It's hard to remember now, but in the 70s and 80s, whiskey was the outdated old man drink, the sort of thing squares and hillbillies drank. It started to come back a little in the 90s with the single-malt Scotch trend, but it wasn't really until the 2000s that American whiskeys became fashionable again. It's only in this decade that rye has come into its own; it hadn't really been a major factor in the industry since before Prohibition.
Which is something of a long-winded introduction to the fact that Southern Comfort is returning whiskey as an ingredient to its liqueur, instead of "grain neutral spirit." The New York Times covers this marketing update as though it's an interesting development in the product.
First off, the definition of whiskey is flexible enough that there's precious little difference between the two. It's not "straight bourbon" they're adding to the mix – it's just unaged white dog whiskey, grain spirits that are only slightly less purified than what they'd been using before. The new SoCo will be essentially the same product, but with whiskey-soaked brand appeal.
Not only is this just a brand update, it's actually way behind the trend. Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, following a 2007 rebranding that moved it out of the lineup of Dr. McGillicuddy's schnapps, has completely supplanted Southern Comfort as the leader in the "underage binge-drinking vomit instigator" product category. They're playing catch-up a decade late with this product.
The Times article is by Robert Simonson, filling in for Eric Asimov's usual wine column this week. That may explain why it's such a low-effort regurgitation of a press release. It's basically written by the only person quoted – Kevin Richards, Senior Marketing Director for Southern Comfort. Did Simonson talk to a bartender anywhere? Did he taste both versions of the liqueur? No. This is lazy, lazy writing.
That doesn't exactly matter for something as trivial as a beverage marketed primarily at undergraduates.
But if I can't trust the Times to do a decent job reporting on a trivial subject I happen to know about, how do I know they're doing a good job on important things?
They've certainly been dropping the ball in the opinion section. They published two op-eds by people from one of those bogus "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" without disclosing that they are, in fact, paid employees of an operation that tricks women into thinking they're getting healthcare when they're actually getting some prayers and condescension. I mean, the fact that Ross Douthat still has a job is appalling.