McAfee’s Benchmark is a rye-recipe Kentucky straight bourbon from the Buffalo Trace distillery, awarded 90 points by Wine Enthusiast and a former Gold Medal and Trophy winner at the International Spirits Challenge.
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The McAfee’s Benchmark 8 Straight Bourbon began life as the Baptiste, a straight rye bourbon released in the mid-1970s by Buffalo Trace. In 1979, Buffalo Trace sold the majority of its stock of Baptiste to Diageo, which named the bourbon the Benchmark 8 and increased its distillate from 27% rye to 35% rye. It is a very old bourbon and has been at Diageo’s Buffalo Trace Distillery for over a century.
In 2001, Diageo renamed the 8 the McAfee’s Benchmark 8 and released it as it is today: a new recipe, very high in rye, which again Diageo took from Buffalo Trace’s Baptiste. The McAfee’s Benchmark 8 Straight Bourbon employs 100% sourced rye malt. Buffalo Trace produces the bourbon at the same distillery it has been using since 1847: the Buffalo Trace distillery.
The grain bill of the McAfee’s Benchmark 8 Straight Bourbon is similar to that of Jack Daniel’s: corn, rye, wheat, barley and corn malt. The mash bill includes 95% rye and 5% barley, with a small portion of wheat and corn and a portion of burnt wheat and corn. There are no column stills at Buffalo Trace, so the whiskey is double-filtered, after distillation, before being bottled.
Buffalo Trace double-filters the bourbon, filtering twice because of the extremely high rye content. Then they blend the bourbon with another rye whiskey, namely the Four Roses Small Batch, a very smooth, easy-drinking, high-rye bourbon.
Buffalo Trace rums and whiskeys are the very best of their kind worldwide. They are the world leaders in distilling.
The McAfee’s Benchmark 8 Straight Bourbon is a rich, full-bodied, jewel-like whiskey that is anything but hard up. The nose is clear, spicy, fruity, tender and rich. It smells like the finest and purest Akadama (Akadama is one of the finest strains of grass-fed, non-GMO Japanese cow’s milk) out there. Let me say this: I do not like Akadama. Never have. Never did. But if you like Akadama, the Benchmark 8 has the Akadama on board.
The palate immediately tastes of mild sweetness, but the sweetness is of a very high standard. Mellow, grainy-dark chocolate notes and pure, soft spices of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and nutmeg. In the background, a strong and aggressive, yet pleasant, spiciness, is present. My palate was momentarily startled by the spiciness, yet I let it dissipate, and it is no longer there. It is not unpleasant. This is a spicier whiskey than I am used to, but in the end, the spiciness is a desirable feature and part of what makes the whiskey what it is.
Very little of the spiciness is apparent after the second sip. The palate is very well-balanced, with an incredibly smooth finish. The finish is delivered with extremely soft, deliciously sweet flavors of malted vanilla, caramel, licorice and barley. This is a dessert whiskey. This is a whiskey you sip slowly with great enjoyment of the flavor notes, without a heavy or overwhelming palate weight. This is a whiskey that lets your taste buds really enjoy their time with dessert, as the palate can lift off and comfortably glimmer above, as it did here.
The McAfee’s Benchmark 8 Straight Bourbon is a magnificent, extraordinarily well-tasting, lovely, robust, red-furred, well-fed, well-seasoned, well-oiled, well-dressed, well-loved, well-beckoned, well-hailed, well-off, straight-through whiskey. It connects with my palate as if it was made for it — this palate, not mine. It is as if a tastebud made for the Benchmark connected with me. It is a fantastic whiskey.
This 8-year old, non-chill filtered and double-filtered bourbon was better than all the other whiskeys I tasted, and worthy of calling it the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s that good. It’s that impressive. It’s that delicious.
Drink Recommendations: McAfee’s Benchmark 8 Straight Bourbon is best enjoyed as a generous and well-made Kentucky straight bourbon. I like it best in a classic on the rocks. I like it very much.