Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh directs singani to a win

30 March, 2023

Steven Soderbergh has dipped into the oceans of spirits and secured his favourite Bolivian drink its own classification.

It’s been eight years in the making but singani has finally received its own spirits designation in the US – and Oscar-winning film director Steven Soderbergh couldn’t be more ecstatic. Previously tucked away in the ‘brandy’ section by the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), the sought-after classification of Bolivia’s Muscat of Alexandria grape distillate means Soderbergh can now start writing the sequel of singani’s 500-year-old story.

The landmark classification came out of the blue, says Soderbergh, who exports his Singani 63 brand to the US and the UK. “The TTB publishes four times a year and, while we’d been told it might form part of this autumn’s announcement, it was a surprise. Then, the day before my birthday in January, my phone started blowing up. It was a wonderful gift to find that singani’s classification had been approved.”

A long journey

For eight years the Hollywood director and his Singani 63 team patiently dealt with the red tape that goes into classifying a product. While that might seem a lifetime, it took cachaça a decade to receive TTB approval.

“In 2014, when I sat across the table from 17 people representing four different agencies [Treasury, ATF, TTB and the FDA], I felt like an ant at the bottom of the Matterhorn,” he says. Additional support came in the shape of the Bolivian government, which joined the initiative as a petition co-sponsor in 2018, but it still took another five years for singani to be approved.

The decision draws a line under what Soderbergh calls “psychic real estate”, but the classification really resolves the educational issues of a spirit that’s relatively unknown outside its native Bolivia.

“It legitimises the narrative that few other things can,” says Soderbergh. “Not only is singani a unique spirit that meets the criteria, but the ‘brandy’ label was confusing for consumers. If your mandate [as is the TTB’s] is to inform the public, then this needed to be done. As I understand it, the TTB wanted to rebuild the process and make it more fluid because consumers are becoming more sophisticated and want more guidance from the government when it comes to identification: that was the thrust of our narrative to the TTB.”

One role Soderbergh had to play during the eight-year process was that of international trade ambassador, laying the groundwork for bourbon and Tennessee whiskey to receive reciprocal recognition in Bolivia. Soderbergh says: “I had various conversations with Steve Luttmann, who engineered cachaça’s approval, and understood there needed to be a transactional aspect. Bolivia became the 44th country to import these whiskeys.”

A direct connection

In 2023, Singani 63 will be importing 10,000 cases to the US, and 1,000 of those are earmarked for the UK, where it launched in 2018. And while Bolivia’s heritage beverage has become a buzz word for bartenders, many cocktail lovers have little idea that singani even exists. Soderbergh relishes the challenge that lies ahead in sharing his passion for this unique floral spirit.

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