When we last explored Southern Comfort way back in the mid-2010s, it had traveled an uncomfortable distance from the iconic liqueur popularized by Janice Joplin. Under the ownership of Brown-Forman, SoCo had become a vehicle for several heavily flavored aberrations, including Lime, Gingerbread Spice, and Black Cherry. That a version flavored with Tobasco was actually our favorite of the lineup pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the quality of these former SoCo incarnations.
In 2016, Sazerac acquired the brand and quickly did away with the flavored offerings. More importantly, they reformulated the recipe to more closely reflect the original from 1874, replacing neutral spirit with actual whiskey. While the marketing around this one stresses the newfound whiskey-ness of this modern SoCo, it is still technically a spirit whiskey, meaning at least some neutral spirit remains in the mix. As for how the newest version of this liqueur achieves its “touch of stone fruit and spices,” your guess is as good as mine. Let’s just be grateful it’s no longer essentially flavored vodka. The modern SoCo lineup now includes Janice’s go-to Southern Comfort Original (bottled at 70 proof), Southern Comfort 100 (bottled at 100 proof), and this middle child, Southern Comfort Black (formerly Southern Comfort 80, 80 proof). Sazerac sent us a sample for review, but I’ll be honest, folks; in order to fairly judge this one, I’m going to have to repress a lot of unfortunate college memories. Here goes.
The nose is less “college” than I remember, so that’s an encouraging start. The sweetness is still the most obvious component of the aroma with lots of candy-inspired notes: cinnamon jellybeans, bubble gum, and cocktail cherries, among others. There’s less stone fruit than the original, replaced by something closer to limeade. For all that sweet fruit on the nose, the palate shows genuine restraint with more bourbon-styled flavors of caramel, cinnamon, and brown sugar balancing out the cherry juice and candied lime peel and making for an experience nowhere near as suffocatingly syrupy as the SoCo of yesteryear. The finish even sees a bit of woody spice that gives a fleeting impression of something approaching bourbon. While the old Southern Comfort was a questionable shooter at best, Southern Comfort Black is something I would happily play with in a cocktail and maybe, just maybe, sip neat.