The Charred Barrel Society was birthed out of a desire to find the greatest values in whiskey – be that top OR bottom shelf. In the fall of 2013, my family went through a bit of a financial transition – going from a dual income family to a single income. Suddenly I could no longer afford the $30+ bottles of whiskey I was accustomed to buying each week. I hoped for a hidden gem on the bottom shelf that would still be a satisfying (albeit, not perfect) whiskey that would fit our new budget. I remember walking into my local ABC store looking once again for a cheap bourbon, unsatisfied with previous endeavors. After browsing for a while, I picked up a bottle of McAfee’s Benchmark Old No. 8. Bourbon. When I read the slogan, “The Bourbon by which all others are measured,” I scoffed at the thought. This was a rather bold claim made by such a humbly priced bourbon, but I figured I’d accept the challenge. I’m glad I did.
It’s no secret to friends of mine that I’m now a fan of Benchmark; however, I was curious to see how others at The Charred Barrel Society would enjoy it at a blind tasting event. The following review summarizes the thoughts of the Society that night:
The nose is quite soft. Sweet and nutty with hints of vanilla and caramel. There isn’t much of a kick to the nostrils, which isn’t necessarily bad, but you can tell this is not a higher proof bourbon.
The tasting is also gentle and sweet; however, it is not overly sweet as many inexpensive bourbons can be. There are hints of oak but only slightly. It would be safe to say that this bourbon tastes generic, but not in an offensive way. It is smooth, even if it lacks character. Some society members note a sweet tobacco flavor.
If Benchmark were to reveal its inexpensive price point, it would be in its aftertaste. Though not entirely unpleasant, there is a bit of a chalky aftertaste. This can lead you to want to cover that up by drinking more.
Despite Benchmark’s shortcomings, everyone seemed to enjoy this bourbon. On a 0-4 finger scale, the Society gives Benchmark a blind review score of 2.5. Based on this price point ($10 for 750ml in NC), we consider this bourbon a very high value.
If anything, our journey with The Charred Barrel Society has consistently been surprising. Once you strip away marketing and perceived value, you are only left with how you honestly feel about a product. In many ways, Benchmark has lived up to its challenge, “The bourbon by which all others are measured.” This is particularly true due to its price point. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better bourbon for the money. Whenever I consider purchasing other, more expensive whiskeys, I still find myself measuring the value of Benchmark against higher shelf whiskeys. To be sure, there are better bourbons out there, but here at The Charred Barrel Society, we proudly raise a glass to such a humble bourbon.
To Friends, Fellowship, and The Society.