Whisky Reviews

Tesco Whisky


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The name alone may be enough to put most people off this whisky, in fact it probably is enough to make all but the very young and those very deep in the pit of alcoholism take a quick step to the side and forget they even saw it. What I am talking about is Tesco Special Reserve Scotch Whisky, the special probably referring to what separates this whisky from most other fine blends; the added coloring. “I say, this looks too pale! Whisky is supposed to be golden, is it not? Yes, yes I am quite sure it is. Do something about it.”

Ahh, the glamour of massive corporations and value brands! Actually this isn’t even Tesco value, this is their “middle priced” expression – there’s also 10 year old single Islay malt which unfortunately wasn’t available in my local shop. So, you’re probably thinking, did he actually purchase a bottle of this stuff? And if so, why?! The answer is yes, and because I was reading through some of my reviews the other day and came across my scolding of Bell’s. Reading that again made me wonder, is there a worse whisky? What would one taste like? Which would it be?

And so here we are; you, me, and Tesco. As you would expect, it pours a caramel golden and there is something about the color that just doesn’t seem quite right. That could be because I know that it contains Plain Caramel coloring, of course, but it just doesn’t look natural. There is nothing much to say about the nose, really, it’s pungently alcoholic with a definite hint of Mr. Muscle. Though, in all fairness, there is a certain whisky like “quality” to it as well. The palate is as smooth as gravel and again mainly tastes of detergent and alcohol, but you can tell that they have at least tried (unlike with the Tesco Value Vodka, Jesus… there’s a headache and a half for you).

The question is, then, how does it hold up against Bell’s? Drum roll, please… Bell’s is better! I mean, at least Bell’s tastes of coriander, which is an actual flavor, where as this is just sort of whisky-scented detergent. But then, considering the fact that this is $24/33oz as compared to Bell’s $30/33oz and that they’re both virtually undrinkable and unusable in cooking… It does win so far as value for money goes, if you need whisky to clean your gold (don’t know if it’s any good for it) or something along those lines.

About Whisky Critic

My name is Martin and I live in Scotland. I love fine things in life, such as gourmet food, travelling around the world and, last but not least, whisky (naturally, I’m partial to a tipple of whiskey or bourbon as well). I have tasted hundreds of whiskies during the recent years and I finally decided to share my experience.


  1. mal williamson

    June 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Have you tried Tesco’s Basic? With a “classic” blue and white striped label? This does not seem to on sale ay more in my local big Tesco. It came out at under a tenner! And was ace. -ish. A stranger turned up at the house who was a bit of a whisky guy and he also declared it as surprisingly not bad for under a tenner. It was 40% – can’t have been under a tenner? Was this all a dream? Am I making it up. I did later try this Tesco Reserve thing – rubbish. Unless it was Value in a new bottle? And I was tasting the price? Anyway, the Laphroaig is calling….

  2. martin

    June 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Hey Mal,

    That’s actually the expression (if you can call it that) that I had initially intended to purchase – but just as in you shop, it wasn’t available in my local Tesco any more. I guess they’ve pulled it? Would have been interesting to compare, especially if you seem to think it was drinkable (unlike the stuff reviews above)!

  3. Colin Buchanan

    September 11, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Rubbish. This whisky is made by Whyte and Mackay and is blended by Mr Paterson, Scotlands Master Bleder of 2009.

    • piprees

      January 22, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Agrreed, its a dam fine budget whiskey – best from that price range i have tasted for a very long time.

  4. martin

    September 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I can’t confirm whether such is the case – this is the first I’ve heard of it – but either way I fail to see how that alone could possibly be the makings of a good whisky. While I obviously agree that Mr. Paterson is a very talented blender, being good at what you do and having a strong reputation does not make you infallible.

    With that said, I would be intrigued to hear your own thoughts on the whisky in question. As has been proven time and again in marketing studies, brand perception can have a strong impact on ones view of a product or service, and perhaps my views of Tesco as a corporation tainted my perception of their whisky, in which case I will happily amend my review; on the other hand, perhaps your respect for Mr. Paterson did the same?

  5. John

    October 9, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Hi Mal

    I sometimes drink Tesco Special Reserve with water and find it OK. Grants Sherry Cask is a nice blend, but then I’ll drink most scotch provided it isn’t peaty. I used to do odd jobs for an elderly lady, and every Christmas she would give me a bottle of Talisker. I drink 3 bottles of blended whisky per week, but a bottle of Talisker lasts me for a whole year. Once, after watching an episode of Rebus, I bought a bottle of Laphroaig. I didn’t know whether to drink it or use it for gargling: it was the nearest thing to TCP I have ever tasted. I could feel my stomach contracting under the strong taste of peat. It’s good to be a philistine.

  6. Andrei

    December 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    I find the Special Reserve is ok. I usually drink blended anyway, can’t really afford single malts. Good for value, a 35cl bottle easily sends me off through the night. Can’t say it has a harsh smell, although I haven’t drank every whisky under the sun, this one doesn’t disappoint me.

  7. Dragon

    May 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I wonder what you’d actually think if you put your (generally understandable) anti-Tesco prejudice away and tasted it blind?

    • martin

      May 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      A very interesting thought indeed! As a keen student of the dark art of Marketing and consumer behaviour, I will be the first to admit that my prior associations with the Tesco brand as a whole will almost certainly have tainted my review. Unfortunate, but true. I don’t have any at hand, but I will try to set up a blind tasting at some point.

  8. piprees

    January 22, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    No offence to the article writer, i been buying and enjoying tescos special reserve along time now, and i enjoy my marker mark, my tennesse jack daniels brewers only blend (no you cant get that in the stores) and my glenmorangie 50 year. and a wide range that your obvious audience would not even know exist.

    Tescos special is the best of the best of the quality budget brands, it has none of that nasty aftertaste, drinks well on its on, well with mixers (if you are thats what you like), good in a drop of coffee or hot cocoa.

    No offence to the OP, i wouldnt be so quick to dismiss this brew.

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