Darroze – her parents are friends of mine.
Annabel’s, Berkeley Square, London
Arguably one of the most elegant private members clubs in the world, established around 50 years ago. I think the nightingales must have left long before Annabel’s arrived. It has always enjoyed a chic air of understated elegance. It offers a varied menu of spirits from international names.
The Cognac section features X0s from Courvoisier, Hennessy, Hine, Martell and Remy Martin. It also offers Hine Cigar Reserve – a special blend I created with my friend Nicholas Freeman, the late chairman of UK Havana cigar importers Hunters & Frankau.
It’s the perfect accompaniment to a fine hand-made Havanna cigar.
Champany Inn, Linlithgow, Scotland
Champany Inn lies tucked away in the tiny village of Linlithgow, a 20 minute drive west of Edinburgh.
Anne and Clive Davidson, the owners, have taken a collection of historic, stone buildings, dating back to the 16th century, to create a luxurious bar, restaurant with rooms and award-winning cellar.
The bar and mezzanine wine cellar are an Aladdin’s cave of drinkable treasures awaiting discovery. There’s a cosy atmosphere and the area is furnished with beautiful antiques. Behind the bar there is a handsome shelf with a huge collection of Hine Early-Landed Grande Champagne Vintage Cognacs.
Guests can create a vertical tasting to compare vintages or retire to an armchair to enjoy an after-dinner snifter. Many other Cognac houses are represented too, along with a fine array of malt whiskies.
Corse Lawn, Cheltenham, UK
An elegant Queen Anne listed building surrounded by 12 acres of gardens, Corse Lawn Hotel has long been a very personal favourite as it was acquired by my late cousin, Denis Hine, and his wife, Baba in 1978. They carefully extended, refurbished and restored it to create a stunning country house hotel. Over the years I have visited and stayed there on many occasions. It’s now run by Baba and their son, Gilles. I was last with them during the summer of 2012. The bar offers a good selection of Cognacs and there is a serious selection of wines in the cellar set up by Denis and continued by Gilles. There is a friendly atmosphere – a perfect place to unwind and relax. In summer, after dinner, I love to enjoy a glass of Cognac seated on the lawn overlooking the pond, surrounded by the calm Cotswold countryside.
Le Baudelaire, Hotel Burgundy, Paris
The Burgundy (above) is a hidden gem in the heart of the fashionable 1er arrondissement of Paris (between Madeleine-Opéra/Place Vendôme and Rue St Honoré). This boutique five-star hotel offers splendid interiors with a significant modern art collection, but the most interesting is to be found at the bar. It has the most extensive collection of Cognac in Paris. It is a perfect place to enjoy a glass of Cognac or even a good cocktail in a quiet and luxurious environment. It really feels like a quiet bubble in an otherwise busy area. Good contemporary Michelin-starred restaurant as well.
Brandy Library, New York
Brandy Library was created in 2004 by a passionate Frenchman from Burgundy, Flavien Desoblin. It is more than just an elegant bar in Tribeca NYC, it is a temple for brown spirits. The selection of Cognacs, whiskies and rums you can find there is probably one of the most extensive in the world. Flavien is the owner but also one of the most active spirit sommeliers of Brandy Library. He is, as is the whole staff, highly knowledgeable, and it is always a pleasure to have a discussion with him. They focus very much on education and have developed a spirit school.
Churchill Bar, Ritz-Carlton, Guangnzhou, China
The Gwangdong province is home to the famous Cantonese cuisine and Guangzhou, its capital, can be described as THE Cognac city in China. It is a natural stopover when doing business in Asia and The Ritz-Carlton (above) is probably the most sought after five-star hotel along the Pearl River. The elegant atmosphere of the Churchill bar is the closest you can come to a British club in this part of the world. Staff are highly experienced and provide a fine selection of brown spirits and cigars.
For more than a century this famous19th-century colonial-style hotel has been an icon and among the greatest places to stay around the world. Standing at the crossroads of civilization and culture, it’s known for the elegant marble colonnaded Palm Court and the Long Bar – home of the Singapore Sling. Raffles offers a number of bars: the Martini Bar, ; the Writers’ Bar, a tribute to famous writers who have stayed at or written about the hotel; the Long Bar and my favourite Bar and Billiard Room which still houses two billiard tables from the 1870s.
L’Essille, Bassac, France
Monsieur Serge Ferron, the owner, and his son, Laurent, run this hotel and restaurant and act as true ambassadors for Cognac in their own region. They are to host a grand tasting with all the Cognac houses to present their cuvees to sommeliers from around the globe. L’Essille is a lovely retreat in the Charente countryside offering elegant yet unpretentious cuisine in peaceful surroundings.