Today, we're finishing our flight of five Benchmark bourbons with Benchmark Full Proof, the final whiskey in the new collection of special-edition bourbons bearing the Benchmark name. Last week's Benchmark Bonded was a return to form after a few letdowns, so we're hoping the brand can finish strong with this high-proof bourbon.
The following review is taken from our episode "Stalag 17 / Benchmark Full Proof." Click the link to listen to this review in audio format.
Bob: If you've been paying attention to our podcast, we have tried five consecutive Benchmark-branded products to start this season. Buffalo Trace wanted to expand its cheapest line of whiskey, Benchmark, and it did so by adding a whole bunch of fancy words after the word “Benchmark.”
We started with the 86-proof Top Floor, and then we switched to the 90-proof Small Batch. There was a 95 proof Single Barrel, and then Benchmark Bonded last week at 100 proof. With Full Proof, they’ve taken it all the way up to 125 proof.
I don't know if there is a whiskey on the market that is so high in proof for what I assume to be so little in price.
Brad: I was going to say: it costs over $100 less than its proof point. I'll spoil the value score right now: it's a really solid value, Bob. This is the second-most expensive of the Benchmark lineup at $23 in the state of Ohio.
Bob: So we are looking at a 125-proof bourbon whiskey that has been aged for at least four years. It does not have an age statement on the bottle, which means it's a blend of a bunch of different ages of whiskey, but that also means that the youngest whiskey in this blend is at least four years old. Buffalo Trace does not disclose the mash bill, but some pretty smart people online have figured out what the mash bill of this is, if you'd like to go look it up for yourself.
I'm excited to dive into this. I think overall this has been a pretty great experience going through these cheap whiskeys.
Brad: I'll be honest with you, Bob, four out of the five are really solid, great values.
Bob: I think that indicates that you've already tried this before. I'm sipping it live as we discuss it. So why don't you go ahead and give your nosing notes, Brad, so I can write mine down as well.
Brad: I'm getting like everything “classic” that you want out of a bourbon. There is caramel, there's brown sugar, there's vanilla. It gets into a bit of spicy, some cinnamon, maybe a little bit of nutmeg. Almost takes a Christmas turn at the end. There is nothing to complain about here. It's not an overly complex nose, but its proof point give it a little bit of depth that the other ones were missing out on.
Bob: I really love how crisp this one is. It reminds me of apple peels, but also we just had a nice little rainstorm blow through here as I'm recording this, and I went outside and I smelled that after-the-rain smell. This has that really great, almost “rainwater” smell to it.
I think this might be my favorite nose out of all five of them, and it's not surprising, because this hasn't been diluted as much, so we're getting close to what's coming out of the barrel here. I like it a lot. I'm going to give it an 8.5/10 on the nose.
Brad: This is probably the best-smelling of the five, and when you get into the palate, you can tell that again, this is not a complex whiskey. It has all of the nice, beautiful things you love about bourbon: brown sugar, caramel, like I said, some spiciness there. I don't know if I've ever had a palate that so perfectly mimics the nose. All the notes I gave before are still here, but they're enhanced a bit, because I'm actually drinking the whiskey. I give it an 8.5/10 on the taste.
Bob: I think this really will appeal to fans of Buffalo Trace because it has that bitter, almost sour oak note to it, but I think here, it's doesn't come across as a flaw, and it doesn't come across as something that's from a lesser brand. I think before we've suspected that they’re putting that in the Benchmark line because it's lower quality.
But what I really love about it is that on the palate, it was like two rapid-fire waves of heat. It went from the front of my palate to the back and then it just repeated that process again. Really spicy.
The ethanol notes really come out and are prickly on the palate. Not super complex. It's brown sugar and it's vanilla. It's thin on the mouthfeel, I think, because it is so high proof. So it manifests as a little bit thin, but not astringent.
I'll give it a 7.5/10.
Brad: For me, the finish is where I'll ding it a bit, because it does take on that traditional Buffalo Trace, oaky tanginess, and it just sours a bit for me. I'll give it a 6.5/10 on the finish. It's not bad, but you can tell that it is a cheaper whiskey on the finish.
Bob: Yeah. I think I'm just going to parrot you here, man. 6.5/10 for all the reasons you just said.
Bob: I think for the most part, Brad, this is exactly what I expected. A 125-proof Benchmark product. It tastes like it's just significantly better than most Benchmark products, but it still carries all those same flavors throughout. So I guess I'll give it a 7.5/10. It's above average, but it's pretty darn consistent, and it's what I expected it to be.
Brad:Yeah, I'm in literally the exact same spot. Bob, you parroted me earlier. I'll parrot you here: 7.5/10 on the balance.
Bob: I'm just going to say this, let's keep this short and sweet today: this is a 10/10 value. I don't really know that there's any debating this. Even though it's not our favorite whiskey, even though I probably—shockingly—might still go for the Top Floor before I would go for this one. There is no better value out there for a high-proof whiskey, and it's a palatable high proof whiskey.
Brad: 100%. This is a 10/10 on value. Out of all the nice things I could say about Buffalo Trace, they are knocking it out of the park on these cheap Benchmark whiskeys that I genuinely think, almost every single one of them could retail for $10 higher.
Bob: I'm coming out to a 40/50 on this whiskey.
Brad: I'm at a 40/50.
So we have our first 40 of the season, which is usually pretty rarefied air. This one obviously was helped out by its value score, but even if you don't consider that, and take that part of the equation out, we came out to essentially a 30/40 on the tasting notes. Which is a well-above-average experience. This is not just a budget bourbon, it's a budget bourbon that tastes pretty good.