- Ivy Mix
What do Bolivia's national spirit, a Hollywood director and a famous bartender have in common? On Sunday, May 1, they all could be at the Archives in Winooski — at least on Zoom.
Singani63 chief operating officer Jonathan Brathwaite, who lives in Hinesburg, is throwing a "relaunch event" for the brand, which was founded by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh in 2014.
Brathwaite hinted that Soderbergh might make an appearance via videoconference, joining native Vermonter Ivy Mix — an award-winning booze industry pro and author — who is flying up from Brooklyn for the event.
Mix and the Archives' own Sean McKenzie will whip up Singani63-based cocktails for the event, including two featured in Mix's book, Spirits of Latin America, which she'll be signing.
- Cocktail made with Singani63
Singani is a floral, smooth, un-aged brandy distilled from the aromatic muscat of Alexandria grapes at an elevation of at least 5,200 feet in Bolivia's Andes Mountains. The spirit is similar to pisco, a better-known drink from neighboring Chile and Peru, but falls in its own distinct category.
Bolivia is landlocked and relatively isolated; singani had been produced for 500 years but had never been exported. Soderbergh partnered with the Granier family in Tarija, Bolivia, to create Singani63 and bring it to the U.S.
The brand caught on in New York City, landing at top bars such as Please Don't Tell and Milk & Honey. By 2017, the spirit was listed by the Vermont Division of Liquor Control, meaning it could be distributed through state-contracted liquor stores.
Brathwaite had moved to Hinesburg and said he made it his "backyard hobby" to build the brand at local bars and restaurants, including Hen of the Wood, Prohibition Pig, Pizzeria Verità, Monarch & the Milkweed, Guild Tavern, Mandarin and the 126.
"The way you build any craft spirit brand is in bars and restaurants," Brathwaite said. "Then the pandemic decimated that part of our industry."
- Cocktail made with Singani63
During lockdown, Singani63 was still selling in 802 Spirits retail outlets but not at the level it had been in restaurants and bars — and not at the level necessary to remain listed by the Division of Liquor Control.
In 2021, with assistance from newly appointed liquor control commissioner Wendy Knight, Brathwaite got Singani63 re-listed and back in the state's warehouse.
The upcoming event is a reintroduction of sorts, for both hospitality pros and the public. "Although the event is called the Return of Singani, it's also celebrating the return of our industry," Brathwaite said. "We're going to come together and rejoice."
It's good timing for another reason, too: The U.S. government is on the verge of formally recognizing singani as a distinct subcategory of brandy — something Brathwaite and Soderbergh have spent the past eight years fighting for.
"I had to facilitate a bilateral trade agreement between Bolivia and the United States," Brathwaite said with a laugh. "This is bigger than Singani63 and even singani. It's the recognition of an entire country on the global stage."
The free event starts on May 1 at noon. Learn more at singani63.com.