The Commonwealth Games have taken place every four years (except 1942 and 1946) since their introduction in 1930. The 1986 games were the second to be held in Edinburgh (also 1970), but were tarnished by a much-reduced athlete participation. 32 of the 59 eligible countries opted to boycott the 86’ games due to Margaret Thatchers’ policy of maintaining sporting links with apartheid supporting countries such as South Africa at that time. Reduced participation equated to a decline in sponsorship and broadcasting revenues with a net result of a £4.3m deficit. Nevertheless, more cheery things came out of the 86’ games including today’s rather unusual, but frankly superb whisky produced specially for the games.
The label of Commonwealth Games 13 year old doesn’t give too much away – but there’s enough for us to work with. Distilled in 1973 and bottled in 1986 for the Edinburgh Games, this was produced by Eaglesome in Campbelttown. Eaglesome was originally a general store and deli with no focus on whisky at all – until it was purchased by J&A Mitchell (owners of Springbank) to assist with the importation of coal for use at their nearby distillery. Subsequently in the 1960’s Eaglesome began to bottle its own whiskies. Many of you who have visited Campbeltown have probably entered Eaglesome shop under it’s more modern guide – since 1972 it’s been the Campbeltown outlet of Cadenhead’s – another canny J&A Mitchell acquisition.
The Commonwealth 13 year old could be interpreted as coming from a Campbeltown distillery – which at the time would mean either Springbank or Glen Scotia – however, with Eaglesome transferring over to Cadenhead’s (and being an independent bottler in its own right) around the period that this was distilled, I would argue that its provenance could be much wider than simply Campbeltown. Anyone with wider knowledge on the distillery origins of this bottling please do get in touch!
Nose: Packed full of aged notes – polish, old decayed wood and leather – and with a really interesting contrast between sweet and savoury – orange juice and dusty honey blend together with moss, mushrooms and boiled potatoes. It’s all rather malty here, and seemingly distillate-forward. That said, there’s still some overt cask qualities here – the wood seems quite dry and barkish and there’s a light application of pepper and ginger here. Other interesting aromas from brass piping and mineral chalkiness. This really shout its 1970’s style loudly – whisky isn’t really like this nowadays for the more part. The addition of water brings out some fruitiness – burnt pineapples and tangerines – but it also adds some earthy dunnage into the mix. Fascinating stuff.
Taste: Woah. Where did that come from? A huge arrival (we’re going to need some water) which plays with the mouth’s ability to manage sour, bitter, spicy and sweet all at the same time. We’ll need to take some time to unpick all this. Starting with bold malty spirit, furniture polish, barley water and honey, this delivers much more wood than on the nose – it’s dry and oaky – quite sour, but not jarring against the sweeter more fruitier elements here. Ginger and particularly pepper are present now and again quite boldly delivered. With water things are much better, superb in fact. The multi-flavour assault is calmed right down and it’s now possibly to understand – balanced fruits, old wood, polished malts, earthy soils, mushrooms, with various metals (copper, brass and steel) all wrapped up in orange barley water. Exciting and challenging straight out of the bottle, with a little water, this is simply superb.
Finish: Long with some astringent oak, tangy citrus and minerality. Water freshens this right up for a balanced and beautifully drying end note.
The Commonwealth Games 13 year old is a bit of a mystery – its origins are rather opaque and its flavour palate is just as dense and cloudy. But, one thing is much more certain – it’s simply excellent whisky. I suspect that whilst this is labelled as a 13 year old, that it actually contains spirit from some much older casks – the depth of aged aromas and flavours are incredibly high – much more so than you’d expect from its listed maturity alone. It might seem from the tasting notes above that there are some crazy aromas and flavours going on here – and well, there are – but they all work incredible well together. Out the bottle, this is a big, bold whisky with huge complexity – with a little water, well, I’m on cloud nine – what a treat. Not everything at the 1986 Commonwealth Games was a success – but this was.
But don't take our word for it..
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