Welcome to a new tasting series on lower shelf bourbons. Bourbon & Banter contributor, Thomas Fondano, will be trying out and commenting on bourbons priced under $20. Knowing that not all sub-$20 bourbons will be great, Thomas will be adding a new category to our standard tasting notes – Straight, Old Fashioned or Manhattan – to see whether a classic cocktail improves on a straight tasting. We hope you enjoy this new series of reviews and hope you’ll help us shape future reviews by letting us know in the comments what sub-$20 bourbon you’d like us to review next.
Buffalo Trace makes a lot of different bourbons but they only have a few mash bills. Age and placement in the warehouses determine the rest. Their #1 mash bill is a low-rye bill (less than 10%) and makes some big names: Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg and Stagg Jr., Colonel E.H. Taylor, the eponymous Buffalo Trace, Old Charter and McAfee’s Benchmark. We’ll be looking at that last one for today’s review.
Benchmark Old No. 8 bourbon was created by Seagram’s in the late 1960s as a luxury brand and was originally named Benchmark Bourbon. It was produced at the Four Roses distillery when Seagram’s owned it. The brand name was purchased by Sazerac in 1992 and McAfee’s was added to the name in honor of the McAfee brothers who surveyed a site just north of Frankfort in the late 1700s.
Sazerac/Buffalo Trace markets it as a cheaper alternative to Jack Daniel’s and it shows in the Old No. 8 on the black label. To me, that’s not selling point, but let’s give it a taste.[box type=”info”]Explore our complete library of bourbon reviews to help you choose your next perfect bottle.[/box]
Age: At least 3 years
How I Drank It: Neat, in Glencairn whiskey glass.
My Nose Noticed:* Vanilla | Honey | Orange Peel
First Sip: Oak | Cherry | Was That Rye?
The Burn:** Sustained moderate burn. Not overwhelming, looooong.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: I don’t really believe in adding water or ice to an 80 proof bourbon. If you’re going to drink this, drink it neat.
Straight, Old Fashioned or Manhattan: While the cocktails work reasonably well, I like this one straight. As with most 80 proof bourbons, you’ll need less sugar if you’re making an Old Fashioned and less vermouth in your Manhattan.
Share With: Friends. I shared it with some friends after they helped me move a 300 lb. log in my backyard and they liked it.
Worth The Price: I paid $12.95, which is quite reasonable.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: Bottle, because value. While I like this, I think it may be my least favorite of Buffalo Trace’s low rye mash bill. But value!
*I like to let my bourbon sit in the glass for at least 5 minutes before I start to smell it or have a drink. I personally find that it’s better to let some of the alcohol waft off before diving in. If I’m drinking bourbon on the rocks I skip the waiting and dive in both feet first.
**Some of you refer to this as the “finish” but let’s be honest. Don’t we all just want to know if it burns good?