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?
McAfee’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)
The whiskey world lost an icon today with the passing of Elmer T. Lee. While it may be arguable that Mr. Lee was responsible for pushing for the release of the first Single Barrel Bourbon in Blanton’s Single Barrel. What is not arguable is that Mr. Lee certainly deserves recognition for making Single Barrels more accessible to all of us. He made them popular by taking a risk that none were taking at the time. Eventually Elmer T. Lee got his own namesake bottle of Single Barrel bourbon produced at Buffalo Trace. I believe right up until very recently he was still hand selecting barrels for the ETL bottling.
For me, I will always remember Elmer T. Lee fondly for his namesake whiskey, and what it represented for me personally. This single barrel bourbon was the bourbon that ignited the flame of passion for me with regard to whiskey. I remember the first time I tasted it how harmonious it was, how drinkable, yet how complex the flavors were. To this day I enjoy the hell out of Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, keeping a bottle on hand at all times. I have a beautifully engraved glass caraffe bottle at the office. Contained within is Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel for when the 4:30 hour calls. I will think fondly of him each time it does.
My sincerest condolences and prayers to Mr. Lee’s family. May he rest in peace.
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon Review
The A. Smith Bowman Distillery, out of Frederiksburg, VA, has been producing some excellent products in recent years. Owned by Sazerac since 2003, Bowman sources Buffalo Trace new make distillate and re-distills it at the distillery for a total of three distillations (reportedly). They age the whiskey on premises and recently opened a visitors center onsite.
A. Smith Bowman produces a Rye, a Small Batch Bourbon, Single Barrel Bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, and a number of limited release whiskeys. Last year I reviewed a barrel strength rye that was one of the best rye’s I tasted all year (2011).
Today I’ll be digging into the Small Batch Bourbon.
Bowman Brothers Pioneer Spirit Small Batch Bourbon, 45% abv (90 Proof), $29.99/bottle
Color: Light-Medium Amber
Nose: Brown sugar, sorghum syrup, sweet cinnamon, red apple, and moderate oak influence.
Palate: Well balanced sweetness (brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla) with ample sharp spice notes (pepper, cinnamon, and all spice).
Finish: A shade dry and spicy. Charred wood bitterness and cinnamon with a touch of maple sweetness.
Overall: Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon is a whiskey of very good quality. It offers a balance of sweetness and spice. I cannot say it’s very full flavored, nor is it complex, but it’s a damn fine sipper that offers some classic bourbon flavors. If you favor zippier bourbons, this one would certainly please you with its well defined wood/barrel sugars and spices.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.4 (Very Good)