Greece has its ouzo, Brazil its cachaça, Japan its sake. In Bolivia, the national liquor is singani, a unique spirit derived from white grapes, hailing from the southern highlands of the South American nation. While often compared to pisco — grape brandy often associated with Peru — singani is characteristically and proudly Bolivian, especially the brand Singani 63, which is imported to American bars and retail stores by way of Oscar-winning American film director Steven Soderbergh.
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While piscos can be distilled from a blend of different grapes, singani is distilled solely from the juice of the Muscat of Alexandria grape, whose roots are from the region of the eponymous Egyptian city. The grape variety made its way to Europe and eventually to South America by way of 16th-century Spanish conquistadors, where it was planted to make sacramental wine. Since species adapt to outside factors, the grapes planted in the highlands of the Bolivian Andes grew a thick skin to combat the damaging effects of the scorching sun. It’s this thicker skin, combined with the regional terroir, that gives singani a strong, unique floral aroma.
Casa Real, Bolivia’s largest distillery in the high altitude town of Tarija (6,069 ft.), has been producing singani for almost 100 years, under four generations of the Granier family. It was a bottle of Casa Real black label that was gifted to Steven Soderbergh by one of the casting directors of the 2008 movie Che that turned the director onto the spirit. After one sip during pre-production in Spain, Soderbergh was so enamored by singani that he ensured there was a supply chain to have it flowing when the film production continued in Bolivia, where revolutionary Che Guevarra met his demise in real life (and therefore his Hollywood biopic).
Soderbergh partnered with Casa Real to make his own brand of singani, with a label that merely added “63” — the director’s lucky number and birth year. He ensured that its production would continue the distillery’s high quality standards, from ingredients to process. Pure mineral water, neutral and calcium-free, is sourced from a natural spring at an elevation over 6,500 ft. Grapes growing in ideal conditions under the Tarija sun, are harvested in February and March, near the end of the South American summer. And only local yeast is added to begin the fermentation process.
Singani 63 goes through a double distillation process in copper stills, similar to that of cognac production — in fact, Master Distiller Jorge Furio calls it an “elaboration of cognac” with local ingredients. The spirit then goes through an oxidative ripening process in stainless steel tanks for 8–9 months, which softens and smooths out the alcoholic content, so that it doesn't burn the palate. It also allows for the inherent aromas and flavors of Muscat of Alexandria to shine.
Enjoy Singani 63’s smooth flavor by itself, on the rocks. Or use the white grape spirit as an ingredient in a classic recipe, like a negroni — or better yet, a white negroni. You can also mix it in the refreshing traditional Bolivian cocktail, a chuflay. However you enjoy it, just don’t call it a “pisco” or a “grape brandy.” Singani 63 is proudly a singani — a distinction soon to be recognized by the US government after a 9-year deliberation — for there’s an expression of the Bolivian Andes in every sip.
Two Singani Cocktail Recipes to Try
1. The Singani White Negroni
- 1 oz. Singani 63
- 1 oz. Lillet Blanc
- .75 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
- .25 oz. Combier
Stir all ingredients over ice, then strain into a glass. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.
2. The Chuflay
- 1.5 oz. Singani 63
- 6 oz. ginger ale
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 lemon slice
Mix all the ingredients in a glass with three ice cubes.