by Scott Hill
Today we finalize our efforts to review the entirety of the Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 lineup.
[For our final conclusions and other Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 reviews, click here.]
This final selection comes via the bottom shelf. Yes, we have brought you Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 bottom shelf before with Old Charter 8 and Charter 101. But, this time we are hitting the bottom of the bottom shelf.
McAfee’s Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand is a three-year age stated bourbon. The brand has been owned by Sazerac (i.e., Buffalo Trace) since its 1989 acquisition from Seagram’s. Before the acquisition, the bourbon was all distilled at Four Roses (then owned by Seagram’s). In case you’re curious, any Four Roses distilled Benchmark would have been bottled no later than 1992. Since then, it has all been produced from Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 at the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
This brand, unlike many others (e.g., Old Forester), doesn’t have a storied history. The name originated in the 1960’s by Seagram’s as merely “Benchmark,” with its obvious meaning and intent. When acquired by Sazerac, the “McAfee’s” was added, as homage to Hancock McAfee, who in 1775, was one of the first European settlers to occupy the site where the Buffalo Trace Distillery stands today.
McAfee’s Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand (Aged at least 36 months) (80 proof)
Nose: A very sweet first impression with a peculiar mix of butterscotch candy and candy corn; fresh orange; grain; had I not known I may have thought this was an Irish Whiskey from the nose alone.
Palate: Very sweet, not a caramelized sugar or butterscotch at all, more like a candy corn sweetness; cherry and fresh orange; vanilla; a pepper spice that reminds me of tequila; not overly thin but not thick. It is fairly oily, particularly given its 80-proof and age.
Finish: Fairly refined, yet faint and short, with a hint of alcohol burn, more of that pepper spice and some very light traditional oak/vanilla/caramel. The oily texture remains, but with very little flavor.
Overall: Side by side, this profile is very different from the Old Charter 8 profile, which has some obvious age to it, with much stronger oak notes (albeit Old Charter’s oak comes across more of a wet cardboard flavor) and dark fruit. However, as we have mentioned, the Charter 101 profile doesn’t really follow the Old Charter 8 profile either. Charter 101, like this Benchmark, does follow that Buffalo Trace profile, from nose to finish. Buffalo Trace itself is a significant improvement over Benchmark, don’t get me wrong, but the resemblance is very present. Buffalo Trace has likely 2-3 times the age, which significantly developed the flavors and complexity. I’ve mentioned the candied sweetness of the Benchmark. Yes, this differs from the Buffalo Trace/Charter 101, which, like the Charter 8, also comes across with much more brown sugar sweetness than candied sweetness of this younger Benchmark. But other than this vacation on sweetness, Benchmark seems to be a younger Buffalo Trace.
Overall, at $18, not bad. I’d buy it over Old Charter 8, which is itself probably $5 more.