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How a Bolivian Spirit Became Steven Soderbergh's Biggest Production to Date

BY Lesley Balla | April 26, 2017 | Feature Features

The director on falling in love with Bolivian singani.

Bolivians know that on the hottest of days, sipping singani on ice is the only way to go. They’ve been drinking the slightly floral spirit­­—which is made from a muscat grape that’s grown solely in Tarija in Southern Bolivia­­—for hundreds of years. Oscar-winning director, writer and producer Steven Soderbergh also knows this: He’s one of the first to import the liquor, under his own Singani 63 label, to the United States. “I just like immersing myself into a new thing,” says Soderbergh. “I work in a business that people say is [personally] based, but this is another level. It’s intense, but really pleasurable.” This is not merely slapping his name on a bottle of booze. The national drink of Bolivia, which some consider a cousin to pisco, was never available in the U.S. There isn’t a huge production of it, and it’s never been exported. But after being gifted a bottle when he was making Che, Soderbergh fell in love with singani. In order to have a direct line to it, he knew he’d have to be the one to maneuver through the red tape to legally bring it here. “I simply never tasted anything like it before. Not only the fact that it was unique, I really just wanted some around,” he says. The fact that Singani 63—the number is in reference to Soderbergh’s birth year—is delicious helped usher its quick rise in popularity. Made by Casa Real, one of the oldest singani-producing families in Bolivia, it’s considered the “black label” of singanis. Crisp, clean and fragrant, it’s slightly fruity, but not overwhelmingly so. It’s also potent, and the fun can really sneak up on you. But the buzz is lighthearted and happy; Soderbergh swears the hangover is minimal. Today, thousands of cases of Singani 63 are imported a year, and the spirit is making its way across the country. Top bartenders around Los Angeles love the stuff, now using it in cocktails at places like The Walker Inn, E.P. & L.P., and Big Bar at Alcove—Soderbergh’s neighborhood joint. “Every brand is looking for a way to separate themselves from the clutter,” he admits. “I was able to take advantage of the reputation I have from my day job—I go my own way and do things because I want to do them. People know that if I’m involved, it’s more than just being the face of the brand.”

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