Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Sazerac Company Inc.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery
Release Date: Ongoing
Age: 4 Years
MSRP: $20 (2023)
Benchmark Bonded is the fifth entry in terms of proof in the Benchmark Bourbon line. According to Buffalo Trace, the brand is “named after the McAfee brothers who surveyed a site just north of Frankfort in the late 1700s. The rye recipe bourbon is yet another label that honors the storied history of the Distillery and the land it sits on.” Bonded is Benchmarks’ Bottled in Bond offering, having met all the rules and regulations required by law. To be labeled Bottled in Bond, the whiskey must be the product of one distillation season and one distiller at a single distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years, and it must be bottled at exactly 100 proof. Additionally, the Bottled in Bond label must clearly identify the distillery where it was distilled and where it was bottled, if different.
The sip opens with defined scents of vanilla custard, mixed berry pie, and a dash of aged oak. A swirl of the glass and a deep inhale pulls forward dashes of cinnamon, baked apple, and a caramel drizzle. Choosing to focus on a more sweet-forward approach it’s a pleasing way to kick things off.
The fruit-forward approach of the nose takes a back seat to more grounded notes. Lightly aged oak, caramel, and leather are immediately noticeable. Exploring further brings about nutmeg and white peppercorn. Flare-ups of sweeter notes erupt sporadically, consisting of mixed berry pie and hints of vanilla. Overall it’s a really nice midpoint to the sip, combining just the right amount of earthy notes with touches of sweet flavors.
A rush of light peppercorn spice comes forward along with a hint of rye spice. These quickly fade revealing notes of dull oak and leather. As these flavors peel away, a warming spice pulls forward and rides out the oak note. Compared to the rest of the sip, it’s the least dynamic, however it presents an adequate way to wrap things up.
I’ve reviewed a number of Benchmark Bourbon products, including Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon, Benchmark Top Floor Bourbon, and Benchmark Small Batch Bourbon. While each bourbon has average traits that are pleasing enough in any given category, they also each have at least one area in which they fall short in. Specifically, each offers a below-average finish, which are on the shorter side, more one-dimensional, and easily forgettable. Bonded finally breaks that curse, and while the finish is just average, it at least is a step up compared to the rest of the Benchmark lower proof lineup.
Bonded may stand out among the rest of the Benchmark bottles mentioned above, however, compared to the rest of the bottled in bond market, its sip tends to blend in with the crowd. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Bonded seems to be content to just meet the minimum requirements to be a bottled in bond bourbon. Whereas others such as Heaven Hill are pushing higher aged bottled in bond bourbons in the form of their premium Old Fitzgerald line, Bonded knows its place, and doesn’t try to be anything more than it is.
The value category of $20 and under bottled in bond bourbons is headed towards becoming extinct, which is why it's so refreshing to see Benchmark Bonded carry the price tag it does. It joins Evan Williams Bottled in Bond, J.W. Dant Bottled in Bond Bourbon, and J.T.S Brown Bottled in Bond Bourbon as the only other bottled in bond bottles from a major Kentucky distillery for $20 or less. However, if you’re willing to dig into your wallet and pull out another $5, thankfully more options open up in the form of Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond Bourbon, Jim Beam Old Tub Bourbon, Early Times Bottled in Bond Bourbon, and Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon. That’s a pretty small club that Bonded joins.
Now just because a bourbon is priced well compared to its peers, doesn’t automatically make it a great value. In this case, Bonded not only provides a great value to consumers, but it also delivers a good sip for the price. Where some like Heaven HIll have decided to move from offering their value-based Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond to their more premium Heaven Hill 7 Year Bottled in Bond, it’s nice to see Sazerac still provides consumers with an affordable option. Make no mistake that it’s nowhere near the best bottled in bond product currently on the market, however for what it is, Bonded is an excellent value in today’s marketplace.
Benchmark Bonded Bourbon shows that its time in the barrel, plus an increase to 100 proof, was just what the brand need to finally deliver an above average sip to consumers
The Benchmark series of bourbon often gets overlooked. This is due to a number of reasons including availability, the location on the store shelf, and yes, even its price. Often consumers see a cheaper bourbon with a twist off top, and just write it off as being bad. This is a shame, because in Benchmark Bonded’s case, consumers would be wise to spend $20 and pick up a bottle. Not only is this an easy to sip bourbon, but because it’s bonded, it’s easy and fun to compare against other bonded bourbons out there. If you haven’t explored the Benchmark series yet, or if you’ve had some of the lower proof offerings and weren’t impressed, I’d recommend giving Bonded a shot. This is especially true considering that it often costs a fraction of the price of the other bottles that it shares a shelf with.