It’s rare for an entirely new type of liquor to hit the market in this day and age; nearly everything that can be distilled and has a history of being distilled has, in our modern world, been bought by someone and distributed in America by now. It takes a rare situation and circumstance to allow something brand-new to be introduced to spirits drinkers.
Well, we have that rarity. Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh has made it a passion project to introduce singani to the world. Soderbergh discovered singani while filming Che, and loved it so much he decided to form a company to and bring the spirit to the United States.
Singani is a unique liquor: Similar to tequila or Bourbon, the rules on where and how it can be made, and what it must be made from, are rather rigid. Singani can only be distilled in Bolivia; it must be crafted entirely from the Muscat of Alexandria grape; and it must be distilled at an altitude of at least 5,200 feet above sea level (roughly one mile).
Last week, Soderbergh’s label, Singani 63, held a tasting event at Tongue-Cut Sparrow to commemorate the brand’s launch in Texas. The tasting featured both neat Singani 63 for sipping as well as a couple of cocktails made by Brooklyn-based Ivy Mix, the owner of Leyenda, a cocktail bar focused on Latin spirits, and one of America’s most decorated cocktail crafters. She's won multiple awards for bartender/mixologist of the year and having been featured in multiple national profiles.
While on the surface, singani has some similarities to other grape-distilled liquors such as brandy and pisco, the drinking experience is very different. The up-front taste is smooth and clean, with a texture that’s slightly buttery. The flavor is somewhere between butterscotch and the natural grape, which gives way to pepper on the back end. While there is some heat in the spirit going down, it’s still relatively smooth on the finish.
The two cocktails Mix made to showcase the spirit bring out unique sides of it—one spicy, one sweet. The Se Pica Boliva is made with Singani 63, jalapeño tequila, verjus, yellow chartreuse and strawberry liqueur, served in a Nick & Nora glass with a lime twist. This cocktail starts with the spiciness up front—the jalapeño tequila is quite prominent—before that makes room for the other ingredients, which give it a strangely sweet finish. The Glass Menagerie is made with Singani 63, sherry, ramazotti, lime, vanilla syrup and a mix of coconut milk and cream of coconut, served in a tall glass with cobbled ice and topped with nutmeg. Mix said she used the coconut with this cocktail because the fat in it would bring out some of the flavors of the Singani, and I would have to agree: This cocktail was rich and sweet, but without being filling or cloying. The smaller ice cubes keep it very cold, too, helping make it a great refresher in the summer.
Singani 63 is made by pressing the Muscat of Alexandria grapes into wine, then double-distilling that wine in cognac copper pots. The resultant spirit is 73 percent alcohol; it’s left to rest in stainless steel containers for eight months, whereupon water is added to lower it to 80 proof, the bottling strength.
Singani 63 is promoting the spirit on its versatility and ability to replace almost any other spirit in a traditional cocktail. While I can’t say for sure that that’s true, I will say that the cocktails I had were quite good, and that Singani 63 neat is a unique and pleasurable sipping experience, one that would make a bottle a worthy addition to your collection.