Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon Review [In Depth]

Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon

Alex author
Founder, writer
benchmark single barrel bourbon header

Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon Details

Distillery: Buffalo Trace

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 47.5%

Composition: Buffalo Trace mashbill #1

Aged: At least 4 years

Color: 1.3/2.0 on the color scale (russet, muscat)

Price: $25-28

From the company website:

Only the best barrels are selected and bottled at 95 proof for this special Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. While every barrel is unique, each reflects the utmost standard for the finest taste and most smooth finish with every pour.

suntory hakushu whiskey overview

Buffalo Trace’s Single Barrel bourbons are generally highly sought after bottles, with Eagle Rare, Blanton’s (all the versions), Weller (the orange label single barrel and barrel picks), and EH Taylor Single Barrel Bourbon (and picks) being some that command long lines and huge markups.
Then there’s Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon, which is around $25, rarely marked up, and generally easy to find in markets where it’s sold…except Virginia because VABC makes weird decisions. So when I was in Florida one time, I grabbed a bottle for around $25 with no fuss or hooplah. It just…happened and life moved on.
Apart from the standard Benchmark Old No.8, not to be mistaken with Jack Daniel’s Old no. 7, there’s Benchmark Small Batch, Bonded, Top Floor, Single Barrel (this one), and Full Proof Bourbon that cover different types of barrel selection and ABVs. It appears that there are two goals with this: 1) make money sooner with younger bourbon (probably 4-5 years old) because Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare take longer to age, and 2) explore various ways to blend / age bourbon.
As a refresher, single barrel means that the entire contents of the bottle comes from a single oak barrel. Most whiskeys are a blend of multiple barrels, often 50 to hundreds or even thousands. A single barrel then means that you’re more or less experiencing the pure character from a barrel (the good and the ugly), except with any dilution and chill filtration that can change the character.
I’m going to go off on a tangent about the ABV, as Buffalo Trace has designed these Benchmark releases to have different ABVs. Top Floor is 43%, Small Batch is 45%, Single Barrel is 47.5% ABV, Bottled in Bond is 50%, and Full Proof 62.5%. If anything, I wish the ABV had been 55% since there already are 2 others between 40% and 49%. I mean…47.5%…really? That number just feels arbitrary. Just my thoughts as I think through this bourbon.
Let’s find out if Buffalo Trace’s most affordable single barrel bourbon is any good in this Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon review.
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for everything (they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass Set of 6, Set of 4Set of 2, or just one. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon smell

I smell toasty caramel, baked red apple, roasted oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and some brighter orange peel and fennel. Benchmark Single Barrel smells pretty good with pretty good (again) darkness and richness, but it’s a bit flabby and soft, so the good stuff doesn’t really stand out.
Like many Benchmark Bonded and Full Proof, the scents focus more on the darker sweetness and oak with some fruit and herbalness, but this doesn’t have the same fullness and heft to back it up.
After swirling, the scents become a bit brighter with honey sweetness, roasted oak, herbal fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg, baked red apple and orange peel, and vanilla. Over time, at like the 15 minutes of rest mark, the darkness starts to settle in again with nougat and more roasted oak.
The scents are good, but the lack of definition, depth, and richness dampen the experience, even for a sub-$25 bourbon. Simply, it smells good but not great. The higher ABV would have helped, maybe barrel selection too.
benchmark single barrel bourbon front

Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon taste and aftertaste

The flavors have caramel, red apple, roasted oak, cinnamon, vanilla, clove, herbal fennel, and some orange peel, pineapple, and earthy caraway seed. The flavors again focus on the darker sweetness, oak, and spice with backing fruitiness and herbalness.
While Benchmark Single Barrel has nice flavors, I can’t escape the flabbiness, which makes it feel not so well selected. The dark sweetness and oak are more clear, but the rest feels muddled together. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some pricey bourbon using Buffalo Trace’s best barrel selection, but I always hope to be pleasantly surprised.
So far, this just doesn’t have the same impact and complexity as Benchmark Bonded.
With “chewing”, I taste darker honey, baked red apple and orange peel, roasted oak, cinnamon, vanilla, fennel, mint, and some darker apricot and nougat sweetness. The orange peel and baked apple pop a little bit in the mix, but the flavors still focus on honey / caramel sweetness, oak, and spice.
The flavors have more life now, although the lack of definition and richness is still very obvious. There’s some maturity, but compared to Bonded and Full Proof, it’s more evident that the pool of barrels to select from are of lower quality and would probably benefit from being blended and a higher ABV.
The finish leaves caramel, roasted oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, fennel, and orange peel. It’s not bad and not memorable, it just gets the job done.
Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon does taste a lot better this time, but I’m not particularly interested or impressed by it.
I’ve unfortunately lost some Glencairn’s while in transit, and that made me very sad. So, I wised up and bought this Glencairn Travel Case that comes also comes with 2 glasses so I don’t need to worry so much about them breaking. I think it’s great, and I think you’ll love it too. Seriously, if you already have glasses, protect them.

Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon Rating

Mid Shelf
I’m somewhat disappointed in Benchmark Single Barrel. I hoped that it would be more like Benchmark Bonded or Full Proof, and less like Small Batch or Top Floor. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad bourbon (it’s still borderline “Mid Shelf+”), but it could have been better.
Like the others, the profile leans towards dark to moderate sweetness, oak, and spice. That’s nothing groundbreaking, as bourbons easily pick up those traits in a few years. Bolder traits, fruitiness, and nuance are more difficult to develop, which is why the better barrels go to the more expensive stuff. The barrels that didn’t quite develop that level of character are relegated to the cheaper bourbons. At the end of the day, that’s still fine because not everyone has the money to always buy $50+ bourbon.
So while some compromises have to be made for a sub-$30 bourbon, you as the drinker do not have to sacrifice that much character because there are worthy options. Within the expanded Benchmark lineup, the aforementioned Benchmark Bonded and Full Proof are the clear standouts of the group. On top of that, there still are other comparably-priced bourbons such Jim Beam Double Oak and Elijah Craig Small Batch that I think are better than Benchmark Single Barrel Bourbon.
An affordable and accessible single barrel bourbon from Buffalo Trace is certainly intriguing, but it doesn’t quite offer enough to make it worthwhile. If you still want to give it a try, go for it because it’s still pretty good.
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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