The Reason Southern Comfort Is Not A True Whiskey

Southern Comfort is an American staple responsible for various and sundry long nights and even longer mornings. It's got a sweet kick and a little spice, perfect as a shooter for anyone who doesn't enjoy the bite of traditional whiskeys. But, Southern Comfort is also something of a chameleon, slipping onto the whiskey shelves of liquor stores nationwide with very few of us the wiser. You see, Southern Comfort is no whiskey.

You can't blame the good people for not knowing — the Southern Comfort marketing team has leaned hard into its fake identity. The back of the bottle describes the origins of Southern Comfort as a mix of whiskey with fruits and spices. While that may be true, it's a bit misleading. The whole situation was even further complicated in 2016, when Sazerac purchased Southern Comfort from its previous owner, Brown-Forman.

Sazerac announced that Southern Comfort would once again be made using real whiskey starting in 2017. It turns out, the previous company had been using a neutral grain spirit (similar to vodka) as the base for decades. You may be wondering: Now that whiskey is once again the base spirit, is Southern Comfort whiskey? As a matter of fact, no, it's not — it's a liqueur.

When a whiskey stops being whiskey

The demarcation of territory within the world of alcohol isn't as clear as it could be, but it's not altogether arbitrary. A liqueur takes a base spirit and flavors it with spices and sweeteners. The base spirit can be vodka, whiskey, a neutral grain spirit, rum, the list goes on. The actual ingredient list of Southern Comfort is a trade secret, but we know the base spirit is whiskey because Sazerac announced it. From there, sugar is added alongside a fruit concentrate that gives Southern Comfort its signature apricot flavor profile.

So, even though Southern Comfort includes whiskey as an ingredient, it's technically a liqueur with a whiskey base. For most people who drink Southern Comfort, this won't make much of a difference. Flavored whiskey, spirit whiskey, whiskey liqueur, whatever you want to call it, most people recognize that it's not a traditional bourbon or rye.

If we wanted to dig into the semantics, the moment a whiskey becomes something else does get confusing. After all, scotch is flavored with peat. The peat isn't added to the drink itself, only smoked and wafted over the barley, but the difference isn't enormous. Maybe we can think of it this way: a premixed Jack and Coke in a can is clearly not whiskey, even if whiskey is inside. If we think of Southern Comfort as having more in common with a premixed cocktail and less in common with a single-barrel bourbon, we're on the right track.