Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon Review [In Depth]

Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon

Alex author
Founder, writer
Benchmark Full Proof header

Benchmark Full Proof Details

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 62.5%

Composition: Buffalo Trace mashbill #1

Aged: At least 4 years old (straight bourbon with no age statement on bottle)

Color: 1.2/2.0 on the color scale (chestnut, oloroso sherry)

Price: $25-30

From the company website:

This Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is bottled at the same proof that in enters the barrel. Bold and robust, this 125 proof whiskey is meant to be sipped and savored.

Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon ​overview

Benchmark Full Proof is a fairly recent extension of the mashbill #1-made Benchmark brand, which started with the OG Benchmark Old No. 8, a 3 year old bourbon that I think is awful. It’s not quite undrinkable, but it’s bad in my opinion.
Now, the brand includes Top Floor, Small Batch, Bonded (Bottled in Bond), Single Barrel, and this Full Proof Bourbon. It appears that there are two goals with this: 1) make money sooner with younger bourbon (probably 3-5 years old), and 2) explore various ways to blend / age bourbon. Why wait 6-8 years for Buffalo Trace (my best guess) and 10 years for Eagle Rare when you can make it in ~4 years. I’m not trying to shame anyone for it, I’m just trying to highlight why this might be happening.
Regardless of age, I’m still curious and cautiously excited for Benchmark Full Proof, a near-cask strength Buffalo Trace bourbon. When every other Buffalo Trace-made cask strength/ full proof bourbon now lives in crazy-town, it’s nice to see a more affordable and accessible-ish option.
To that point, the newer Benchmark expressions are not sold across the US. I bought this bottle in Florida, but I know that it’s not available in MD, DC, and VA for some reason, but is in the surrounding states of North Carolina and New Jersey. From what I’ve seen in Florida and New Jersey, there were plenty of bottles on store shelves where they are distributed. Distribution is such a strange thing.
A quick blurb on terminology. Full proof means barrel entry proof, which is 62.5% for Buffalo Trace mashbill #1. Cask Strength means the ABV it came out of the barrel, with no water added, so it’s more variable than full proof.
With this being a high-ABV mashbill #1 bourbon, the comparisons to Stagg (Jr) and EH Taylor Barrel Proof have been made. Yes the mashbill #1 core is the same, but I would recommend leaving it at that. Whether it’s mediocre or actually good is yet to be smelled and tasted, but that’s the point of this review.
Let’s find out what this affordable and high-ABV Buffalo Trace bourbon has to offer in this Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon.
Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon ​front
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Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon ​smell

Benchmark Full Proof starts with caramel, a lot of roasted and dried oak, earthy caraway seed, cinnamon, dried cherry and orange peel, roasted grains, vanilla, licorice, and mint. Ah yes, this smells on the younger side: oaky, dry, and earthy-forward. It’s not necessarily bad, but I’m not immediately wowed by it. It’s that sort of freshly cut then partially burnt wood smell with some fruit in the back. The heat isn’t bad though.
After swirling and rest, I smell caramel, orange peel, roasted oak, caraway seed, roasted grain, cinnamon, vanilla, dried grass, nutmeg, licorice, mint, and gummy grain (like Maker’s Mark). The scents are a little more orange-forward this time, but there’s still a lot of freshly cut oak and burnt oak at the same time. It’s not overpowering, but far from subtle. All of that might sound contradictory, but my point is that there’s a lot of oak with some sweetness, fruitiness, and herbalness.
Overall, Benchmark Full Proof smells good. It’s not the most nuanced or developed set of scents, but nothing pokes out as off or unpleasant. To the point of a “budget” Stagg Jr, it’s definitely not. Sure it’s nearly the same ABV but likely a lot younger, but it would need way more time to develop enough sweetness, fruitiness, and general depth to become anything like Stagg Jr. I guess you could say it smells like Stagg Jr, but minus most of the sweetness and richness. Well I guess that makes it nothing like Stagg Jr.
Benchmark Full Proof side

Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon ​taste and aftertaste

On my first sip, I taste caramel, roasted oak, earthy caraway seed, cinnamon, roasted grains, dried cherry and orange, cinnamon, licorice, and more gummy graininess. The higher ABV brings a little more density to the flavors and mouthfeel, and I can already feel the oils coating my mouth so it’s most likely non chill filtered.
Benchmark Full Proof Bourbon isn’t as intensely oaky as it smells, although it’s clearly still oak, grain, and spice-forward. There’s a little more sweetness and fruitiness in the flavors, but the oak and grain still run the show. The good news is that it’s not overly bitter or wacky like regular Benchmark. It still tastes younger and/or with less than great barrel selection, but still provides a tasty experience.
After “chewing”, I taste caramel, viscous oiliness (more a sensation rather than a flavor), roasted oak, caraway seed, cherry, orange peel, toasted grain, cinnamon, licorice, mint, and then some caramel nougat, maple syrup, and pineapple at the end. The flavors are sweet, then oaky and earthy, then a little sweet and fruity again, so it develops nicely within a single sip. Benchmark Full Proof is clearly non chill filtered given how oily it feels.
“Chewing” makes it taste a lot better, kicking up the sweetness and fruitiness to counterbalance the still very forward oak, spice, and grain. The ABV also feels shockingly well-managed, providing manageable bite. I’ve had lower-ABV whiskeys that beat me up more than this.
The aftertaste starts with caramel, a lot of roasted oak, gummy grain, dried orange peel, and cinnamon with long-lasting gummy graininess. I don’t like it in Maker’s Mark, but it’s alright here. After “chewing” it leaves caramel, orange, licorice, roasted oak, gummy toasted grains, cinnamon, and pineapple, again with long-lasting gummy toasted grains and orange peel. It’s not amazing, but not bad.
Benchmark Full Proof is surprisingly quite good. It’s not necessarily for people who dislike the intense roasted and dry oak, but I can get past it and enjoy it. My first sip wasn’t bad at all, but “chewing” makes the experience a whole lot better.

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Benchmark Full Proof Rating

Mid shelf+
Not to shake up the hype train on Benchmark Full Proof that may or may not exist, but I’m pleased with what I just had. I’m not saying that this is an absolutely amazing bourbon that outperforms its price by multiples, but it does provide a fairly well-rounded experience that isn’t overwhelmed by anything unpleasant, keeps the alcohol in check, AND is under $30.
It drinks more expensive than it is. Price isn’t part of my rating process, but I can still recognize great value when I taste it. To that point specifically, Benchmark Full Proof is superb value.
Two things stick out that remind me that this is still somewhat young / barrel selection isn’t the best: the stronger dry oak and roasted grain. In more mature bourbons, the roasted grain is usually mostly gone, and the oak takes on a sweeter and far less dry character.
That part is hard to explain, but it makes more sense if you’ve had something like Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. Thankfully, “chewing” transforms Benchmark Full Proof’s flavors from very oaky and spicy to a more balanced give and take between the sweetness, oak, and spice.
Is Benchmark Full Proof a great “budget” alternative to the far more expensive Stagg (Jr) or 1792 Full Proof? Yes in the sense that it’s affordable and good, but also no because it’s not even close in terms of actual richness and depth. The more expensive siblings have far more developed sweetness and complexity, so thinking that you can adequately replace those with Benchmark will only lead to disappointment. If you think about it in comparison to other bourbons under $30 or $40, then you’re setting yourself up for a far better time.
Purely from memory, I would say that I prefer this more than Old Grand Dad 114 and Buffalo Trace. I found Old Grand Dad 114 to be way too earthy and dry to my liking, and Buffalo Trace has this strangely intense earthiness and bitterness that Benchmark Full Proof doesn’t. I know a lot of people may not agree with that assessment of either, but it is what it is. This is one of Buffalo Trace’s better less-expensive bourbons, and a drastic improvement over the quite bad Benchmark No. 8.
So for around $25, I recommend trying it if you haven’t already. Consider yourself lucky if you can easily find it around you.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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