Benchmark Top Floor
On my last visit to The Bluegrass, in my favorite regional grocery store's spirits section, I was amazed by a dizzying array of Benchmark bourbon, featuring Bonded, Single Barrel, and the subject of this review, Benchmark Top Floor.
Location, location, location
Benchmark is a bargain brand produced by Sazerac at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Like many bourbon brands, this one draws on the lore of the legends of the early Kentucky pioneers. In 1773, James, George, and Robert McAfee headed westward to the frontier of, what was then, part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The surveying marks the McAfee brothers left behind where they crossed the Kentucky River (and at the current site of Buffalo Trace) are referred to as benchmarks.
The Benchmark lineup includes its flagship rendition (80 proof), Top Floor, Small Batch, Bonded, and Full Proof. The label includes the phrase "elevation matters" - a nod to distillers' knowledge that bourbon will mature and age differently at different locations in the warehouse. Older bourbons are allowed to age slower on lower floors, where temperatures are generally cooler and bourbon's movement into and out of the barrel is slowed. Bourbons placed at the upper levels of a warehouse receive maximum extremes of weather, including hot summers where bourbon can interact deeply with the wood barrel. Just like climbing into your attic on a hot, summer day, temperatures at elevation in a warehouse may be 30 degrees higher than those on the ground floor.
From the website, we're told to expect scents of subtle sweetness and baking spices followed by flavors of light citrus, butterscotch, and oak. The label shares that this whiskey is smooth and well-rounded to be enjoyed straight, with ice, or in your favorite cocktail.
This is a straight bourbon whiskey, and with no age statement indicated, we can safely assume the contents have been aged at a minimum of four years. Buffalo Trace shares little about the mash bill, though most feel this is the same low-rye (less than 10%) Mash Bill #1 shared with Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Old Charter, and E.H. Taylor.
Eye: Light amber with a few thin legs displayed when swirled in the Glencairn glass.
Nose: Brown sugar along with lightly toasted oak and baking spices. Very nice - but not over the top.
Palate: True to the nose, with brown sugar, soft caramel, some light fruit notes, oak char and spice. Overall, a pretty traditional bourbon flavor.
Finish: Medium-short with some light space, oak, and vanilla.
Overall: Top Floor is the second lowest proof in the Benchmark family. I found this for less than a Jackson at a major regional grocery store in Kentucky, grabbing one of these and a Benchmark Bonded.
The flagship Benchmark 80 proof is exceedingly light, though perfect for a summer gathering where it's mixed with a Coke or in a cocktail. At 86 proof, this is decently suited for the same, but does hold up a little better to a cube and is pleasant, though uninspiring, neat. Its most similar competitor at this price point might be Evan Williams Black Label, which does offer a few more pronounced notes and a slightly longer finish. Either will serve a crowd (even a crowd of one) amicably and won't break the bank.