Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh Spearheads Rare New Spirit Designation
After an assiduous eight-year effort, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (TTB), has officially recognized Bolivian Singani as a unique type of Brandy and a distinctive product of Bolivia. Since 2014, award-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh – a lover of Singani since his first introductory sip in 2007 – has spearheaded a campaign for TTB recognition of the South American country’s beautifully aromatic national spirit as a unique and proprietary product of Bolivia. In concert with the Bolivian government, who joined the initiative as a petition co-sponsor in 2018, he is beyond ecstatic to celebrate this milestone today at long last.
A grape distillate in the general class of Brandy, Singani will now be its own subcategory, distinct from other types of Brandies. “In 2014, when I sat across the table from 17 people representing four different agencies (Treasury, ATF, TTB, FDA), I felt like an ant at the bottom of the Matterhorn,” recalls Soderbergh. “The good news, however, is that each agency in the end acted to fulfill their mandate of informing the public about what they’re drinking when they drink Singani. This recognition is certainly a high point in the long history of Bolivia’s unique spirit.”
This historic decision has economic and cultural ramifications for both the U.S and Bolivia. In exchange for U.S. recognition of Singani as a distinctive product of Bolivia, Bolivia will become the 44th country to legally recognize Bourbon Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey as distinctive products of the United States, encouraging international trade and offering a potential economic boost to these American-made products.
Though Soderbergh began his venture with a simple personal desire to stock his own bar, when
he learned that Singani had seldom been out of landlocked Bolivia, he resolved to use his platform to share the spirit with the wider world. In partnership with the nearly century-old Casa Real (Bolivia’s leading Singani producer), he developed Singani 63, the international expression of their Casa Real Black Label, which is now available across the U.S., as well as the U.K.
Casa Real CEO Luis Pablo Granier explains, “Our family has been producing Singani for nearly 100 years and it has been an absolute joy to see our product on bar shelves across the U.S. over the last nine years for the first time in our history. To now have our life’s work recognized on a global stage and recognized by the U.S. Government is a moment my great-grandfather couldn’t and wouldn’t have dreamed of.”
Singani’s 500-year history follows the journey of a single grape variety, the Muscat of Alexandria, carried by Spanish missionaries from Egypt to Spain and then on to the Bolivian Andes where it is grown at high altitude. By Bolivian legal decree, Singani’s “Domain of Origin” limits growth and distillation of the spirit to minimum altitudes of 5,250 feet, and to specific regions of the country. These conditions create the bold, aromatic quality that helped the TTB establish that Singani is indeed unique among spirits in the Brandy category.
For Bolivian-Americans, this is a moment that not only honors their heritage in the fabric of American culture, but also raises Singani’s profile (and that of Bolivia) on the global stage. In order to respect the origins of Singani and its people, Soderbergh and his team worked with diplomatic representatives of both nations, fueled by their belief in the cultural and financial importance of the project. But in order for the campaign to really succeed, they also needed the support of the more than 300,000 Bolivians living in the U.S. leading Singani 63 to secure 13,000 signatures through the brand’s “Recognize Singani” petition later submitted to the TTB. In August 2021, the U.S. government posted a proposed ruling, and today, this proposed ruling has at last been finalized.
Singani 63, now officially a distinct product of Bolivia, is available in select retail stores, bars and restaurants across the U.S., as well as for delivery nationwide via BuySingani63.com.