In a way, Lake Charles has grown up with its sister city, Sioux City, Iowa. In fact, 2014 marks the friendship’s 20-year anniversary. A chance meeting during Mardi Gras season between Blane Bourgeois, a Lake Charles resident, and Mike Duncan, a Sioux City resident, started everything. They ate, they laughed, they played golf and they traded some southern hospitality for some northern charm.
A formal “twinning” ceremony held at the Lake Charles Civic Center quickly followed, hosted by former Lake Charles Mayor Willie Mount and Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott. Since then, we’ve shown Sioux City how purple, green and gold plastic beads can be great fashion accessories during a certain time of year. They taught us about the pioneer spirit hidden away in America’s heartland. Ten years into the relationship, Sioux City helped in the recovery efforts following Hurricane Rita. Six years after that, we retuned the favor by being helping Sioux City in the wake of the 2011 Missouri River flood.
Bourgeois, president of Krewe de Charlie Sioux, has been in the middle of this friendship since the very beginning. A recent trip to Sioux City with The Twelfth Night Revelers only made Bourgeois see how the relationship continues to grow.
“This year was a landmark celebration. It really was,” Bourgeois said. “We have two other sister cities but can anybody name them? Those other two are just formalities. We actually have a relationship with Sioux City. It’s a unique thing and I don’t know of any other city that has that type of working relationship.”
The Mardi Gras Gala Bourgeois’ group hosts in Sioux City usually draws around 1,500 people. The Saturday in the Park festival draws around 25,000 people. Bourgeois is quick to mention how much Sioux City can feel like Lake Charles in certain ways. Forget about the thousand or so miles separating the two places, Bourgeois said the feeling is somehow there.
The feeling could be due to the casinos. Sioux City has a growing gaming industry including a Hard Rock Casino and Hotel. Lake Charles is welcoming a Golden Nugget Casino and Resort. The feeling could also be due to the similarities in industry. Sioux City has petrochemical plants offering employment opportunities for workers across the state. Lake Charles is expecting to benefit from billions of dollars generated by petrochemical companies planning to do business in the area. The similarities only grow from there.
“This place takes you straight into heartland USA. It’s just like the city you live. You meet genuine people there,” Bourgeois said. “Plus, the trip gives you a better perspective on the country. And to think it all started with a game of golf.”
One of the hidden gems buried in the trip was the mass unveiling of Bayou Rum to Sioux City residents. Trey Litel, President of Louisiana Spirits, said some of the sister city residents actually toured the distillery in Lacassine during the recent Mardi Gras season. From there, he said the goal was to get it to the other Sioux City natives that didn’t make the trip.
“They loved the taste. They were excited about it,” Litel said. “When they were here, they were able to tour the distillery and sample it. They were just excited about it.”
The Silver Bayou Rum is handcrafted and includes 100 percent natural Louisiana cane sugar and molasses. The Spiced Bayou Rum is also handcrafted and then blended with delicious natural Louisiana ingredients and spices. The unique rums won 42 awards tasting competitions in 2014 including a “Best in Class” at the 2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and a “Best of Category” at the 2014 American Distilling Institute Annual Awards.
Considering how Iowa is an alcoholic beverage control state, the process to get the rum into Sioux City had its fair share of bumps in the road, Litel said. Eventually, Louisiana Spirits obtained a license to sell in Iowa and eight cases were shipped for Sioux City’s July 4th event. While Bayou Rum continues to elbow its way through a sea of popular Caribbean rums, Litel said expanding is all part of the plan.
“Iowa people are fired up about it. This could be our entry into the state,” Litel said. “We built a distillery big enough to supply all 50 states. Most rums comes from the Caribbean, but we want to be the American rum people want. Iowa has helped with this. They’ve been wonderful.”