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How the Alabama Slammer Happened

Why does this nonsensical combination of Southern Comfort, sloe gin, amaretto and orange juice exist? Sarah Baird on the Alabama Slammer's place in drink lore.

For the uninitiated, an Alabama Slammer might sound more like a pro wrestler from Birmingham, or a new dance craze à la The Dougie or The Cupid Shuffle. But no.

Typically comprised of Southern Comfort, sloe gin, amaretto and orange juice, the Alabama Slammer is a sunset-colored rallying cry of a cocktail. It is adolescent liquor cabinet raid turned recipe.

“The Alabama Slammer is like a day on the beach in Alabama: sunburnt, hazy… and underwhelming,” said Reeves Jordan, a University of Alabama-Huntsville graduate.

Born in the cocktail dark ages of the 1970s in or around the University of Alabama, the Alabama Slammer quickly became a hit with the collegiate crowd as a drink purchased, or whipped up, by the shot or pitcher.

“The Alabama Slammer isn’t just for game day… we ‘Roll Tide’ 365 [days a week] around here,” says Mason Dyess of Harry’s Bar in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which claims to be the birthplace of the drink, though its known timeline suggests otherwise.

The cocktail made its national debut in the 1971 edition of the Playboy Bartender’s Guide (a year before Harry’s opened), which described a combination of Southern Comfort, amaretto, sloe gin and lemon juice. The next book bump—inclusion in the 1984 Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide—seconded lemon instead of orange juice as the go-to citrus. Soon, though, lemon juice largely faded away in favor of orange, either for a less acidic kick and (perhaps more likely) sheer ease of shot-making or mixing giant batches.

But it wasn’t until gaining a mention in Tom Cruise’s triumphant “last barman poet” speech in the 1988 film Cocktail that the drink took off, finding enough mainstream traction that it stayed put as a TGI Friday’s “pitcher cocktail” for years. (If you want to make your own at home in bulk, there’s a stellar Southern Comfort and America’s Most Wanted pitcher just waiting to be purchased on eBay.)

The Alabama Slammer has also seen a good deal of low-key, at home tinkering (subbing out rye for Southern Comfort, swapping citrus) and a couple of revisions within the Mr. Boston guide. Bartender Dale DeGroff even (somewhat reluctantly) included a variation on the cocktail in his 2002 book, The Craft of the Cocktail. In his version, he includes vodka, drops the amaretto and calls for it to be broken up into shots. (Mercifully, the Alabama Slammer is still typically served in shot form today.)

“[The] Alabama Slammer is in the book simply because when I was a waiter and a fledgling bartender in the 1970s, people ordered it,” says DeGroff. “I chose the vodka [version] because it was drier and better.”

Part of what’s endearing about the Alabama Slammer is that it truly belongs to an era. Despite the trickle of 1970s and ’80s era reboots (looking at you, Harvey Wallbanger) appearing in cocktail bars, the Alabama Slammer remains relegated to joints with names like Duffy’s Tavern, Good Time Charley’s and—yes—the Alabama Slammer Sports Bar.

And that’s OK. Like the joy of a Miller High Life or a shot of Mellow Corn, sometimes a party drink should stay a party drink.

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