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Gillman
12-07-2006, 16:56
Intrigued by Chuck's information that contrary to the understanding of many bourbon aficionados Southern Comfort in fact contains bourbon (or some bourbon) I bought a bottle to try out the current version.

I don't know whether I am being suggestible but it really did seem different from what I recall from 5-10 years ago: drier, more elegant, less sweet, and yes, more whiskey-like. If it has been made with bourbon over this period it goes to show I guess how we can all be fooled by the power of suggestion (since I always considered it as a fruity vodka in the past), but I wonder if it has really changed, and recently.

In any case, I find it a very nice drink.

I added a dash of my own blended bourbon mixture to dry it down further and in this form one obtains an American Rusty Nail.

There is mileage in Southern Comfort yet and while I still prefer the export-only Reserve version (which advertises the use of 6 year old bourbon) the regular Southern Comfort is no slouch by any means and can easily be tweaked for those who find it too sweet or not whiskey-like enough.

Gary

Gillman
12-08-2006, 15:46
Continuing this soliliquy, :), I 'll add that in trolling the Internet there are an amazing number of interpretations of what is in Southern Comfort.

One site refers to it being "bourbon and peaches". Another speaks of it being a "bourbon liqueur" flavored with oranges and peaches.

Other sites mentions that the drink is based on grain neutral spirits but is flavored with "whiskey" (or variously bourbon) and various fruits of which peaches are usually mentioned.

Oddly, in light of Chuck mentioning earlier that apricots are part of the recipe, no one I've read online talks about apricots but that no doubt reflects simple ignorance. (Chuck used to work for B-F and apart from that his great whiskey knowledge merits respect).

Yet other sites refer to some of the ingredients mentioned above and (unspecified) "citrus".

In further sampling my bottle, I think it is incontestable that orange in some form is incorporated in this drink. I think I detect apricots and peaches too, well-melded to be sure. And (now that Chuck has pointed it out anyway) bourbon also seems evident, however to what degree seems uncertain.

I wonder what the "spices" are (even referred to in the official site, www.southerncomfort.com).

Anyway, this is an excellent drink, and as I said earlier, it seems less sweet and more whiskey-tasting than in the past.

I used it tonight 50/50 with a blend of bourbons to make the base for an excellent Manhattan.

Gary

OscarV
12-08-2006, 17:03
I have never had Southern Comfort, but I have always had a positive image of it.
Back in the good 'ole daze, I heard that Janis Joplin used to drink a bottle of it per day. So I figured it must be good stuff, man.

Gillman
12-08-2006, 17:19
I loved Janis Joplin. Watch her in Festival Express, a film released a few years ago chronicling a 1970 cross-Canada tour in which a number of Canadian and international bands appeared. She was great, and that is what we need to remember about her, not just the feathers, festooned liquor bottle or the attitude. Put simply, she had talent.

Gary

OscarV
12-08-2006, 17:27
100% agreed!

I was making light of my stupidity, (being an impressionable teen, and being impressed by heavy drinking), not Ms. Joplin's drinking habits.

I loved Janis. I had all her albums, not just "Cheap Thrills".
The one I liked the most was "Got Dem 'Ol Cozmic Blues Again Mama!"
The critics said it was to jazzy, but I thought it had a very funky soulfullness to it. I still love the song "Try" from that album.
"Pearl" was a little to commercial for me.

Gillman
12-08-2006, 17:31
Hey, I was a teen too, in her heyday, I understand fully what you mean.

She was cool, the peformances in Festival Express show how much.

But mostly she was real.

Gary

bluesbassdad
12-08-2006, 23:32
Her voice sounded like Joan Baez before she started drinking it. ;)

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield

Gillman
12-09-2006, 07:09
On my bottle (35% abv version) there is a statement, "T.W. Heron's Original New Orleans Recipe".

If bottles of about 5-10 years old did not state this claim, this would reinforce Chuck's understanding of bourbon being added sometime during the last 10 years.

Regardless of when this occurred, I think even people who don't normally drink Southern Comfort would have to admit it has an appealing nose. It is a very well-integrated fruity/whiskey-like smell dominated (to my taste anyway) by orange citrus with other fruits underneath.

It would surprise me if the original formulation was all-bourbon. It seems more likely it was a compound, blending bourbon, GNS, sugar, fruit flavourings and probably spices of some kind. Therefore the claim on the bottle rings true to my mind.

Anyway, since Southern Comfort now contains it seems approximately 20% bourbon, mixing it (for those inclined) with Old Forester or any good bourbon or rye would simply increase its whiskey character and decrease the sweetness. By doing a 50/50 or 50/75 blend of Comfort to the bourbon you come up with the base of an Old-Fashioned, basically and from there can go to one of a number of other cocktails or long drinks.

Gary

jburlowski
12-09-2006, 12:32
I occassionaly use Southern Comfort in lieu of sweet vermouth along with a good rye in a manhattan. It's a recipe I first sampled in Phoenix where they called it a "Wry Manhattan".

cowdery
12-10-2006, 01:51
I worked for one of Brown-Forman's marketing agencies in the early days of that company's ownership of Southern Comfort. Not only can I attest that in those days it contained no whiskey of any kind, but also that we used to laugh about the many wrong statements of what it really was. My favorite was Grossman, who said it was a mixture of bourbon and peach brandy. All I was told about the actual recipe is that is was GNS, sugar and a flavoring concentrate which contained several different fruits, but apricot was the predominate one.

I feel safe in saying that nothing about the recipe had changed by the time I stopped working on the brand, which was mid-1986. The change has been since then.

The new information I have, which comes from Chris Morris, is that it now contains about 20% bourbon and the flavoring concentrate is all natural flavors. I was in the room where it was being made and the bourbon scent, as distinct from the scent of GNS, was unmistakable.

I've certainly told many people that Southern Comfort doesn't contain whiskey and for at least some of the time I've been saying that, I've been wrong, for which I apologize.

bluesbassdad
12-10-2006, 15:39
Chuck,

With the constant change in the industry, if I were a whiskey writer, I'd want to date every page, or its electronic equivalent, I write -- lest years later an inaccuracy be attributed to me, whereas I was right originally.

While folks who know the industry might automatically check copyright dates, the newbies, the very folks most likely to rely on the written word, are less likely to do so.

Soon after joining this forum I was very surprised to learn that the taste of bottlings changes over time, sometimes due to a decision by the producer. Only then did I realize that certain books I had acquired could not be counted on for relevant reviews.

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield

Gillman
12-10-2006, 16:40
Just enjoyed Southern Comfort with a splash of 1970's-era Early Times. Absolutely great, as is the Comfort on its own.

I would encourage people to try the restored 1800's recipe of Southern Comfort, it is really good. If you find it too sweet, add a dash of any good bourbon.

Definitely a find for me in 2006.

Gary

Gillman
12-10-2006, 18:54
I still have a pint bottle (empty) of a 100 proof Southern Comfort purchased in Santa Rosa when I attended Jim's party in July.

The label makes no reference to the original recipe of Heron. It states merely that Southern Comfort is "a New Orleans original", which is not necessarily the same thing.

This leads me to think the restoration of the original recipe may be quite recent.

Gary

TNbourbon
12-10-2006, 19:23
I still have a pint bottle (empty) of a 100 proof Southern Comfort purchased in Santa Rosa when I attended Jim's party in July.

The label makes no reference to the original recipe of Heron. It states merely that Southern Comfort is "a New Orleans original", which is not necessarily the same thing...

Gary

Gary, I glanced at both the 70- and 100-proof versions while working at the liquor store Saturday, and noticed it on both bottles, but remember it being somehow different. Since I don't have the bottles in front of me, I can't recall what that difference is.
Check the neck and back labels, or perhaps the etching on the bottle itself, and see if you can't find a reference to Heron.

Gillman
12-11-2006, 06:08
Tim, the relevant statement on the 100 proof (a fairly modern bottling because it mentions the web site of the brand) is, "Enjoy this smooth New Orleans original straight, on the rocks or mixed". This is on a 100 ml. bottle but I would think the copy on the larger sizes is the same.

The current 35% ABV bottle (pint) states only, "M.W. Heron's Original New Orleans Recipe".

Maybe the statement on the 100 proof bottle is different simply because the 100 proof is a different expression but the words are meant to refer to the same thing (the revived recipe). However, let's assume the statement on the 100 proof also appeared on older bottles of the 70 proof. In that case, this suggests to me the recipe change was recent.

The natural quality of the fruit additions is quite evident in the revived recipe. It seems to provide a citric edge (plus a fresh fruit quality) the older recipe mentioned by Chuck (i.e., when a fruit concentrate was used) did not have.

Gary

TNbourbon
12-11-2006, 12:33
Gary, the bottles I was looking at were marked '05' and '06' on their bottoms (I don't remember which was which), and remember almost giving up looking for the 'Heron' name on one of them before finally discovering it.
I've got to get used to the fact I'm now carrying a phone with a camera on it -- if I remember, I'll snap a picture next time I see 'em, if only to jog my memory later.

barturtle
12-11-2006, 12:52
I just looked at both these today in the grocery, I didn't think to check the bottle dates, but considering the number they have on the shelf, I would guess they go through them quickly. Both carried the "enjoy this" statement on the back label, but only the 70proof had the "M.W. Herons" statement on the front. I'm not sure if this means anything, but that's what they say.

Gillman
12-11-2006, 13:20
Thanks to both. I suspect the 100 proof is older stock but am not sure.

If I was there, I'd buy both, reduce the 100 proof to 70 and then compare them.

Gary

JeffRenner
12-11-2006, 15:35
By doing a ... 50/75 blend of Comfort to the bourbon

I tried this but my mixing glass overflowed. :lol:

Jeff

Gillman
12-11-2006, 15:42
I meant of course, 75% bourbon, 25% SC.

Gary

cowdery
12-12-2006, 00:48
The web site (http://www.southerncomfort.com) has a fair amount of history on it. Here is a synopsis:

M. W. Heron was born in Ireland on July 4, 1850. His family immigrated to America, settling in St. Louis, Missouri. As a young man, he moved to New Orleans, where he worked as a bartender and rectifier.

In 1874, while working at McCauley’s Saloon on St. Peter Street, in order to make more palatable “the rough-tasting barrel whiskey coming down the Mississippi from Kentucky and Tennessee,” he created a recipe of peach, orange, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon. He called his new liqueur “Cuffs and Buttons,” a reference to a competitive product called “White Tie and Tales.”

In 1885, in anticipation of the New Orleans Cotton and Industrial Exposition, he re-launched his product with a new name and slogan: “Southern Comfort, the Grand Old Drink of the South.”

In 1889, Heron relocated upriver to Memphis, Tennessee, where he opened a bar on Beale Street. There he began to bottle Southern Comfort. It was expensive, at $2.50 a bottle.

In 1904, Heron moved back to St. Louis, in time for the World’s Fair.

In 1907, Grant Peoples joined the company and was named Heron’s successor and heir. Heron died in 1920. Peoples owned the rights to Southern Comfort but he couldn’t make or sell it, due to Prohibition. In 1934, with Prohibition repealed, Peoples sold Southern Comfort to the Fowler family of St. Louis, who produced it for the next 40+ years. They introduced the first recipe books for the product, which they delivered as magazine inserts.

In 1979, the brand was sold to Brown-Forman, which gradually relocated production and marketing to its headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

cowdery
12-12-2006, 00:52
Also on the web site (http://www.southerncomfort.com), the following:

This is the home of Southern Comfort®. Its unique flavor of whiskey, fruit and spices is rooted in the spirit of New Orleans. Best enjoyed with friends and any time you want to take an ordinary night and make it legendary.

cowdery
12-12-2006, 00:54
I haven't paid much attention to Southern Comfort since I worked on the brand 20 years ago. Here (and in the following posts) are some pages from the 1983 Christmas recipe book.

cowdery
12-12-2006, 00:55
Another page from 1983. We did as many pages of food recipes as we did of drink recipes. The brand positioning was very different then. The current positioning, I think, is better.

TNbourbon
12-14-2006, 20:01
Gary, the bottles I was looking at were marked '05' and '06' on their bottoms (I don't remember which was which), and remember almost giving up looking for the 'Heron' name on one of them before finally discovering it.
I've got to get used to the fact I'm now carrying a phone with a camera on it -- if I remember, I'll snap a picture next time I see 'em, if only to jog my memory later.

Well, remembered last night.
3498 3499 3500

On the left is the 70 proof lower label, which contains Heron's name; center, Heron relief on 100-proofer bottle; right, Heron's name on capsule (both bottles). T.W. Heron does not, however, appear on any label of the 100 proof.

Gillman
12-14-2006, 23:09
Thanks Tim. By the way when I said TW Heron initially I meant MW Heron, I found the "M" hard to read (the particular type style used). It seems clear that both bottles contain the same product. It would be interesting however to find a pre-restoration bottle and compare the older and current ones, the change must have occurred in the last 10 years or so based on what Chuck was saying.

Gary

TNbourbon
12-15-2006, 11:26
...By the way when I said TW Heron initially I meant MW Heron, I found the "M" hard to read...

Oops -- me, too!:grin:

cowdery
12-17-2006, 04:23
I think it's probably fanciful to refer to the current recipe as a "restoration" of M. W. Heron's recipe. More accurately, the recipe has evolved and this is its current incarnation. For one thing, the whole function of a rectifier was to "fix" poor whiskey and make it more palatable. My assumption is that what they're using in Southern Comfort today is at least Early Times and maybe even Old Forester. They're certainly not deliberately making bad whiskey so they can rectify it.

Gillman
12-17-2006, 06:49
The current label (35% ABV) states, "Original New Orleans Recipe". I interpret that to mean someone has the original recipe and reproduced it.

Gary

Gillman
12-17-2006, 07:09
In contemporary texts, recipes that sound similar to Southern Comfort call for spirits of some kind, sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, citrus peels, "orange-wine", "terra japonica" (?). F.X. Byrn noted that such "shrubs" could be made with rum, brandy, peach brandy, "whisky", "etc.". Some versions might use one or a combination of such spirits, possibly with grain neutral spirits (certainly available in the later 1800's).

I think the best of such spirits would use only whiskey, and clean spirit if at all such as GNS, but in any case, good whiskey.

Obviously I don't know if the current Southern Comfort is the same as the original drink. The current label suggests it is and I take it at face value.

I am well aware that advertising can have an elastic or relative meaning but in this case, based on what I know so far, I think the current Southern Comfort likely is very close to the original.

Gary

cowdery
12-19-2006, 00:31
I'm going to talk to someone at BF about this at my next opportunity. It certainly is close enough to the original to make the claim credible, would be my guess. In other words, it's as close as they can make it.

In 1874, there really was no such thing as GNS. It wasn't possible to make it, so if it was grain spirit it was technically whiskey, even if it wasn't exactly "straight bourbon" as we would know it today.

Gillman
12-19-2006, 01:06
I agree that the kind of grain neutral spirits known today, of approximately 96% alcohol by volume and very bland in taste, probably was not known at the time or was not at any rate in regular commerce. In Byrn's text, which I mentioned earlier, and also Fleischman's manual (1885), the term grain neutral spirits is not used and in using that term I was being a little loose.

There was however a clear distinction between whiskey and "spirits". Fleischman refers often to "spirits" as opposed to aged whiskey. It is not just aging that makes the difference since he points out spirits don't age other than taking some flavor from the wood. Most of Fleischman's whiskey compounds involve combinations of spirits and whiskey.

Byrn, for his part, refers numerous times to the desirability for certain purposes of making "pure, flavourless" spirit (e.g. to prepare cordials). He refers to certain techniques to do this including multiple distillation. He explains that rectification can mean rendering a spirit flavourless or covering over its "essential oils" (congeners) by flavourings or other (chemical) means.

From this I conclude, and I think we are in agreement here, that the spirits of the time used in commerce were rough and probably had some whiskey-like flavor. Maybe they were akin to the young British grain whisky distilled to a high proof but not rendered quite neutral.

The Southern Comfort compound may have been a flavored base spirit of this kind (the flavorings being fruits and others of the kind used for shrubs mentioned earlier and of course some aged bourbon).

Therefore, I would think the original Comfort was more congeneric than the one available today although perhaps they are quite close. I would think the one of today may, in pure taste terms, be better than the original and the best ever unless Comfort was at one time made based on 100% bourbon.

Gary

cowdery
12-19-2006, 21:39
I don't think there is any essential disagreement. Rectifiers in the pre-prohibition sense of the term used redistillation, filtering (through charcoal and bone dust), blending and flavoring to make whatever alcohol they had available more palatable. Today the term rectifier tends to mean "liqueur maker" and though most liqueurs use GNS as their alcohol base, some still have whiskey, brandy or other aged spirits as an ingredient.

Today, at least in the US, what we can call things is tightly regulated by the federal government's Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits. This was not the case 100 years ago, so it can be hard to know what the same terms meant to people then.

A couple of other thoughts. I think what BF has done in putting some whiskey into Southern Comfort is allow them to talk about it as a "whiskey liqueur," which probably helps them persuade retailers to put it in the whiskey section, rather than in the liqueur section, which is what they want. (Positioning it as a "whiskey substitute" has long been and still is a basic part of the brand's marketing strategy.)

Although this is just an opinion, there is a consensus among many of us who look into these things that what Heron was trying to do was make Kentucky whiskey taste more like Cognac. We believe that because we do know that, in New Orleans at that time, Cognac was considered the king of all distilled spirits. We further think that's one of the reasons the name "bourbon" caught on, because it supported an association between Kentucky corn whiskey and that French brandy.

Gillman
12-20-2006, 01:54
I have a friend who has some 10 year old Southern Comfort which does not have the Heron statement on it.

While this does not mean that the formulation is different than the current, Heron-identified product, I plan a taste test to see if the bourbon component and fresh fruit elements of the original recipe can be distinguished from the older version.

By the way I'll put up soon one of the old shrub recipes, which call (Byrn's does) indifferently for any spirit.

The cognac connection does make sense. E.g. Byrn refers to cognac as the standard for an aged, dark-colored drink and offers numerous ways to emulate the taste. He suggests additions of burned wheat and caramel for this purpose. He says if American distillations are properly "managed" the result will be very close to French brandy and even spirit made from cider and "crabs" (crab apples) can work for this purpose.

He never uses the term bourbon though and only infrequently refers to whiskey made from Indian corn. However, the book was Euro-centric and also, he worked in Philadelphia which in the 1860's-70's seems not to have been a market for the emerging aged bourbon (but rather rye whiskey, seemingly not long aged, malt whisky, brandy, cordials and almost everything else).

Gary