Singani 63, a Bolivian grape brandy, is a new project from filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. So why would an Academy Award-winning director get behind an obscure, pisco-like spirit? Because he loves it and he wanted to be able to buy it in the U.S. At least that’s what he told Cheers editor Melissa Dowling at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic earlier this month.
Distilled from the muscatel grapes of Alexandria grown in high altitudes of the Andes, singani is considered the national spirit of Bolivia. How did Soderbergh come across it?
He was introduced to singani by his Bolivian casting director in 2007 while shooting the film Che in Spain. It was love at first sip for Soderbergh because the aromatic, faintly floral singani was smooth enough to drink straight, it made him feel pleasantly “buzzy” rather than sloppy, he says, and it didn’t give him a hangover.
Working with a major singani distiller, Sonderbergh initially invested in 250 cases of the 80-proof Singani 63. As with most liquor brand launches, the regulatory hurdles and production headaches were a bit more than Soderbergh had bargained for. There was no turning back, though.
Singani 63 made its debut in the New York City market this spring; as of May, it was available in about 50 outlets. Bodega Negra in the Dream Hotel Downtown, for one, is doing gangbusters with a Singani Sour cocktail.
Soderbergh is clearly passionate about the product and has no problem with being out in front of Singani 63; the name refers to the director’s birth year. He notes that actor Dan Aykroyd, a founder of Crystal Head vodka, had offered him this advice before his foray into the liquor business: If you’re not willing to be the face of the brand, don’t bother getting involved.
Read more about singani and other exotic spirits in the June issue of Cheers.