Bringing together whisky and good friends

Bell’s Special Reserve Whisky

My father was in town on a work trip recently and we invited him over for our first Spring braai (a.k.a. barbecue). The weather was brilliant – sun shining, a gentle breeze and not a cloud in sight. In other words, perfect weather to slap some bacon-rolled chicken sosaties (a.k.a. kebabs) marinated in pineapple sauce on the braai along with some “dun wors” (thin, spicy sausage). My father parents never arrive without brining something along, and this time was no exception.

Producing a packet from a bottle store he said “Here you go lad. The guy at the shop said it was good.” Peering into the packet, the name Bell’s popped out immediately. Bell’s is the biggest selling whisky in South Africa (according to Diageo’s 2010 Annual Report), but I haven’t ever owned a bottle. There have always been other whiskies that I’ve wanted to taste first, so it has never found it’s way into my basket. Thanking my dad, I put the packet down and got on with the braai. After a wonderful meal, I picked up the whisky and had a closer look…

Bell's Special Reserve - A Rich Pure Malt Whisky

Hang on a minute, this wasn’t the Bell’s Extra Special Old Scotch Whisky that I was expecting, it was the Bell’s Special Reserve Whisky which I, admittedly, had never heard of! The label goes on to state: A Rich Pure Malt Whisky.

The “Pure Malt” terminology made me raise an eyebrow. The Scotch Whisky Regulations (SWR) kicked in late November 2009 and since then the terms “pure malt” and “vatted malt” have been prohibited, as they were causing too much confusion amongst whisky consumers the world over. So technically, “blended malt” is the correct term to use now, that is, a blend of single malt whiskies, no grain involved here people! When reading up on the Bell’s Special Reserve for this post, I see that the Bell’s Whisky website uses the correct terminology, calling it “Bell’s Special Reserve Blended Malt Whisky”.

Blended malt whiskies aren’t that common, but they are out there. Examples of blended malts can be found in the brilliant Compass Box range of whiskies (including Oak Cross, Spice Tree and Peat Monster <- my favourite!), the Nikka whiskies (Nikka Pure Malt Red, White and Black) from Japan and, of course, Johnny Walker Green Label. Bell's Special Reserve - a deep, amber blended malt whisky

Does that deep amber colour tell you what it’s going to taste like? No of course it doesn’t! (That was a test. If you answered “Yes” you owe me a dram next time we meet.)

So what does it taste like? It delivers lovely honey-coated flavour, with a touch of smoke creeping in. The finish holds well and that’s when the pepper spice kicks in. I found that the second, and third, drams tasted even sweeter (a good thing in this instance). Master of Malt have some nice tasting notes for the Bell’s Special Reserve (which they stock too):

The nose is of medium-body and rather smooth. There are notes of wood smoke and oak, a touch of honey and caramel. The palate is of medium-body with good balance. There are notes of oak and caramel, a touch of smoke and a spirity note. The finish is oaked and of good length with a touch of black pepper.

While trying to find out what others have thought about this whisky, I came across this post at Patrick’s Words on Whisky blog. His first experience of this whisky was also while with his father. It seems like this is a whisky meant to be shared by father and son. Any you know what? It does a great job at that.



  1. Jeannette Jeannette
    November 25, 2015    

    Hmmm… ok. I might now be persuaded to add a Bells to our collection. Something we have fervently resisted up to now… 🙂


  2. Skills Skills
    November 30, 2017    

    Great review. You’re teaching the world about our customs!

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