Shooting a movie is stressful. Shooting a movie in Bolivia can be really stressful. Perhaps that explains why Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies, And Videotape, Erin Brockavich, Traffic, the Oceans franchise, Magic Mike, and much more) developed a taste for a distinctly Bolivian spirit much of the world has never heard of.
In 2007 Soderbergh was in Bolivia shooting Che (starring Benicio del Toro) about the life and times of Che Guevara, the Argentinean who became a powerhouse of the Cuban revolution until he was killed in Bolivia in 1967. A Bolivian casting director gave him a bottle of singani and Soderbergh fell in love with the stuff which is made by distilling wine made from Moscatel de Alexandria grapes which were planted in Bolivia hundreds of years ago by missionaries and conquistadors.
The resulting clear liquid is surprisingly flavorful. “It was — and is — the best-tasting spirit I've ever encountered,” says Soderbergh. “Smooth, floral start and an invisible finish.”
Back in the U.S., Soderbergh was alarmed to learn that his new favorite tipple was simply not available. Singani is only produced in Bolivia and nearly every drop is consumed inside the country.
Employing creative and logistical skills honed during a lifetime in the movie industry, Soderbergh went to work on perhaps his most complicated production to date: navigating international liquor laws and creating his own brand of singani.
Singani 63, named for the year Soderbergh was born, is made by Jorge Furio, the master distiller for Bolivia’s Casa Real which has been in business since 1925 and makes the lion’s share of singani sold in Bolivia, moving about 4 million bottles of the stuff domestically each year. Singani 63 is made using all estate-grown grapes and the result is a very fruity nose and a smooth, subtle flavor with zero alcohol burn. You can visit the distillery in Tarija, Bolivia to see where Singani 63 is made by setting up an appointment through the Casa Real website.
Singani 63 isn’t my favorite singani, but it is perfectly sipable and mixable. Singani 63 does have my favorite label, which looks, to me, like a movie poster.
“Not exactly,” says Soderbergh. “Although movie poster art is one of my interests. We wanted something graphic that would stand out on a bar shelf, which I think we accomplished.”
Soderbergh is tight-lipped about how many bottles of Singani 63 he’s sold since the product was introduced in 2014. You can get Singani 63 at a handful of select bars and restaurants in Bolivia, but nearly every drop is exported, which is the whole point. “Prior to Singani 63 entering the U.S. market, singani had not been exported outside Bolivia,” says Soderbergh. You can now buy Singani 63 at retailers, bars, and restaurants around the U.S. (check out the festive Singani 63 site for specific locations state by state). Soderbergh says Singani 63 is set to “invade” the U.K. next.
“My goal is for singani to become a must-have for any mixologist or home cocktail enthusiast,” Soderbergh says. And will he use his movies to promote his singani as a prop or a storyline? “Prop? Probably. Storyline? Probably not, although I think there's a great TV series to be had about the booze business. It's fascinating.”