Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon is the entry level bottle of 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.” It is often considered a bottom shelf bourbon, both for the fact that it literally sits on the bottom shelf of many liquor stores, and also because it’s only $10.
A whiff of cinnamon applesauce is immediately noticeable making you take note of it right from the get go. Probing deeper brings forth watered down charred oak and vanilla scents. Rounding out the nose is a light caramel layer. There’s actually nothing wrong with the scents present, it’s just that they’re slightly muted, which given the proof, isn’t all that unexpected. The end result is a suitable opening for the sip.
The palate displays similar traits that the nose first revealed in terms of its weaker intensity. Muted caramel, charred oak, and vanilla slowly make themselves present. Hunting further reveals a supporting cast of dried tobacco leaf and dark fruit. While none of the flavors are off-putting, they also won’t wow you, and the overall intensity is a victim of the bourbon's low proof. It constantly leaves you wishing this was a few proof points higher to add some much needed definition.
A pop of spice flashes before subtle notes of oak and vanilla come into focus. These flavors fade as quickly as they appear leaving a dry warming heat that gently lingers. Overall it’s a pretty one dimensional finish, and is consistent with the muted flavors found in the rest of the sip.
The Benchmark Bourbon line has seen a transformation over the last few years. The brand now carries six different expressions, ranging in proof from 80 to 125. While most people will chase the higher proof versions, the standard Old No. 8 Brand Benchmark Bourbon shouldn’t be overlooked. This is especially true for those who just want a glass of bourbon but don’t want to be confronted with a proof monster.
Old No. 8 Brand at 80 proof is unsurprisingly lacking in most regards. The overall sip is light and would struggle to compete against anything above 80 proof. Now don’t let lightness fool you for being off-putting either, as there’s a big difference between being light and being bad. While the flavors may be light, they’re more than tolerable, especially if you’re trying to not chase after proof. This reminds me of a bourbon that has had ice added to it which has melted over the course of 20 minutes. To be clear, there’s nothing adherently unique about this bourbon, but sometimes not standing out in a crowd isn’t the worst thing in the world either.
Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon doesn’t excel in many areas, except for one. Its price. This bourbon costs only $10. Yes, you read that right. Ten whole dollars.
In today’s world, $10 won’t buy you much, but it will buy you a bottle of Old No 8 Brand Benchmark Bourbon. Heck, nowadays a pack of gum will cost you $2, and a tall Starbucks latte will set you back almost $5. Where many people will scoff at a $10 bottle of bourbon, Benchmark Bourbon is waiting to help change those folks' minds. Sure, they won’t be blown away, but no one will walk away saying this is the worst bourbon they ever tasted. Far from it in fact.
The entire time I was reviewing this I kept thinking about the standard Basil Hayden’s. Head to head, both bourbons really serve the same purpose of allowing for a bourbon that even non-whiskey drinkers can find approachable. Both also clock in at 80 proof, and both provide a sip that is lacking in overall definition. However, Basil Hayden’s is also priced at 3.5x the cost of Benchmark Bourbon! Sure it may not come in upscale packaging and features a cheap-feeling twist off top, but in today’s marketplace, you’d be hard-pressed to name another drinkable bourbon for $10 that is readily available in most markets.
Benchmark Old No 8 Brand Bourbon won’t wow many with its sip, however where it’s lacking in character, it certainly tries to make up for it with its price.
I was a bit skeptical about an 80 proof bourbon that costs $10. How good could it really be? It turns out that while it’s far from the best bourbon available, it’s also just as far away from being the worst bourbon as well and ends up being just slightly below average. Factor in its value-busting price, and I find myself wondering why everyone doesn’t keep a bottle of this on their bar. This is the perfect pour for friends who are curious about bourbon, but may take one sip and pour it down the drain or just as quickly fill their glass with Coke to turn into a mixed drink.
To be clear though, the overall sip is lacking in definition and while its flavors are easily identifiable, none come across as off-putting either. It’s just one of those whiskeys that ultimately leaves you wanting a bit more out of it. If you’ve always been curious about what Benchmark Old No 8 Brand Bourbon or even a low cost bourbon in general tastes like, do yourself a favor and give this a shot. A bottle will cost you less than most cocktails at a bar, and it’s a great reminder that you don't need to spend a lot to get into the world of bourbon. Hey, at worst you have a bottle on your bar that you can always use to experiment making cocktails with, all without breaking the bank.
Editor's Note: When this review was originally published, the Age was stated as NAS. The review was updated on 3/24/2022, to reflect the proper stated age on the bottle of of 3 Years.