Never heard of Hart Brothers? Well they're an independently-owned whisky blender & bottler based in East Kilbride, near Glasgow in Scotland, and have been around in the current form since 1964. They are of course a little more obscure than your big name independent bottlers, but for some reason they are, or at least were, quite easy to come across in Australia. That said, their bottlings receive very mixed reviews, with some being well regarded, and some being despised. There is certainly a bit of risk involved when buying a bottle from a more obscure bottler, particularly when there are no reviews or further information available online. But it seems that taking a chance does pay off every now & then!
There aren't many independent bottlings of Springbank out there, at least in Australia, probably since the vast majority of spirit produced at the distillery is bottled and sold as one of their own single malt, although Springbank do produce their own blended whisky under the name Campbeltown Loch. There are occasional bottlings from Cadenhead's, since they're also owned by Springbank's owners, and the SMWS seem to get their hands on a few casks, but that's pretty much it. But then when the distillery in question is already independently owned, only bottles at 46% and above, non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, does their fair share of experimentation and single cask bottling, and is usually priced pretty fairly, then there isn't really as much need for independent versions in the marketplace.
Unfortunately there's very little information out there on this particular Hart Brothers bottling, other than what is printed on the label. It was distilled in June of 1993, and bottled in October of 2014 at a cask strength of 52% ABV, and was matured in first-fill sherry butts. So we don't know what type of sherry cask was used, and 21 years in a first-fill cask is a long time, so this one is very interesting. At least we do know that all Hart Brothers bottlings are naturally coloured and non-chill filtered, which is good news. Unfortunately there's no mention of whether this is a single cask bottling or not, and there's no cask number/s or number of bottles stated, so I'd assume it wasn't from a single cask. Not that it really matters, of course. Let's get to it!
Springbank 21 year old, Hart Brothers, 52%. Campbeltown, Scotland.
Matured in a first-fill sherry butt. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Nose: Very waxy! Can't say I've found that in a Springbank before. Certainly not to this level. There's loads of orange as well, orange rind specifically, and some light wood spices. Slightly dusty & meaty as well. A little spearmint toothpaste, and some milk chocolate orange (think Terry's choc orange). The orange note becomes more of a sweet orange juice with more time, while the wax subsides a little, and a cherry note appears. Quite a complex nose on this one!
Texture: Medium-to-heavy weight, a slight touch of heat.
Taste: Meaty & spicy, more chocolate, and a light dusty earthy-ness. Some malt in the background too. The orange is still there but it's more of a bitter orange now, and it's much less prominent than on the nose. Still quite waxy, and a little more fruity.
Finish: Medium length. Quite a hot minty-ness now, and more of that dusty earthy note, plus the milk chocolate and orange. Possibly a hint of sulphur here as well, but not in an unpleasant way, at least not to my palate.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: Very interesting! Not like any other Springbank I've ever tasted, but then it's also the oldest Springbank I've tasted. The strong wax and orange notes in particular were very interesting, this is probably the strongest notes that I've experienced of those flavours, particularly since they're both there simultaneously. Very enjoyable though, not unpleasant by any means, just interesting and quite surprising. This is where independent bottlings really shine if you ask me, giving us a totally different and new take on a familiar distillery, and forcing our minds to be a little more open with each sip. Great stuff.
Not at all what I expected from this Hart Brothers, and it's changed my impression of their bottlings for the better, despite there being plenty of negative experience out there. I would recommend trying this one, but to be honest I don't really like your chances of finding a bottle! A big thanks to the generous anonymous donor for the sample of this one.