Venerable liqueur distills Southern roots, embraces tasty history
In a New Orleans bar in 1874, amidst a shortage of quality whiskey, bartender M.W. Heron created one of the South’s most unique liqueurs: Southern Comfort.
A first generation Irish immigrant, Martin Wilkes Heron and other bartenders often struggled to obtain good whiskey. The main problem they faced was that during shipping from Memphis down the Mississippi River, the whiskey barrels often were in pretty rough shape.
With a lack of quality product and a firm belief that whiskey should be enjoyed, Heron mixed neutral liquor with various fruits, spices and whiskey flavor to create a sweet, and more importantly, smooth concoction. The result this experimentation he named “Cuffs and Buttons”. The drink gained notoriety around New Orleans and so Heron decided to move to Memphis in 1899 to bottle and sell the liqueur. He renamed it “Southern Comfort”, and an American tradition was born.
From the very beginning Southern Comfort was heralded as a triumph of American mixology. In the early 1900’s the drink won gold medals at the World’s Fair. Through the years, drinkers everywhere, including Janis Joplin—who often brought a bottle onstage with her—fell in love with its smooth taste and unique flavor profile.
Today, Southern Comfort, or SoCo as it is known to its aficionados, is sold in bars across the country. A recent nonsensical advertising campaign, reminiscent of something one might see on late night Japanese television, has brought the liqueur to cultural prominence once again. But despite this modern, but ultimately disappointing, marketing attempt, tradition has been a cornerstone of the brand. The liqueur has expanded to include several variations on the original recipe, including Cherry Comfort, but the original is still considered to be the masterpiece it was in 1874.
Southern Comfort is known for its sweet taste and versatile mixing possibilities. With its complex flavoring, SoCo is almost a cocktail by itself. Whether you are looking to drink it straight or mix one of several signature cocktails, SoCo is one of the best choices you can make. Armed with only a pint of SoCo and a liter of Dr. Pepper, anyone can create a story worth telling for years to come.
In my experience there is scarcely a story worth telling that doesn’t begin with SoCo. It has led to several scars, an interesting hiking adventure with a dominatrix, and several impromptu concerts for strangers. It was my first taste of alcohol and a rather naïve thought that, “If all alcohol tastes this good, I don’t know why you would mix it with anything.”
Despite my love for this catalyst of debauchery and spontaneity, it wouldn’t be a profile of SoCo without mentioning its critics. There is no better way to spark a barstool debate, with the exception of mentioning politics, than ordering a shot of SoCo. In my relatively short stint as a barfly, I’ve seen these critics’ fervent hatred for the drink know no bounds. And despite the several empty glasses that usually sit in front of them, they—without fail—will articulate a nearly flawless argument against the drink.
These are the people who think that you’re just not drinking real alcohol if you don’t feel like you’re pouring battery acid down your throat. They call it a drink for the weak, those who fear anything that may put a little hair on their chest.
While I agree that it is the ideal drink for someone who doesn’t frequent the liquor store or bars, I still believe that just because you can drink something that burns like hell going down and fights your stomach to the point that you’d swear you swallowed two cats in heat, doesn’t mean you should.
Sometimes a man just wants to enjoy his drink and there is nothing better suited for that, in my opinion, than a glass of Southern Comfort.
Southern Comfort and Dr. Pepper
- 2oz. of Dr. Pepper
- 1oz. of Southern Comfort
- 3 ice cubes
Add ice to a chilled tumbler, pour in Southern Comfort, then add soda and stir. Add lime wedge for garnish if preferred.
This drink can be made in any size as long as you remember the ratio of SoCo to to soda is 2:1. Also try it with Ginger Ale, or good old-fashioned orange juice.