Bourbon on a Budget: Benchmark

  • Benchmark_handle~$22, 1.75 Liter Bottle
  • Purchased at Bacchus Wine & Spirits

Background

After I thought I had found all the “bargain bourbons” on my list that I was likely to see in my area, I ended up walking into an old favorite liquor store in Hixson, Tennessee (a suburb of Chattanooga), and found a bottle of Benchmark Bourbon staring back at me. This is one that I had been trying to keep an eye out for since a regular (750 mL) bottle of Benchmark No. 8 was listed as “about $8” when I made my list. And with a tag price of about $22 for a 1.75 Liter bottle, that makes my price for 750 mL somewhere in the $9.50 range.

That’s $9.50 for a fifth of Bourbon. How can that be any good?

Well, to start with, this is a Buffalo Trace product, using their Mash Bill #1, which is also featured in Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, Col. EH Taylor, and the standard Buffalo Trace brands. As with every other “bottom shelf Bourbon” I’ve tried, obviously there are differences between this expression of the mash bill and those others that cost so much more. Time in the barrel is the first thing…you simply can’t substitute anything for the time spent aging in a charred oak barrel. Secondly, there is “barrel management,” which is everything from rotating the barrels through the warehouse to picking certain barrels (which turn out better because of any number of known and unknown factors) to be certain products.

The official name for this product is McAfee’s Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand. It is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, bottled at 80 proof, distilled, aged and bottled by Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. It was “Named after the McAfee brothers who surveyed a site just north of Frankfort in the late 1700s, this rye recipe bourbon is yet another label that honors the storied history of the Distillery and the land it sits on.” One place I looked online says the label states “aged at least 36 months” but that denotation is not on the bottle I have, so it appears that this is another of the whiskeys that has dropped any age statement.

Benchmark_clutterNotes

In the glass, the Benchmark No. 8 is a light amber color that looks more like a Scotch whisky to me than most of the bourbons I’ve been drinking lately. That does speak to its lack of age, surely. Giving it a good sniff, I picked up light oak and apple notes, with just a hint of vanilla.

Taking a sip, I got a straight up caramel note at the tip of my tongue as the bourbon presented sweet and almost creamy. The apple from the nosing was in there, mostly on the finish, and though this was a higher-rye mash bill, it had just a little spice at the end. The low 80 proof kept it from having much in the way of an alcohol vapor burn, which was kind of nice after tasting so many bonded bourbons lately.

I paired the Benchmark with a Morphine by Black Market Trading Company. The Morphine is a full-bodied Nicaraguan blend with a Mexican wrapper. It was almost too much for the Benchmark in some ways, but the Bourbon actually helped smooth out the rougher edges of the cigar, adding some extra sweetness.

In the interest of seeing how other Bourbon enthusiasts felt about this expression, I did pour some for a couple friends and served it to them blind. They both enjoyed the Benchmark and one said he found a “new favorite.”

With that, I should probably say again…this is probably the last installment in this series for a while. But who knows…I could find something else to add to this collection of “under $20 whiskies.” If you have any other suggestions, let me know!

David Jones

David has been smoking premium cigars since 2001. He is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Leaf Enthusiast. He is a full-time retail tobacconist, working for Burns Tobacconist in Chattanooga, where he has also organized the Chattanooga Tweet-Up for the last four years. He is also an independent graphic designer and typesetter. Twitter: @dmjones1009

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