The Southern Comfort that’s available today is likely better than what you remember throwing back in college—the whiskey-based liqueur was made with a neutral grain spirit for decades, but that changed when New Orleans’ Sazerac Company bought the brand, returning it to its Crescent City roots and restoring whiskey as the base spirit. The liqueur works well in a variety of cocktails, but major whiskey fans might find it too fruity and syrupy.
Classification liqueur combined with whiskey
Company Sazerac Company
Distillery unknown distillery in New Orleans
Still Type various
Proof 70 (35% ABV)
Aged no age statement
Easy to use with other spirits and modifiers to create riffs on classics
The fruity aromatics teeter on overripe territory, likely deterring the serious whiskey drinker.
Origins of the whiskey used are unknown.
A slight cough-medicine taste to the finish
Color: Medium amber-gold hue
Nose: Candied and dried peach, cinnamon, and star anise
Palate: The vanilla-bean flavor is pleasant and strong straight away on the palate. The whiskey component tastes young, as one might expect in a mass-produced, whiskey-based liqueur, but it adds a freshness to the flavor profile, which is made more interesting by zippy spice notes of star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black cracked pepper.
Finish: The peach and maraschino cherry hard candy finish is laced in spice, but it turns concentrated, almost like cold medicine. The alcohol, too, makes its presence known with a little bit of burn and numbing on the finish.
If you went to a party around the age of 21, it’s likely you were offered a shot of Southern Comfort—or SoCo, as it’s commonly called—and it’s just as likely you had an awful hangover by the time the sun rose. We all lose our way at some point when figuring out the best way to enjoy ourselves without going overboard, and SoCo, too, lost its way at some point during its storied history.
That history began in 1874, when New Orleans-based Irish-American bartender Martin Wilkes Heron started selling bottled bourbon flavored with honey, citrus, and spices at McCauley’s Tavern in the French Quarter to mask the cheap quality of the whiskey. In 1889, he moved to Memphis and patented his cordial-like concoction under the name “W.H. Heron’s Famous Southern Comfort'' with the tagline “None genuine but mine.” The rest would have been history, but at some point after Prohibition, a neutral grain spirit was swapped in for the whiskey, cheapening the product.
When New Orleans-based Sazerac Company bought Southern Comfort from Brown-Forman Corporation in 2016, it brought back real whiskey as the base spirit, and you can indeed taste the difference. The liqueur is still fruity and spicy and, sure, likely still in college students’ shot rotations, but the backbone here is unequivocally better—and, certainly, truer to the original intentions of Heron.
Before it was Southern Comfort, Heron’s concoction was called Cuffs & Buttons. In “The Bourbon Bartender,” New York City bartenders Jane Danger and Alla Lapushchik posit that it was so named because the citrus swaths in the cocktail resembled cuffs and the cloves looked like buttons.