Drinking the Bottom Shelf: McAfee's Benchmark No. 8 Bourbon

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


I haven't watched as much of the Olympics as I intended to, but Bottom Shelf research director Emily has spent the past few nights with the synchronized divers and teenaged acrobats, so I've relied on her for updates and analysis concerning their jumping and crying and whatnot. The tandem divers are apparently focused on maintaining identical flailing patterns as they fall into the water at more or less the same time; it seems all of the gymnasts are very short and shiny, and the Americans ones smile and giggle sometimes, whereas most of the others do not.

Since these Olympics are taking place in London and therefore the future, the results are widely known hours before the events air in America. This has been a great boon to the gigantic swath of the Internet that exists solely to complain about television, but it's put a damper on my already tepid interest in the Olympics, because I have a hard time watching a competition when I already know who's won and, in this case, who's lost. I find it spooky and dispiriting to see a 15-year-old girl toddle a microsmidge sideways at the denouement of a successful bout of not dying on the uneven bars and think, "Yes, furrow that brow. The announcers may be saying it will only cost you a tenth of a point, but my sources from the beyond assure me it's precisely that tenth of a point that will mark you as an eternal failure. But on a happier note: my, do you have lovely skin!"

I've rarely been accused of excessive empathy or even decency, but I think it bears mentioning that, cranky as I may be, I was born without the schadenfreude gene. I don't like to watch people fail, even people with the gall to be born in other countries or wear different colored uniforms. I like the Boston Red Sox, but I've always felt estranged from the majority of the fan base who get more pleasure out of hating the Yankees than they do out of loving the Sox.

Sometimes this high-mindedness gets complicated when you try to apply it to nonsporting news. Take, for instance, the best thing that's happened in Massachusetts all summer: A great white shark ate part of a guy! It wasn't a vital part, so the guy's not dead or anything, just shark-bitten, but I fear that my shark-loving side (which is my dominant side) might be pretty excited about the story even if it had gone darker. This shark-first approach to the news could look like misanthropy, but I assure you that it's my love of sharks speaking, not any sort of disdain for people who mess around in shark houses.

I love this story because I love it when sharks do newsworthy things, and also because it gives me a chance to address my contrarian take on the popular no-shittism "You only live once." Well yes, of course, and this single-lifedness is precisely why you shouldn't take undue risks! The reason I don't skydive or swim near sharks or try new flavors of yogurt is because I'm looking to maximize my time on earth. I can't risk a misadventurous death related to parachute malfunctions, hungry fish, or whatever the hell pomegranate goo might do when provoked.

My career as a Bottom Shelf columnist has taught me there is one avenue of thrill I may safely seek: After living to tell about all manner of flavored and discounted alcoholic abominations, it's clear that no trip outside my liquor comfort zone will be fatal. This has led me to risk renewing the search for my whitest booze whale: a backup bourbon for those cruel and magical occasions when I have $12 and an evening to kill but the liquor store doesn't uphold its end of the bargain by stocking Old Crow.

A lot of cheap bourbon connoisseurs swear by Evan Williams, but I don't love the stuff. I've had decent recent luck with Rebel Yell, but it costs a bit more than my beloved OC, plus the name's kinda stupid. My latest prowlings around the seedy precincts where such matters are discussed have turned up another contender: McAfee's Benchmark No. 8.

When the Sazerac Company bought the Benchmark brand from Seagram's in 1989, they tacked "McAfee's" onto the name and moved production to Frankfort, Kentucky, where Benchmark is now pumped out of the Buffalo Trace Distillery alongside such brown booze luminaries as Eagle Rare and Blanton's. Benchmark isn't as good as those, but it's much better than the $11.99 price tag would suggest.

While not quite complex, it's both less stingy and less sting-y than most 80-proofers in its price range. There are strong notes of honey and vanilla on the nose, with a little bit of sour orange and wheat joining the mouth party. This is the rare budget bourbon good enough to drink neat, and it's perfect in a Drambuie-spiked whiskey sour.