The phrase ‘southern hospitality’ is a well-known one in the United States, synonymous with feelings of warmth and welcome alongside classic good home cooked food.
On the Mississippi River in Louisiana is one city that certainly lives the meaning of southern hospitality, and that’s New Orleans. Nicknamed ‘The Big Easy,’ the city has influenced the hospitality industry around the world.
New Orleans’ cocktail culture is internationally revered, for example being the origin of the rum based Hurricane cocktail, and carries a rich history of tradition into its bars today.
The city is also the home town for whiskey liqueur brand Southern Comfort, where it was first created by M.W. Heron in 1874. Southern Comfort, like its birthplace, celebrate their long history and connection to the south and to cocktail culture, and say there’s a connection between southern USA and Australia.
To showcase and build the relationship between Australia and The Big Easy, Southern Comfort brought eight of the most creative and influential people from the New Orleans hospitality industry to Melbourne earlier this month.
Emma Fogarty, Senior Brand Manager at South Trade International who distribute Southern Comfort, said it made sense to bring a taste of The Big Easy to Aussies.
“From my perspective on Southern Comfort, we wanted to be involved to highlight The Big Easy to Australians and put it on the map for its culture and influence in the hospitality industry,” Fogarty said.
Southern (hemisphere) hospitality
Southern Comfort brought bartenders, hosts and chefs down under as part of their Melbourne takeover. The group could be found at a series of consumer and industry events, creating New Orleans inspired food and cocktails. At some events there was even a classic New Orleans style jazz band.
Among the guest bartenders was Christopher Hannah from New Orleans’ Jewel of the South. He described his home’s cocktail culture and the working environment it creates.
“We have a lot of weight on our shoulders as New Orleanian bartenders. We already have such a brilliant past and now that the whole world has caught up we can’t rest on our laurels, we need to create and continue to improve,” said Hannah.
Liam Deegan of New Orleans venues Barrel Proof and Longway Tavern said while there’s a drive to continue innovating and improving, it’s important to remain true to the southern hospitality roots that promote graciousness.
“New Orleanians respect the past or the current culture. Either finding a way to revitalise an ingredient, recipe or style, or incorporating the food cultures and traditions into a single cocktail, we are all just proud to put another expression of New Orleans into the world,” he said.
An example of this unique skill of fusing styles and flavours together can be seen in the cocktail menu created for the Southern Comfort Melbourne events. It included classic Big Easy creations like The Sazerac (recipe here), alongside other uniquely New Orleans fusions using everything from Irish whisky to icecream, herby teas to an array of bitters.
But why is this relevant for us? Well, Deegan said this is a trait that our own cocktail and hospitality culture in Australia shares.
“Australia is very cutting edge. It seems they are super respectful of the seminal cocktail movements, but they are taking it to another level,” he said.
“Everyone is incredibly hospitable, friendly and gracious. New Orleans and the south prides itself on being great hosts, but the Southern Hemisphere has given me a new meaning to southern hospitality.”
The Big Easy venue called Cure is home to Alexandra Anderson, who agreed with Deegan’s assessment.
“Australia is rival to hospitality. Everyone I encountered was very kind, I don’t usually drop into a place and start talking about how I work in the service industry and still I never encountered anyone that wouldn’t immediately serve me and make sure my experience was good,” she said.
Anderson’s time in Australia has lead her to believe that we have the same fun loving nature as New Orleans residents, despite our cities having some differences.
“I know Australians have it in them to dance and have a good time, just wish I saw more of it,” Anderson said. “Melbourne in general has more tidiness than New Orleans. There’s probably less partying like it’s the end of the world, cause, ya know, the city isn’t sinking.”
Images by Kristoffer Paulsen.