ixteen years ago, Oscar Award–winning director Steven Soderbergh began filming a movie in Madrid about Ernesto “Che” Guevara. To celebrate the occasion, the film’s Bolivian casting director, Rodrigo Bellott, gifted Soderbergh a bottle of Casa Real Black Label singani. It was a bottle that Bellott had to buy on Spain’s black market—Bolivia’s national spirit wasn’t exported at the time—but Soderbergh fell in love at first sip.
“Even before it reached my mouth, the bouquet was a surprise and unique to any spirit that I had imbibed,” he says of the eau de vie, which is crafted from Muscat of Alexandria grapes that must be grown at least 5,250 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. “I wasn’t used to spirits with that alcohol level having such an aromatic presentation.”
The spirit’s layered and complex flavors inspired Soderbergh to create his own version of singani, dubbed Singani 63 and produced for the director by Casa Real. He was soon distributing the brand throughout the U.S., and in 2014, he started lobbying the government to officially recognize singani as a unique style of brandy distinctive to its place of origin. “This spirit is absolutely the essence of Bolivia,” he says. “You could not reproduce this anywhere but with that single grape varietal grown in that 20,000-acre area that’s 6,000 feet above sea level. This is hard stuff to make.”
Earlier this year, Soderbergh succeeded in his quest: Singani was recognized by the U.S. government as a distinctive category of brandy that can only be made in Bolivia. Still, the spirit is but a blip in the U.S. liquor market, with just a handful of brands, including Rujero and Los Parralles, available through extremely limited distribution stateside. It’s Soderbergh’s hope, however, that the new designation will encourage a new audience of drinkers to give it a try. When they do, he knows they’ll be enraptured, just like he was 16 years ago.
“It’s a form of transportation, a way to experience another culture,” he says. “This is the spirit version of me saying to someone, ‘You have to check this movie out.’ There’s nothing like it.”
Vibrant and versatile, Singani can play a starring role in a range of cocktails, including these three classics
• 1 oz. Singani
• 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
• 1 oz. Aperol
• Orange Twist
Stir all ingredients over ice, then strain into a rocks glass over an ice cube. Garnish with an orange twist.
• 2 oz. Singani
• .75 oz. Lemon Juice
• .75 oz. Agave
• 1 Egg White
• 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Dry shake first four ingredients, then shake again with ice. Strain into a glass and top with bitters.
• 2 oz. Singani
• 1 oz. Lemon Juice
• .25 oz. Simple Syrup
• .75 oz. Combier Crème de Pamplemousse Rose
• 1 Bar Spoon Blackberry Jam
Place jam in the bottom of a glass. Shake remaining ingredients with ice, softly, then strain over ice. Garnish with blackberries.