Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Sazerac Company Inc.
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery
Release Date: Ongoing
Age: NAS (Aged at least 4 years per TTB regulations)
Color: Light Gold
MSRP: $17 (2023)
Benchmark Small Batch is the third 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.” The distillery states that for Benchmark Small Batch, “select barrels are chosen for this small batch bourbon by our Master Distiller.”
A noticeable vanilla-oak scent kicks off the sip with spice and light caramel layered underneath. A swirl of the glass and inhaling deeper brings about scents of nougat, pie crust, and cinnamon apples. The nose plays it on the safer side, delivering inoffensive scents that are just complex enough to provide a pleasing opening to the sip.
The palate continues down the path of playing it safe with classic notes of vanilla, lightly charred oak, and a drizzle of caramel. Searching deeper pulls out notes of bright cinnamon, green peppercorn spice, and light crisp apples. It’s a nice combination of flavors that isn’t overly complex, but pleasing and easy enough to enjoy.
A quick pop of white peppercorn and cinnamon spice appears before quickly fading away. Left in their place are light vanilla and oak notes that are joined with subtle heat. As the vanilla and oak fade, a faint note of cinnamon apple rides out the heat, concluding in an overall short finish.
Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon is the bourbon that initially kicked off the Benchmark brand. Simple in nature, I found that while its flavors may be light, they’re more than tolerable, especially if you’re trying to not chase after proof. It won’t wow you, but for its low price of $10, it’s hard to hate it.
Benchmark Small Batch Bourbon shares many similarities with the standard Benchmark Bourbon, but also expands on it nicely. The brand never states how many barrels are used in the small batch blend, which for all we know could be the exact same amount used in the standard version. That said, the proof increase to 90 helps to provide a more defined sip overall. The end result is that this version of Benchmark holds its own against other average pours that consumers can choose from. Sometimes blending into the crowd and being just average is OK too.
The nice part about the entire Benchmark line is that the six expressions in the line range in price from $10-$25. There’s something to be said about being extremely consumer friendly when it comes to pricing, especially in today’s market where it feels like it’s a race to the top of who can charge the most. Coming in at only $2 more but four proof points higher than Benchmark Top Floor Bourbon, Benchmark Small Batch continues to represent a really great value to consumers. It competes well against others in the same price range such as Evan Williams “Black Label” Bourbon, and it slots nicely in the Benchmark lineup. I like the fact that for just a few dollars more, consumers can hone in the proof that they prefer for the Benchmark line, and $17 for a 90 proof bourbon that actually tastes good, is a rarity in today’s marketplace.
A bourbon that won’t break the bank, Benchmark Small Batch Bourbon is the perfect bourbon to stock up on if you like lower proof whiskey, are just getting into bourbon, or have always wondered if a sub-$20 bourbon could actually taste good.
Benchmark Small Batch Bourbon’s sip starts off on a high note and ends on a lower one. However, as a whole, it’s a perfectly acceptable sip, which shows that the brand responds well to increases in proof. Factor in that it’s a 90 proof small batch bourbon from a major Kentucky distillery that will only set you back $17, and it’s hard to find fault with what it is. Seasoned bourbon drinkers won’t be blown away, but they also won’t hate it either. It also provides a nice path for individuals who are curious about drinking bourbon neat, but don’t want to spend a ton. Bourbons like these have a place and time and in today’s current marketplace, they need to be acknowledged as an unfortunately dying breed. And that’s a shame since consumers deserve to have more access to whiskeys like Benchmark Small Batch Bourbon for under $20.