Today, we're reviewing Benchmark Single Barrel, the third whiskey in the new collection of special-edition bourbons bearing the Benchmark name. After last week's Benchmark Small Batch let us down, we're hoping the brand can rebound in a big way this week.
The following review is taken from our episode "Gran Torino/Benchmark Single Barrel." Click the link to listen to this review in audio format.
Brad: Alright everybody, today we are drinking Benchmark Single Barrel, a 95-proof whiskey in this lineup of five that we've been drinking the last few weeks.
Bob: Yeah, we are slowly moving up in proof point. We started at 86 proof, we moved to 90 last week with the small batch, and now we're at 95 proof. I think this is the first time I've ever seen “95 proof” on something, Brad. Like, Elijah Craig, I think, is 94 proof, but we've never seen right in between 90 and 100.
I'm a little nervous about this. We don't typically like single barrels for the purposes of reviews, and that's because whatever you pick up on the shelf, dear reader, is going to be different from the barrel that we're currently drinking.
And after last week, we were split, because you liked the Small Batch more than I did. Now we're getting into Single Barrel, where some of the rougher edges of a barrel may not be rounded out as much by blending.
Finally, they're cutting it down to 95 proof. I just don't understand single barrels that don't release at barrel strength. I don't mean to be a barrel-strength snob about it. There's always some good ones, like Russell's Reserve is always really good at 110 proof or whatever that one might be.
Brad: But it feels like 95 is a long way off from wherever this barrel was. That's my issue with it.
Bob: I'm ready to dive in. Before we start sniffing this thing, how much is it going to set you back, Brad?
Brad: This is, I think, the most expensive of the lineup at $25.
Bob: All right. Brad, what are you picking up on the nose of this Benchmark Single Barrel?
Brad: For me it was sour apple, a light brown sugar (specifically, it's not a dark brown sugar), and ethanol.
Bob: Yeah, that's exactly what I'm picking up. When I first poured it into the glass, it had this almost artificially caramel smell, like a caramel sauce that you get out of a jar for ice cream topping. And then that went away and it was replaced with the artificial green apple, like a Jolly Rancher, just covered up in oak and ethanol.
Brad: It's the green apple caramel suckers that you buy.
Bob: I want to compare it to that, but those are so much better than this. That's not fair to the sucker, you know? So I'm going to give us a 6/10. It's not offensive, there's just not really much here. And the ethanol is pretty prominent.
Brad: I'm at a 5.5/10.
When I got into the actual palate, it got a little worse, and still is sticking in that tart green apple area. I got a bit of and then there's a lot of corn coming through.
Bob: The green apple candy is really prominent. I've had Crown Royal Apple and we've tried a really lovely one from Traverse City, their Michigan Apple. This doesn't have the candy flavor of that, but it's like the LaCroix of Jolly Ranchers and has really harsh ethanol to go with it. It mimics a spiciness, but it's not spicy at all. I don't get a lot of baking spice on this.
It's really just candy, apple and ethanol, and it's pretty right down the middle with that. Again, not offensive, but not really that good. And it's crazy to me that the Benchmark Top Floor was 10 times as complex as this.
But once again, I'm only going to give it a 6/10 on the palate.
Brad: I give it a 5/10 on the flavor. I'm really struggling with this one.
Bob: Compared to the Top Shelf and the Small Batch, this is drinking a lot hotter than 95 proof. I almost don't even mean to say hotter, but once in a while we talk about this idea of the “Kentucky Hug,” where your esophagus cries out for help as the whiskey travels down it.
And with this one, not only is it crying out for help, but I feel like I have heartburn. I feel like I need a Tums after this because of the way that it is just camping out in my chest. Usually for me, Buffalo Trace products present as a little oakier than they are ethanol, but, this one is just really heavy on the alcohol-forwardness.
Brad: That's why for me, I gave the finish a 5.5/10. It's almost like it soured on my palate. The tart almost sour apple continues on through to the end. A little bit of vanilla. It’s not a terrible finish, but it's not great.
Bob: I just don't think that's really present while you're drinking it. And the finish is almost non-existent except for that Kentucky hug to remind you of what you've just been drinking. There's nothing left on my palate except for some very, very subtle corn and oak. I'm just going to give it like a 5/10 on the finish.
Brad: For balance, I'll give it a 5/10 as well. It's just average all around and there's not enough complexity and not enough good flavors here to give it any higher of a score.
Bob: I'm going to give it a 5.5/10. I always feel bad giving anything a five or less, just because we so rarely actually go under the halfway mark on our scores, Brad. It's really rare that you get less than a 25/50. If you age a whiskey to four years and put it in a bottle and it gets to us, it's at least a 50/100 most times.
And that brings us to Value. At $25, this is a terrible value. When you can get the Benchmark Top Floor for $15, which is looking better and better in my mind, this one is a 3/10.
Brad:That's what I gave it as well. 3/10.
Bob: I will say to get a Single Barrel bourbon at $25 is pretty much unheard of, but that's why this is a $25 Single Barrel bourbon. This would not be good enough to bottle under any of Buffalo Trace's other labels as a single barrel, and they just slapped "Benchmark" on it to indicate value.
I'm coming out to a 25.5/50.
Brad: With that three out of 10 on value, I'm coming to a 24/50.
Bob: All right. So we are just at a 49.5/100, so we actually are under that 50 mark or, on average, a 24.75/50. I am not going to recommend buying, I am not going to recommend trying, with the small caveat that this is a single barrel, so I have no idea what the variation between barrels looks like for a product like Benchmark, where they're going for value above all else.
Brad: Yeah, I think that it's safe to say that this is a reject from some other lineup and that there's just other really great values in the Benchmark six that are worth picking. I mean, if I'm being very blunt with you, Bob, I think I would prefer to drink $10 Benchmark over this.
Bob: I probably would too. They're at least comparable enough that it gets me a little angry to think about the fact that Benchmark and this are similar, and there's a $15 difference in price.