Born in the Big Easy, and a favorite of rock royalty like Janis Joplin, Southern Comfort is a spirit that wears many hats (and, in one notable instance, a lynx fur coat).
If your only exposure to “SoCo” is an ill-conceived shot you sort of remember taking one time, it’s time to give the spirit a closer look. From humble beginnings to WWII-era patriotism, Southern Comfort has a storied history. Here are seven things you should know about the famous southern liqueur.
Is Southern Comfort a whiskey?
Though it invariably appears on liquor store shelves next to Jim Beam and Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort isn’t actually a whiskey. Invented in 1874 by New Orleans bartender Martin Wilkes Heron, the original spirit blended fruits and spices with low-quality whiskey to add sweetness and smoothness. Today, as a result of these infusions, Southern Comfort is technically classed as a liqueur.
For many years SoCo didn’t even contain whiskey.
The brand changed hands multiple times after Heron died in 1920 (three months after the start of Prohibition, no less). For much of this time, the liqueur’s whiskey base was replaced with cheaper, neutral grain spirit, such as vodka. It wasn’t until Sazerac bought the brand in 2016 that production started using a whiskey base again.
Its tagline is slightly misleading.
When creator Heron patented his drink in 1889, he labeled bottles with the tagline “None Genuine But Mine.” The brand continued to use the line for more than 70 years, even after changing one of its “genuine” core ingredients, whiskey.
Before SoCo there was CuBu.
Heron originally named his liqueur Cuffs & Buttons. Depending on which version of history you believe, this was either a reference to the ingredients he used for the infusion — citrus peel (cuffs) and cloves (buttons) — or a nod to another popular liqueur of the time, Hat and Tails.
Southern Comfort arrived in Europe aboard U.S. bombers.
Homesick World War II pilot Colonel Thomas J. Barr named his B-17G bomber Southern Comfort in honor of his favorite liqueur. Barr and his crew even painted the name on their plane, hoping the company might send them a few free bottles. He had to wait more than 60 years. In 2015, the brand finally presented Barr with a case of special-label Southern Comfort during a ceremony recognizing his war efforts.
SoCo released numerous (questionable) infusions.
With dwindling popularity, in 2011, Southern Comfort turned to flavored releases. From fruity infusions like Cherry and Lime, to dessert mixes like Caramel and Gingerbread spice, there were numerous infusions over a five-year period. None of them, however, were more ill-conceived than Fiery Pepper, a blend of the sweet liqueur and Tabasco. Thankfully, Sazerac dropped the flavored releases when it purchased the brand in 2016.
Janis Joplin was famously a fan of Southern Comfort.
The singer-songwriter was famously a fan of Southern Comfort and regularly appeared on stage with a bottle in hand. To thank her for the free publicity, Southern Comfort bought Joplin a lynx fur coat and matching hat.
What kind of alcohol is Southern Comfort?
Because it is a blend of fruit and spices with low-quality whiskey, Southern Comfort is technically classified as a liqueur. Parent brand Sazerac has done little to dispel the Southern Comfort whiskey myth, however, marketing the product as the “spirit” of New Orleans, and touting its “Original Whiskey Flavor Profile.”