Good Reasons to Drink Singani, the Official Spirit of Bolivia
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
The US Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau defines singani as a brandy. And if you look at it from the high level it is a brandy. It's made of grapes. Those grapes are made into wine. The wine is distilled into spirits. Digging deeper though it's a brandy with provenance. This is also where I may lose some of you. Let me provide a little bit of background.
Singani is made by distilling white Muscat of Alexandria grapes into wine. To be considered singani grapes they must be grown in Bolivia at elevations above 5,250 feet in a specific 20,000 acres of the Andes Mountains. Singani contains no sulfites, no colorants, no marc or lees, no flavor enhancers or other additives of any kind. How it's produced is actually closer to an eau de vie than brandy. Which is why since the late 1980s the Bolivian government has been working to establish controls over the category, and to have it recognized internationally.
So far, the Bolivian government has put in the effort to ensure terroir, provenance, and explicit varietal standards. The effort reminds me of the specificity of bourbon, champagne, and scotch whisky. This precision has come back to haunt bourbon, and scotch. Unfortunately I don't know if such exacting standards have hurt champagne. If anything it seems to have helped champagne vintners. However wine is a bit of a different creature as compared to spirits. In the case of singani it had been produced for 500 years before it was introduced to Steven Soderbergh. If Soderbergh's name sounds familiar; it should, he's more well known for his directing and producing of movies than spirits. It was during a film launch party in 2007 when Soderbergh tasted singani for the first time.
Singani charmed Soderbergh and in doing so created a fervent advocate for the category. Since then Soderbergh has formed his own spirits company dedicated to introducing the world to singani. Singani63 is distilled by Casa Real using only their estate grapes. These are the same grapes used to make Casa Real Grand Singani (Black Label). The grapes are made into wine and double distilled in cognac copper pot stills before resting in stainless steel tanks for 8 months. The rest period helps to create a soft viscosity in the final product.
In the last few years Singani63 has started to pick up steam not only in the US but also in the international market as well. Domestically they have been winning over not only some well-known bartenders but the bar industry as a whole for many years. In August 2018, the UK was introduced to Singani63 with the help of Ivy Mix, and Alex Day, both spirits industry powerhouses here in the US. Ivy Mix is co-owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn as well as being the co-founder of Speed Rack who recently published her cocktail book, Spirits of Latin America. Alex Day co-owns several bars across the country most notably, Death & Co Denver. What makes singani a newer favorite among bartenders is the versatility of the flavor profile to pair well in cocktails. It's also light, and refreshing. Especially in the dog days of summer. It makes for an easy sipping spirit on its own with qualities reminiscent of wine. It was the flexibility of the spirit that made me me want to know more.
When I met our local representative for Singani63 a few years ago, we talked through the process of what makes singani unique. At the time the challenge the company faced was having singani recognized as a category by the US Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). In January of this year their hard work was starting to pay off as the US and Bolivia announced the process to recognize the spirit in the US was in the beginning stages. This change along with several others were slated to happen this last spring. As it sits right now I'm uncertain where this is in the process due to the pandemic. Right now I'm unable to locate further information.
However, what Singani63 has been trying to do is no easy task and a testament to their passion of the spirit because even getting to this point is a bureaucratic nightmare. The United States uses centuries old standards to guide a modern spirits industry. Most agree the system needs to be overhauled to reflect modern distilling and innovation. It also seemed the TTB was willing and starting to understand this as well, until COVID-19 hit. Now with so much uncertainty mounting the best Singani 63 and others in the spirits industry can do is educate consumers. Several categories have taken on this tactic in the last five years or so as a way for consumers to understand how unofficial production methods, and categories of spirits according to the US government can add value to the industry as a whole.
If you want to learn more about Singani63, and how they are partnering with the spirits industry in these uncertain times check out their website.