Have you ever noticed that when you meet a Yankee who obviously has little to no knowledge about the South, he’ll try to ingratiate himself with you by mentioning some things he loves or knows about the South? Generally these things tend to be our weather, our accents, noteworthy Southern bands, a sports team or two, and a particular Southern alcoholic beverage that makes most normal folks’ stomachs turn.
A few examples:
“I’ve never been South of Baltimore, but I love your climate.”
“When I hear a pretty Southern girl speak, that accent turns my knees to rubber and I just want to melt.”
“Man, you gotta respect ‘Bama, but I think Clemson might be able to take them this year.”
“If you’re talking old school Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd was definitely tops—The Allman Brothers were good, but, man, nothing beats “Freebird.”
“Can you guys still get moonshine? I’d like to try it sometime. I mean, I love Southern Comfort….”
Gag! Pretty much all around.
While some of the other various ingratiating comments I’ve heard over the years also tend to make me want to gag, any purported love for Southern Comfort always makes me want to seek out more interesting company.
I haven’t tried Southern Comfort since my wayward youth, and the lingering memories of the few times I sampled it will undoubtedly continue to keep me away from it. While it never resulted in an abrupt appointment with the porcelain altar, that horrid taste is stored somewhere in the frontal lobe alongside that of spoiled milk and the smell of old-dog farts.
OK, so perhaps I’m being a bit harsh (on Southern Comfort, not Yankees), because apparently some folks enjoy Southern Comfort, given that it’s been around since 1874. However, in every informal poll I’ve conducted nine out of ten people tend to agree with my assessment, and, like me, have not sampled the spirit since their own equally wayward youth.
Nevertheless, Southern Comfort has somehow managed to maintain itself as a prominent brand for almost 150 years, and recently sold to the privately held Sazerac Company, located in Louisiana. This also happens to be the birthplace of Southern Comfort, though the founder moved his operation to Memphis in 1889. All this to say that Southern Comfort is truly a product of the South, though who it provides “comfort” to is a good question for debate.
According to company legend, Martin Wilkes Heron developed Southern Comfort because the Kentucky whiskey that made its way down the Mississippi River had often degraded by the time it reached New Orleans. Thus, Heron started experimenting with various recipes designed to bring flavor back into the compromised Bourbon.
Well, Heron must have been quite the wizard, because by 1889 he was receiving the equivalent of $60 per bottle for his concoction. And, surprise, Heron took Southern Comfort to the 1900 Paris World Exposition where it won a gold medal for fine taste and quality, and then won the same medal again at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
Folks sure were hard up for decent alcohol back in those days….
Don’t know what happened to Southern Comfort during Prohibition, but Heron’s assistant and inheritor of the business, Grant M. Peoples, was set to go when Prohibition ended, and quickly got the product back on the market. In fact, in what was apparently some brilliant marketing, Peoples created the Scarlett O’Hara cocktail to coincide with the 1939 release of “Gone with the Wind.” The cocktail—consisting of Southern Comfort, cranberry juice and lime, with perhaps a bit of peach and sometimes grenadine instead of cranberry—proved popular and kept Southern Comfort on the market.
While the Scarlett O’Hara pretty much went the way of its namesake into retirement, bartenders still receive an order for the cocktail on occasion, and other concoctions, such as the Alabama Slammer, have emerged to keep Southern Comfort relevant.
Overall, I think the fact that it is Southern product, and that its name and marketing efforts evoke the gentile Southern mystique, help the brand maintain its allure. Cause it’s certainly not the taste.
I’d also be willing to bet that Southern Comfort marketing has long targeted those from up north who just wish they could enjoy the much more refined living of the Southern states. I would guess that sales of Southern Comfort predominate from the north, and that the majority of those claiming to love Southern Comfort reside up there, where folks just don’t know any better.
Didn’t P.T. Barnum say that “there’s a sucker born every minute….” and most of them live up north?
Anyway, now that I have thoroughly disparaged this drink that purportedly honors the South, I’ll throw a bone to those few of you who actually enjoy Southern Comfort.
Herein then, I present you with the Southern Hurricane:
1.5 oz Southern Comfort
1.5 oz Sweet and Sour Mix
1.5 oz Orange Juice
1.5 oz Pineapple Juice
splash of Grenadine
Stir all together in an ice filled glass, garnish with an orange wedge and cherry, hold your nose and drink.
Originally published by The Southern Drinking Club