“I can’t believe you have Southern Comfort,” said the dark haired young man wearing a stocking cap and doing his best unshaven Colin Farrell imitation.
“Yeah,” said his female companion who appeared to share his meticulously created unkempt look. Sometimes it can take a lot of extra effort to look like you have spent very little time on your appearance.
“I wouldn’t think a place like this would carry something like that,” he said after acknowledging her support.
“Really,” I said, scanning the back bar for all the odd confections that we do carry-everything from raspberry schnapps to passion fruit cognac and wondered why Southern Comfort seemed odd.
“I didn’t think you carried malt liquor,” he added.
I stopped for a second and wondered if I had missed something.
“What do you mean?” I asked cautiously.
“Well, a lot of people think Southern Comfort is whiskey or whiskey-based, but it’s not. It’s a malt liquor,” he said pushing back his stocking cap.
“Are you asking me that? Or, telling me that?” I said, proceeding even more cautiously.
“I’m telling you,” said Mr. Farrell-lite.
I looked at him and his date, guessing that this was their third or fourth date, based partly on the fact that they had been discussing previous sexual partners before the Southern Comfort thing.
“I have not heard that,” I said finally.
“Really?” he said. “I thought everybody knew that.”
“What I have heard…” I said pausing for my own visible support, and upon receiving it in the form of a barely noticeable head nod, continued, “…is that Southern Comfort was invented by Bourbon Street bartender Martin Wilkes Heron in the late 1800’s. Dissatisfied with some of the available whiskey Heron flavored up his with vanilla bean, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, cherries, honey and orange, creating what would be known today as an ‘infusion’. Originally called Cuff and Buttons, Heron took his invention with him when he moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1889, patented it there, renamed it, and began bottling it for sale. Over the years the recipe has changed, adding a peachy element, to the point where Brown-Forman, Southern Comfort’s parent company now refers to it as ‘a distinct blend of whiskey, fruit and spice flavors’ conspicuously leaving out the fact that it is now made from a neutral spirit base.”
The couple both looked at me.
What I didn’t say, was that Southern Comfort is definitely not a malt liquor. Malt liquor refers to a strong beer or other fermented products made from malted barley. In the restaurant business, the saying “the customer is always right” can sometimes lead to problems. Because, what if they are not?
I have found the best way to deal with situations like this is to stay away from directly contradicting what they say. By stating what you know, as opposed to refuting their point, you can still have an interesting conversation. And I often start them by saying, “I have not heard that” followed by either “What I have heard is…” or “Please tell me more…” That way I either learn something that I might not have known before and/or teach someone else something that they might not have known.
The slacker twosome eventually resumed their discussion of more pressing issues, and I left them for another couple further down the bar.
“Do you have any aperitif wines?” asked the masculine half of the new duo.
“Like vermouth?” I asked.
“Aperitif wines are sweet wines,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “I have not heard that.”
Here are some things that I have heard.
- Southern Comfort was Janis Joplin’s favorite drink, which she often enjoyed in abundance at the Trident restaurant in Sausalito (now Horizons).
- Embarrassing someone on a date never ends well, especially if they are in third date territory.
- Southern Comfort actually won the gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
- Heron’s original Southern Comfort recipe would technically be a “rectification” which is illegal in California.
- Southern Comfort also produces a real bourbon based product called Southern Comfort Special Reserve, which ironically, can only be found in this country in duty-free shops.
- If someone is asking you something you should answer them. If they are telling you, then it is often better to just listen.