For the last few years, we’ve been members of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild, or USBG. While Fox and I aren’t bartenders by trade, we are certainly admirers and boosters of Pittsburgh’s cocktail scene, not to mention avid students of various spirits (such as, ahem, tequila), liquor history, and the art of the cocktail — essentially, we’re the folks the USBG must have been imagining when they created the “enthusiast” level of membership.
USBG Pittsburgh puts on a lot of great educational events aimed at helping bartenders (and enthusiastic amateurs like us) elevate their craft. The trouble is, since most events are held during the daytime, and Fox and I both work daytime jobs, it can be difficult to attend. This past Sunday, however, was an exception! Singani 63, a brand of the new-to-the-United-States singani spirit, hosted an event at PNC Park for members of both USBG Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Singani 63 gathered us all together in one of the plush World Series suites so we could learn about the unique history and production of singani, see the many ways the spirit can be mixed, make some Singani 63 cocktails, and, incidentally, enjoy a sunny afternoon of the Pirates facing off against the New York Yankees with Ivan Nova on the mound.
Now, Fox and I are both big baseball fans (we actually had partial-season tickets back in the day — before the Pirates were good, even!), so this event was a great fit in that regard. But for myself, the Singani 63 event had a special significance — because, you see, many years ago, there was a time when I dreamed of being a filmmaker — an auteur — in the mold of Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles, or Steven Soderbergh.
I should probably mention at this point three things.
Steven Soderbergh, the live human and American film treasure, hung out with us in the suite for the entire game, making himself available to talk shop, answer questions, educate us about the singani spirit, and just be an overall awesome and down-to-earth guy.
Standing just a few feet from one of my longtime filmmaking heroes, I really needed a stiff drink to get my nerves under control.
What in the hell, you might be wondering at this point, is singani, anyway? Steven and Jonathan Brathwaite (COO and Sales Director of Singani 63) gave us the scoop, which I’m happy to pass on now. Essentially, singani is the national spirit of Bolivia. It’s been produced and enjoyed in Bolivia for 500 years, but only very, very recently has it begun to be exported. Singani is currently classified by the US government as a brandy, sort of like how some mezcals meeting certain requirements are legally permitted to be called tequila, or some bubbly wines grown in a specific region are Champagne. These comparisons are not totally apt, though, because for one, while singani is distilled from grapes, it’s unaged; for two, its flavor profile is unlike any brandy you’ve ever had; and finally, the requirements for a spirit to be called singani are so stringent that it’s really its own animal. Case in point — for a spirit to legally designated singani by the Bolivian government, it must meet the following criteria:
1) It must be distilled solely from Muscat of Alexandria grapes.
2) Growing, fermenting, and distillation of these grapes must occur at a minimum altitude of 5,250 feet above sea level, in the Bolivian Andes mountains.
I note all this to make the point that singani isn’t brandy; singani is singani.
What does all that high-altitude labor produce? A floral, bold, but approachable spirit with endless versatility. It’s delicious straight, and its botanical complexity allows it to play well as a substitute spirit in myriad cocktails — or as the backbone of a fantastic original.
Okay, that part was a lie; the Pirates’ win came the way many of their wins come: barely. But everything else is true…even if I was a total chickenshit and never even tried to get a photo taken with Steven Soderbergh.*
Singani 63 is not yet available in-store in Pennsylvania, but you can special order it by calling 1-800-332-7522 (PLBC and selecting option 1. Get on this!
* Fortunately for yours truly, Pittsburgh Magazine’s coverage of the event features a photo where you can juuuuust see me standing a couple feet to Steven Soderbergh’s right, doing my best impression of “I’m totally normal and not super nerding out.”