Singani is Bolivia’s answer to Pisco in Peru and Chile. The clear, 80 proof spirit is distilled from muscatel of Alexandria grapes in the southern city of Tarija and sometimes just over the border in northwest Argentina, however, its origins trace it back to the Valley of Cinti in Chuquisaca when Augustinian monasteries that had been in the region since the 1550’s began distilling wine. Grapes are grown at 1700-2800 meters above sea level, which means they receive more ultraviolet sunrays than in most other grape growing regions, resulting in a distinctive flavor. As rainy seasons made grape and wine production difficult, specifically the preservation of wine, so distillation arose as an alternative. Industrialization of Singani took off when the silver mines of Potosi reached their peak of exploitation. To help ease the effects of a 4,000 meter altitude, miners would take the spirit into the mined with them, which is still done today.
–Casa Real: There are several major Singani distillers that more or less dominate the Bolivian market. Founded in 1981, Casa Real is the largest and most commercial producer of Singani with an annual output of 5,000,000 liters.
–Los Parrales/ Tres Estrellas: The Kuhlmann family’s vineyards in San Luis were founded in 1930, making their Singani one of the oldest commercial distillers in the region. They produce respectable varietals under the Los Parrales and Tres Estrellas labels, including reserve and special edition bottles. Production equals 600,000 liters annually.
–Sausini: One of the more sophisticated producers, Sausani’s wine and Singani make the vineyard perhaps the best boutique operation in southern Bolivia.
–Rujero: Better known for its Concepcion Wines, this vineyard also produces several high quality varietals of Singani.
The most popular Singani cocktail is the Chuflay, which is nothing more than a mixture of 3 parts fizzy mixer like 7Up or Ginger Ale and 1 part Singani in a Collins glass with a twist of lime. The Yungueño, developed in the hot Yungas region, combines Singani with simple syrup and orange juice. A Sintini is a more modern take combining Singani with a splash of Dry Vermouth.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.