The Soderbergh adventure

14 May, 2015

But love doesn’t sell cases of spirits. Soderbergh knows transferring his passion to the trade – and latterly consumers – won’t be easy. “The spirits business is competitive. If you want to get it into a bar you have to talk to someone who has seen three or four people like you that week. It’s sobering. 

“I have looked at other people in the [spirits] industry and seen what they have done to make themselves successful and educated myself. I have found that obstacles in this business are more significant than in the movie business. 

“The only thing I can apply from one business to the other is a willingness to think outside the box to solve a problem. I am a process-driven person rather than a results-driven person. The spirits business is a results-driven business. It’s so competitive. [In movies] you become a talent magnet - it’s not just the box office. But in spirits you just have to move the product. But can we do it atypically? Can we zig when others zag? We will see if we can transfer that success from New York.”

Celebrity ownership

One of the pitfalls of celebrity ownership is lending only the name, not the time. “Some people have their name attached to a spirit without being involved. You have to be involved with the spirit. Dan Aykroyd [who is behind Crystal Head Vodka] told me you need to be involved. I produce the content and write the copy. Singani 63 is being sold off my back so it must feel like it comes from me. I am asking people to transfer my credibility from my other work to Singani 63.”

For a man used to working on multi-million dollar screenplays, this is the original small-budget project. Despite his personal wealth, Soderbergh cannot compete with the might of drinks groups – as he puts it he “cannot pay to play”. But perhaps that’s not necessary. 

“There are two things you need to succeed and that’s luck and timing. If I had launched Singani 63 when I first discovered it in 2007-2008 we wouldn’t have been successful [as the time wasn’t right]. People in the business said we have had a piece of good luck. It’s a spirit that is not known outside of Bolivia. It has a long history – it’s one of the oldest sprits that exists, it tastes good and is flexible to mix.”

Despite the size of the challenge and the fact the business is “not even close” to making money, Soderbergh is optimistic. “The good news is that people are not launching brandies every week so it doesn’t have competitors with a billion dollars behind them. But we feel the label of ‘brandy’ is misleading – we have been lobbying. Singani could be its own category. It has the tightest criteria of any spirit in the world. It must be produced from above 5,000ft in a [particular] area of Bolivia.” 

“We have sold about 500 cases but we just placed an order of 1,200 - you never want to be out of product. Boutique spirit projections are not linear. You could have a black swan event. There could be [a famous] someone that walks off a plane wearing a Singani 63 hat – we do not know when there will be a tipping point event.”

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