Southern Comfort RTDs a very nice mouthful

William M. Dowd photo

In the world of ready-to-drink cocktails, known in the trade as RTDs, what once was a largely unpalatable option is becoming a viable one.

For decades, Holland House was the market leader with its various pre-mixed manhattans, whiskey sours and the like. I found them of the same caliber as “cooking wines,” those hideous concoctions laden with excess salt and aimed at consumers who didn’t know anything about cooking with wines and spirits. Or, in the case of the cocktails, people who didn’t know what quality drinks were supposed to taste like.

However, that is changing. Stirrings, for example, with its varied portfolio of mixes that can be enjoyed over ice as-is or with a spirit added, is perhaps the best of the non-alcoholic bunch.

Now, the long-popular Southern Comfort brand has come up with a pair of RTD offerings, 15% alcohol by volume (abv) or 30 proof.

Whoever came up with the Southern Comfort's Sweet Tea Cocktail and Hurricane Cocktail flavors is to be commended from both marketing and flavor profile standpoints.

Southern Comfort (I refuse to bend to that silly "SoCo" nickname its ad agency has given it in recent years in an effort to be attractive to the young bar crowd) has immediate name recognition as, indeed, an iconic Southern U.S. liqueur.

It's been around since the late 19th Century when it was developed by Martin Wilkes Heron, an Irish immigrant who became a bartender and "rectifier" in New Orleans.

In those days, a rectifier was someone who modified the rough-edged spirits with a variety of ingredients to make them more palatable.

Heron whipped up his own recipe utilizing cinnamon, peach, vanilla and sugar to create a liqueur he called "Cuffs and Buttons," a takeoff on the "White Tie & Tails" liqueur a competitor made.

In 1898, Heron changed the name to the more sedate Southern Comfort in an effort to appeal to the crowd coming to the Big Easy for the New Orleans Cotton and Industrial Exposition, a huge event of the time. He eventually began bottling Southern Comfort, and it made its way to the top of the sophisticates' list of choices, eventually winning a gold medal at the Paris World Exposition in 1907.

Heron died four months after the start of Prohibition -- some might say that was cause-and-effect -- and willed the secret recipe for Southern Comfort to Grant Peoples, his protegé. Peoples sold it to the Fowler family of St. Louis after Prohibtion was repealed. In 1979, the brand was purchased by industry giant Brown-Forman of Louisville, KY. Through all this turmoil, Heron's original recipe, which the company says is known to fewer than 10 people, was adhered to.

But, all that is history. What about today?

Southern Comfort probably has gotten all the advertising mileage it can with its "SoCo and lime" push. The Sweet Tea Cocktail and Hurricane Cocktail, both laden with "southern-ness," was a natural next step.

Sweet tea, a Southern drink of great popularity, has made its way into the spirits world in the past few years, spurred along perhaps most by the instant popularity of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka from South Carolina and Burnett's Sweet Tea Vodka from Heaven Hill Distilleries.

The Hurricane Cocktail is a New Orleans staple, purportedly invented at Pat O'Brien's bar in the French Quarter. It should hit the palate of people who like a fruity taste to their light cocktails. The original contained both light and dark rums plus juices from oranges, limes and passion fruit.

Each carries a suggested retail price of $19.99 for the 1.75-liter bottle, the only size being marketed.

[Go here for my "Tasting Notes" report on both new cocktails.]

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