Skip to main content

Fun fact: Southern Comfort is not actually whiskey

It has whiskey, but that doesn't make it whiskey

Southern Comfort
Southern Comfort

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.

Southern Comfort
Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort is not a whiskey, or is it?

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.

Southern Comfort
Southern Comfort

A bar cart staple

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.

Christopher Osburn
Christopher Osburn is a food and drinks writer located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. He's been writing professional
6 essential Scotch cocktails that you need to know
If Scotch is your thing, then you need to put these on your home bar list
Rusty Nail cocktail

Scotch whisky isn't called the water of life for nothing -- it's a divine spirit that works on so many levels. It brightens the days of the sad, and it calms the nerve-wracked masses. It's always there for you. You can drink it neat, on the rocks, or with a few drops of water — however you choose, it's a wonderful liquor.

We will admit that there are times when we want to enjoy Scotch whisky in a cocktail. We're not saying use that bottle of Macallan 50 Years Old to mix up a drink, but if you've got a nice mid-shelf whisky, you can occasionally step outside your comfort zone and mix up a Scotch whisky cocktail to drink any time of the day.

Read more
The rich history of tequila: Paying homage to nature and culture
Painting depicting the history of the tequila making process in the historic town of tequila in Jalisco State Mexico

Tequila has been growing in popularity since the early 2000s, and it seems there's no sign of it slowing down. After all, tequila is among the most widely consumed liquors on the planet. But what is it exactly?

Tequila is a fermented drink made only from the blue agave plant. It is similar to pulque, the precursor to tequila and mezcal. Pulque is also made from the agave plant and has a milky white viscous appearance. Another agave plant product is mezcal but its production involves dozens of varieties of agave plants.

Read more
A brief history of the whiskey sour cocktail (and how to make different versions)
Learn to make all these recipes of this historical drink
George Dickel Whiskey Sour

What is a whisky sour? The whiskey sour cocktail officially dates back to the 1860s, but sailors in the British Navy had been drinking something very similar long before that. On long sea journeys, water was not always dependable, so to combat that, spirits were often used. Scurvy, too, was another danger on these journeys, so lemons and limes were consumed to help prevent the disease (incidentally, this is also one of the reasons why British folk are called ‘Limeys’).

Finally, sugar and water were added for taste. At this point, the drink is probably starting to sound familiar. (Grog, the rum-based favorite of pirates across the seven seas, is made from the same components, substituting whiskey for the sugarcane-based spirit.)

Read more