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Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon: Revisited

Posted on by Eric Burke

It's the first week of Bourbon Heritage Month so I thought I'd take a look back and revisit a couple of older brands. First up is Benchmark Bourbon from Sazerac.

It has been 1,266 days since I last posted tasting notes for Benchmark Bourbon. It wasn't a formal review as it was part of 2015's Bottom Shelf Brackets, but for the longest time, it was all I offered. Since I was out this weekend looking around at "affordable" options for bourbon, I thought it might be time to take another look at it. See if the intervening time has been kind to it. Back in 2015, I said the following:

It may only be three years old, but there is nothing to keep this from being a nice card playing bourbon.

Since I didn't talk about it last time around, let's go over a little history of the brand. The brand was originally launched by Seagram's in the late 1960s. During the 1970s, the ads for the brand told consumers to "Measure Your Bourbon Against It." By the late 1980s, the brand was up for sale and was purchased by Sazerac who used it and Eagle Rare (also purchased from Seagram's) to get into the bourbon business

These days, though it is still owned by Sazerac, it lives on the bottom shelf. It has an age statement of 36 months. It even has a few flavored spinoffs in the forms of Apple, Brown Sugar, and Peach whiskey flavored liqueurs. 

Benchmark Old No. 8 Brand Bourbon

Purchase Info: $13.49 for a 1-liter bottle at MGM Wine and Spirits, Burnsville, MN.

Details: Aged at least 36 months. 40% ABV

Nose: Green Apple Jolly Rancher candy, caramel.

Mouth: Caramel, mint, and after a little while a little spice builds up.

Finish: Short with a little lingering spice.

 IMAGE: a hand-drawn neutral face

Thoughts: My thoughts on this one have been solidly downgraded as time has gone on. With my first pour out of the current bottle, I thought it was a bit of a caramel bomb with undertones of Buffalo Trace. Pretty solid, though more of a "good enough" bourbon than a "good" one. When I did the tasting a few days later, I found it to be a little delicate in the mouth, but it was fine. Subsequent pours have just been really meh. While it might make an ok card playing or tv watching bourbon, for the price, I'd stick with Evan Williams Black or Bonded unless you really prefer those Buffalo Trace undertones. 


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1792 Bottled in Bond

Posted on by Eric Burke

I've been reading a lot of old 1950s and 1960s magazines lately. I'm reading them for the history but, as I create ads for a living, I can't help but be struck by the advertisements as well. And of course, these particular magazines have a lot of booze ads in them. 

Knowing that the bourbon crash was only a few years away, I am struck by the differences between the bourbon ads and the ads for clear spirits. The bourbon ads highlight luxury and impressing those you entertain. They are full of photos of men in tuxedos and women in fancy dresses. They look really old-fashioned. By contrast, the ads for clear spirits are fun. Even half a decade later, they still have a freshness about them. It isn't hard to see why bourbon lost the war for the 1960s and 70s drinker. 

I did find it interesting though that bourbon was advertising itself as a luxury item for the ultra-rich and swanky. When I first started drinking alcohol, you could barely give bourbon away. When I first started drinking bourbon, it was an affordable luxury. You could get something old and really delicious for $30-40. Of course, these days the pendulum has swung back again. I saw an article touting an 11-year old bourbon from a major producer for $110 today. $10 per year of age, from the big guys, seems a bit ludicrous to me, but then there is a reason I'm the guy who runs the "Bottom-Shelf Brackets."

Luckily for those of us who drink on a budget, there is one producer who seems to have found their niche producing affordable limited edition bourbons. Sazerac's Barton distillery has been quietly putting out delicious, affordable bourbon after delicious, affordable bourbon in the 1792 line. Tonight I have a glass of the 1792 Bottled-in-Bond. Let's see how it tastes. 

1792 Bottled-in-Bond

Purchase info: $39.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 50% ABV. Distilled and bottled at DSP-KY-12. Non-age stated though the bottle says "well-aged."

Nose: Almond, Caramel, and cinnamon.

Mouth: Good heat with cinnamon and nutmeg followed by brown sugar and mint. 

Finish: Spicy and long with a heat that sort of creeps back up on you right in the middle of the chest.

 Image: a hand-drawn smiley face

Thoughts: This is a tasty bourbon. Spicy and warm, it doesn't have the almost overwhelming heat of the 1792 Full Proof. Instead, it feels like a warm blanket straight from the dryer: pure comfort. It won't knock your socks off, but then you won't need to mortgage the house to afford it either. It sums up what brought me to bourbon in the first place: a tasty, affordable, luxury. 
 


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2018: The Championship Rounds

Posted on by Eric Burke

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it was the first year that had guest judges. I have an idea that I may expand it further next year. This feels like it could be a fun party game for whiskey folk, provided the sips are restricted and everyone has a driver. Secondly, it is also the first year that I didn't restrict the competition to bourbon. I included corn whiskey and rye whiskey and sort of expected that corn would fold and rye would reign supreme. I was sorta right on the corn whiskey, it was a little too delicate to win against the flavorful rye, but it was no pushover. 

So now here we are. We are at the Last Four (Final Four being a registered trademark of a very litigious entity, there is no way I will use those two words together in a bracket post...): Old Grand Dad Bonded vs Two Stars and Old Forester vs Ezra Brooks Rye. Three bourbons and a rye. Let's see if rye reigns supreme or if bourbon can hold on to the odds. 

Division 1, Round 2: Two Stars (A) vs Old Grand-Dad Bonded (B)

Nose: Whiskey A is drier with more grain present while whiskey B is sweeter but shows a bit more alcohol. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey B is sweeter but also shows a lot more grain notes. Whiskey A is more of a well-integrated whole, though it is a tad more delicate. Winner Whiskey A.

Finish: The finish on Whiskey A is a bit harsher and drier. Whiskey B is really good though and it has no obvious plusses or minuses to it.Winner Whiskey B. 

Thoughts: I'd say that Whiskey B wins this one on the strength of a better mouthfeel and a much tastier finish. Old Grand-Dad Bonded is moving on. 

Division 2, Round 2: Ezra Brooks Rye (A) vs Old Forester (B)

Nose: Whiskey A has a spicy ginger note while Whiskey B is pretty generic with sweet caramel.  Winner: Whiskey A.

Mouth: Whiskey A is spicy and fun but a bit thin. Whiskey B is sweet and spicy with a nice mouthfeel. It is close but the Winner is Whiskey A

Finish: Whiskey A shows ginger and citrus while Whiskey B is sweet and fruity. This comes down to personal taste. Winner: Whiskey A.

Thoughts: This one is tough. I adore the fun aspects of Whiskey A. I think it is bright and vibrant and I'm digging the citrus notes. On the other hand, I really like the sweet flavors, the nice mouthfeel, and the fruity finish of Whiskey B. Gun to my head? Winner: Ezra Brooks Rye. 

Championship Round: Old Grand-Dad Bonded (A) vs Ezra Brooks Rye (B)

Nose: Whiskey B is a spicy soda, Whiskey A is a dusty rickhouse. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey A is sweet with a lovely mouthfeel. Whiskey B is spicy with a ginger ale flavor. Winner: Draw

Finish: Whiskey A is long with more sweetness. Whiskey B is also long, but is spicy. Winner: Draw.

Thoughts: Sometimes the tasting notes of bloggers make it look like we value the individual parts of a whiskey more than the whole. Though these two whiskeys are different, I liked them both, just in different ways. I like the spiciness of Whiskey B and I like the lovely mouthfeel of Whiskey A. There was a draw on every indiviual metric. And, though it was really close, when taken as a whole the Winner is Old Grand-Dad Bonded. 

Lessons learned

So was I shocked by anything this year? Not really. I was surprised that Old Forester beat Four Roses for every participant, but not enough to call it shocking. I was mildly surprised that a four seed beat a one seed, but when you notice that it is rye vs corn whiskey it is less surprising. Going into the final rounds I had guessed that Old Forester could very possibly be my winner, but wasn't shocked that a rye whiskey beat a bourbon. Even if it was only two years old.

Overall, I thought that there could very possibly be five winners in the initial grouping. I wouldn't have been surprised at any of Old Grand-Dad, Old Forester, Four Roses, Ezra Brooks and I thought that Mellow Corn had an outside shot. Because I worried that the seeding worked against them I went ahead and tried an alternate seeding. I put all the bourbon on one side and matched corn vs corn and rye vs rye on the other. Ezra Brooks beat Old Overholt and Mellow Corn defeated Hirsch, with Ezra Brooks rye still advancing to the finals. On the Bourbon side, Old Grand Dad beat Four Roses on the strength of a good mouthfeel and Old Forester beat Two Stars. Old Grand Dad then defeated Old Forester and advanced to the finals where the result was the same. Overall, I'm satisfied that the best whiskey (for my palate)won.


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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Other people's brackets

Posted on by Eric Burke

So one of the things I did this year to shake things up was to introduce more judges to this project. In the past, it has been just my wife and I and if we disagreed, I'd overrule her due to the fact that I do all the writing. Now I was not able to get everyone together in time to get started on these so I was unable to use their input in the initial rounds. 

And now that I think about that, I think this is a good thing. This is a blog that is run by my wife and I and it reflects our palates. Plus, as you will see, everyone so far has chosen a different winner. But, there are a few commonalities in the results that I think you will find interesting. So let's begin.

This is the bracket of my friend Dave. He was the inspiration for this experiment because he asked if he could be a part of it. He knows almost nothing about whiskey that I haven't taught him but he is an enthusiastic amateur. I did the pouring for Dave's bracket. So one interesting thing that I think you will see is that Old Overholt was Dave's winner. I've described Old Overholt as one of the gentlest rye whiskeys that I'd found. And I think that it makes sense that an inexperienced whiskey drinker would like a whiskey that wasn't overly hot and aggressive. In fact, you'll notice that most of the whiskeys that made it to his last four were fairly nonaggressive whiskeys. A corn whiskey beat a rye, a low proof beat a high proof on a couple of occasions, and then there is Old Forester where he had a hard time choosing between the two.

This is the bracket of one of my dog sitting clients, Jeff. Jeff is a guy who likes whiskey but mostly sticks to the brands he knows. Jeff administered his own test which is why everything is labeled with a letter instead of a name, all the seeds are in the same location though. In this case, Old Grand-Dad beat Old Overholt, Two Stars beat Hirsch Corn, Ezra Brooks Rye beat Mellow Corn and Old Forester beat Four Roses. I haven't finished my bracket yet, but so far mine matches this one. And if you were to ask me how I thought my bracket might finish out, I can see similarities between his and mine. I'm a bit shocked that Two Stars beat out Old Grand-Dad, but hey Barton/Sazerac makes some pretty good juice. Oh, and for Jeff, Old Forester won. 

This is my wife's bracket. She and I disagreed on whether Mellow Corn should beat Ezra Brooks Rye so I had her finish her bracket based on her scenario. Once again I administered the contest for her. As you will see, there are some similarities between the previous three, Everyone likes Two Stars more than the Hirsch Corn whiskey and Everyone liked Old Forester better than Four Roses. In fact, Old Forester was in the championship for every one of these three. It sort of makes me wonder if my bracket will follow suit? I guess we will see next Tuesday.

Now, this last one is from Pat, one of my wife's coworkers. Pat also administered his own test. And Pat went a different way than anyone else. Unbeknownst to Pat, he seems to be a fan of rye whiskey. And he found this fascinating since he hadn't had very much rye before. From what I understand, he is going to be remedying that in the future. Even so, I can see the Ezra Brooks Rye winning this. It is a good and flavorful whiskey that even at two years old, brings a lot of flavor to the party. 

So I hope you found this as fascinating as I did. I liked seeing the trends among people. All of us liked Old Forester over Four Roses, which I didn't expect from me much less anyone else. It was split evenly between those who preferred Mellow Corn and those who preferred Ezra Brooks Rye. Only one person thought that the Hirsch Corn was better than Two Stars. And yet even with that, they all chose a different winner. I'm very curious now to know which one will win on my bracket. 


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The 2018 BourbonGuy.com Bottom-Shelf Brackets

Posted on by Eric Burke

So, this past Sunday my Twitter feed filled up with people complaining about the format of a show that announced whether their favorite team of college basketball players did or didn't make the cut to play in a basketball tournament. It reminded me, among other things, that I'm not much of a college basketball fan. It just never caught my interest. But just because I don't have a passion for college basketball, does that mean I want to miss out on all that competitive March bracketing?

No. No, it does not. 

And for the last four years, I've been getting my fill of competitive bracketing by finding inexpensive bourbons and pitting them against each other head-to-head to see if there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. I mostly do this to have fun, but I also have a desire to find out if I can satisfy my inherent Midwestern frugalness and yet find an overlooked diamond in the rough.

But this is the fifth year of the Bottom-Shelf Brackets and I've been forced to shake things up a little bit. First, I've removed the word "Bourbon" from the name and opened the proceedings up to other forms of Straight American Whiskey. Second, I've been forced to redefine my definition of "Bottom-Shelf" to a slightly higher price point. Both of these have the same cause: I just couldn't find enough bourbons that met the price qualification that hadn't been in the tournament before. Even some of the previous winners have moved out of range. 

The third thing is the most exciting for me though. I've included a couple more judges this year. Some of these people are complete novices. I did this mostly because one of my non-whiskey drinking friends asked if he could be a part of it and I thought it might be fun to get outside perspectives on the results. 

Now that the changes are out of the way, just what are these qualifications that I spoke of earlier?

  1. It must be straight American Whiskey, and it must be labeled as such. Too many brands are getting rid of this very basic statement of quality and I refuse to reward that. This means that Jack Daniel's Black label would not qualify for the tournament, but that Jim Beam White label would. 
  2. It has to sell for 2.4 cents per milliliter or less. Now, this might seem like a weird arbitrary number, but it works out to $18 per 750, $24 per liter or (in true bottom shelf fashion) $40 for a 1.75 L handle. And yes, I know that the math is wrong on that last one, but since you normally get a price break by buying in that large of quantity, I worked that into the equation. I raised it from $15, $20 and $35 this year, which had been the price since the initial year. In that time, just following the inflation rate would get us to over $21 for a liter so I decided to future proof a little. 
  3. The final guideline is that it must have never been in the tournament before. It would get pretty boring to see if I liked the same whiskeys year after year. 

After I purchased the whiskeys here are the rules I used to seed them. 

  1. Stated (or assumed) age. Straight whiskey has to be at least two years old. But unless it is under four years old, you don’t have to put an age on it. So if someone does, it’s either a good thing or a bad thing. I like to reward good things and punish bad things.
  2. Proof. Higher proof often equals better flavor. Not always, but it can be a good rule of thumb.

So who are the contestants? The top six seeds were all non-age stated, and so I am assuming the 4-year minimum on them. The two number one seed in each of the divisions are Old Grand-Dad Bonded and Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond, both at 100° proof. Behind them at 90° proof is a Straight Corn Whiskey from Hirsch Selections. I found this one on sale, so it is a bit of a cheat but also figured that sale prices count when the entire point is to be frugal. A pair of 86 proofers come next. Old Forester 86° proof is the second number two seed while the Barton produced, Total Wine exclusive, Two Stars nabs the first number three seed. The final number three seed is 80° proof Four Roses Yellow Label. After that, we get to a pair of ryes that clock in at under four years old. Old Overholt is three years old and gets the first number four seed with two-year-old Ezra Brooks Rye nabbing the final spot.

There are a lot of interesting matchups this year with multiple styles and multiple price points going head-to-head. I think this one is going to be a lot of fun. 


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!