If you’re anything like us, you’ve enjoyed the sweet, mysterious flavor that is Southern Comfort. You’ve probably had it on its own, but more likely with sweetened lime juice in a shot. It’s sweet, fruity, and has a ton of caramel flavor. It’s a borderline dessert drink. But have you ever stopped to wonder what Southern Comfort is?
Probably not, and this is because, to many drinkers, Southern Comfort is just Southern Comfort. We know what it tastes, smells, and looks like, and we’ve never really spent much time wondering what spirit category to group it into.
Most spirits we imbibe on a regular basis are pretty easy to label. Buffalo Trace is bourbon. Tito’s is vodka. Bacardi is rum. When you walk into a liquor store, it’s easy to find sections labeled single malt Scotch whisky, vodka, gin, etc. But what is Southern Comfort? You probably just assumed it was whiskey, but is it? It’s like the Dr. Pepper of the spirit world. Everyone knows the flavor, but what is it? The answer to that is a little more complicated than you think.
If you take a look at Southern Comfort’s back label, you’ll see that it’s listed as a mix of whiskey with fruits and spices. This is where things get tricky. Before Sazerac bought the brand in 2016 and started using real whiskey in the recipe, the spirit had been made with a base of neutral grain spirit for decades. Yes, just like vodka or gin.
Regardless of whether the base is whiskey or neutral grain, the spirit is irrelevant to the fact that Southern Comfort is, by definition, not a whiskey. It’s a liqueur. You can even call it a whiskey liqueur because of the whiskey base. But the addition of fruits, spices, and other ingredients after the fact eliminates it from being a true whiskey.
But when it comes to “flavored whiskeys” as opposed to whiskey liqueurs, the water is a little murky. We’ll just defer to the fact that the spirit was previously made with neutral grain spirit and agree that it’s a liqueur and not a flavored whiskey. This doesn’t change our enjoyment of it. It simply solves a bit of a mystery. One that we never really thought about previously. Even though we probably should have the first time we cracked open a bottle of Southern Comfort.
It doesn’t matter whether Southern Comfort is a whiskey or a whiskey liqueur. It still deserves a place on your home bar or bar cart. It’s a sweet, indulgent spirit that works just as well as a shot, an after-dinner sipper, or as the base to myriad cocktails. If you want to make your favorite whiskey drink but add a little extra sweetness, Southern Comfort is your spirit.
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