Review: McAfee’s Benchmark Bourbon

You’ve probably seen McAfee’s Benchmark Bourbon at your local liquor depot. If not, head to the Bourbon aisle, look a couple shelves down from eye level – there it is. As many times as I’ve scanned right over this bottle I’ve never purchased it before. I’ve had it a time or two here and there, and been asked my thoughts, but frankly couldn’t ever remember anything specific. It was time to give it a closer look as a we work to “keep it real” in 2015. Is it a bottom shelf gem or merely a solid cheap pour?

BENCHMARK NO 8 2McAfee’s Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon, 40% abv (80 proof), $12/bottle
Color: Light Amber/Gold
Nose: Clean and fruity with notes of vanilla, dried apricot, sweet orange, corn oil, and honey.
Palate: Straight forward – Vanilla, light caramel sweetness and bright fruit.
Finish: Vanilla, fruit and faint spice – finish drops off quickly.
Overall: Benchmark bourbon is a light, bright bourbon produced by Buffalo Trace. It’s an easy, pleasant sip, but doesn’t bring much flavor to the party. While rather cheap, there are other bourbons in the $11-$15 range that are better pours.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good)

24 Comments

  1. John says:

    I used to buy this many years ago as a cheap mixer/shooter. I would notice changes from time to time that led me to believe that this brand is basically Buffalo Trace’s catch-all bottling for #1 mash barrels that don’t make it into any of their other #1 mash bourbons. There does not seem to be any specific flavor profile they go for when making batches of this – it just tastes like generic BT #1 juice to me.

  2. Darren says:

    Benchmark used to be my “house” bourbon for mixing and sipping when I didn’t want to think too much. I’ve since switched to Very Old Barton.

  3. merd says:

    Good ol’ Benchcleaner. I use this for adding to wood chips that I smoke pork butt with. I have been known to take a swig or two while in process of smokin butts… even at 8 in the morning. The thing is, this ain’t a bad bourbon… but fit aint a great one either… and for a few dollars more, IMO there are better value priced options out there on the bottom shelf, including the ironically more difficult to find Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star from the same distillery.

  4. I’m a fan of this bourbon for what it is: an inexpensive, soft-hitting bourbon. It’s easily beaten by Evan Williams Black, which is right around the same price range, but I pick it up from time to time.

  5. phillip says:

    About 5 years ago Benchmark was my daily “table” whiskey. Then, I learned about this site, and Jason’s recommendations, and I was introduced to other “affordable” Bourbons. Ancient Age 10 yr. old, 12 yr. old W.L. Weller, 6 yr. old Very Old Barton BIB, etc. and suddenly the Benchmark just wasn’t up to par. Now, the affordable Bourbons either aren’t being produced anymore, or they are incredibly hard to find, or they have now gone to NAS. My taste buds have been spoiled by these better tasting Bourbons and the Benchmark simply doesn’t meet their standards. What’s one to do? I hope Jason does review some other available/affordable Bourbons in the near future and finds some that rate in the 8.0 to 8.5, as a good table whiskey.

  6. Storcke says:

    Phillip: I agree 100% with everything you said. I spend all of my (limited) bourbon time and $ looking for “available/affordable” gems, and with Jason’s guidance I have found plenty to love. On my own I’ve found, and highly recommend 1) Evan Williams 1783–the same juice as EW Black (which Jason rates at 8.4), but aged an extra 3-4 years, and costs the same or even less. 2) Old Forester Signature (100 proof)–not similar to the OF86, which I rate barely above JD#9, but a very flavorful gem for $18.

  7. Ryan says:

    Phillip — buffalo trace all day long or evan williams bottled in bond

  8. John says:

    Why is Evan Williams 1783 so cheap? I believe it is because it’s a way for Heaven Hill to sell their stocks of over-aged bourbon. If you leave rye bourbon in a barrel too long, say 13+ years, it will become bitter and unsellable in its own right. What I think HH is doing with 1783 is blending these otherwise unsellable barrels that have been passed over year after year during batch selections with much younger stuff to soften it up, label it as a “small batch” bourbon (whatever that means), then they sell it on the cheap to unsuspecting consumers, most of whom couldn’t care less about any of this. I would love for Jason to review this bourbon and see if he picks up on its over-aged component. It used to have an age statement of 10 years, but that did not mean that the bourbon was 10 years old, it just meant that the youngest bourbon in the batch was 10 years old. It could have contained bourbons aged anywhere from 10 years to as old as they had on hand. Now it has no age statement, so I’m assuming it now contains juice as potentially young as 4 years.

  9. Sam Komlenic says:

    John, please don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s obvious that Evan Williams 1783 is no longer a minimum 10 years old. The fact that it remains reasonably priced and great whiskey is not a bad thing.

    Thanks. Heaven Hill!

  10. John says:

    Is 1783 reasonably priced? You bet. Is it a drinkable, unoffensive bourbon? Sure. Does it qualify as a “great” whiskey? Not under any circumstances. It is what it is, and I’m fairly certain it contains a significant amount of over-aged bourbon. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I taste in it.

  11. Sam Komlenic says:

    If Heaven Hill has so much over-aged bourbon I’d be willing to bet they’d rather hold on to it and sell it as 21 or 23 years old at 15 times the price, and those bottlings aren’t always highly regarded either.

    And I’m perfectly entitled to my opinion on great whiskey, as are you. I didn’t say it was the best or that there aren’t better, just that, for the money, it’s a great product. I find tasty whiskey at a fair price hard to resist, and Heaven Hill delivers.

    HH Bottled in Bond 6 year is my favorite off-the-shelf American whiskey, and it’s cheap, too, though hard to find outside its home market. EW BIB, JTS Brown BIB, Elijah Craig 12…I could go on.

  12. John says:

    Watch and learn http://youtu.be/CRF7ZoCldqo?t=10m2s

  13. John, you are using this link with this gentleman (one man) talking about 1783 in this way as proof of your point?

  14. John says:

    It doesn’t prove anything other than Chris Goodrum tastes exactly the same thing I do in this whiskey. Who is Chris Goodrum? Among other things, he is one of the judges of Whisky Magizine’s World Whisky Awards, so obviously his opinions are well regarded.

    What do you taste in this whiskey? How about a review?

  15. Sounds like a plan! Review forthcoming for sure. And John I’m not saying you’re wrong, just saying it’s a subjective thing. As always proof is in the bottle.

  16. John says:

    Looking forward to your well regarded opinion!

  17. Sam Komlenic says:

    John, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I can’t do that because my taste buds are different. My point is that there are other ways to dispose of overaged whiskey that would lend substantial profit to the distiller or broker.

    One need look no farther than the relatively tepid reviews for the Orphan Barrel whiskeys. They’re not great…some may even be sub-standard, but they’re selling them at great profit. Heaven Hill could do the same thing and make a boatload more money than by dumping it into a $13 bottle. Why sell it ultra-cheap in a market that has rapidly dwindling stocks of old whiskey when demand is higher than ever in my long lifetime?

    And please don’t take this as a snub, but I really don’t care to spend fifteen minutes listening to someone tell me what they taste in a whiskey I’m well familiar with and that I buy regularly.

  18. Storcke says:

    Finally! Jason, I’ve been asking for a review of 1783 for about three years now; if an online disagreement is what it took to bring it about, so be it. All I know is, for the price, it is one of my two or three favorite everyday pours. Not a great whiskey, but something I can rely on to be much better than its price every time I pour it.

  19. John says:

    Well, that’s my theory as to why 1783 is so cheap, and I’m sticking to it. I also acknowledge that your “great” and my “great” are two different greats, and that’s certainly OK.

    I will say that for what I think it is, Heaven Hill did a masterful job with the product. In fact, they do a masterful job with pretty much everything they produce. And nobody creates highly affordable whiskeys that even come close to the quality of brands like Evan Williams, Rittenhouse Rye and Mellow Corn.

  20. Sam Komlenic says:

    I’m with Storcke…if this is what it took to get Jason moving on 1783, so be it. We seem to agree that it’s a review we’ll all be waiting for.

    Thanks, Jason!

  21. GQuiz says:

    I found EW BIB for 10.99 a fifth here in San Antonio. No reason to ever grab any Benchmark. And cool thing about the new store where I found it (Total Wine), the bourbons are alphabetized. There is no top/bottom shelf debate. I look forward to the review on 1783.

  22. Alex says:

    Thanks for your testing notes, i will try it.The price here in germany is higher: about 15-20€ for a bottle.

  23. Alex says:

    Thanks for this review, Jason. I don’t like Benchmark. I find it flat with a cardboard/papery, short, and bitter finish. I prefer VOB BIB for a similar price, but most likely I would be willing to pay more for OGD BIB.

    So on Jason’s rating scale, this seems to be right in the middle of “average to slightly above average”. I wonder how many bourbons have been rated below average. You would think, even with selection bias included, that 20%+ of whiskies would be below average.

    I’m only curious, but it’s the tasting notes rather than the rating that’s most useful to me anyway.

  24. Alex says:

    **I should have said “I would think”… I don’t mean to imply that others must agree with me.

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