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Latin American tequila is as popular around the world as vodka, bourbon, and scotch. Fewer people know about, much less have tasted, the Bolivian liquor called Singani. It is produced solely in Bolivia according to strict standards and is distilled from a special type of grape.
Singani is very difficult to obtain outside of Bolivia. Unless a visitor returns with a bottle, there’s almost no chance of tasting this unique drink. With the popularity of the Internet, however, a few entrepreneurs are beginning to educate food and drink lovers around the world about this beverage, which is Bolivia’s national liquor.
Both Singani and cognac are distilled using the same types of methods. The brandy, like Bolivian liquor, is made from a muscat type of grape that only grows in the high altitude of the Tarixa region in Southern Bolivia. It is similar in taste to pisco, a brandy produced by and very popular in Chile and Peru.
While pisco was initially created by Spanish immigrants in the 1700s to replace a more expensive imported liquor known as orugo, Singani was developed centuries earlier for the discerning palates of the rich. Episcopal missionaries operated a winery outside Potosi, where the primary industry revolved around silver mining. The missionaries’ wine was distilled into Singani for those whose wealth was based on silver.
Due to the grapes that are used and the way the drink is manufactured, fans can drink Singani without soda, water, or other dilution. It lacks methanol and is relatively pure, resulting in a fragrant bouquet that is smooth and delicious. In fact, its superior taste has twice earned it the coveted "Best In Show" for best distilled spirit from the international Union des Oenologues de France.
Those who prefer cocktails over drinking liquor straight can enjoy a chuflay with lime, which mixes the liquor with a clear lemon-lime soda. Those who like a sweeter drink can order a yungueno. This drink is sweetened with sugar and orange juice. A Poncho Negro mixes Singani with cola and a slice of lemon.
The Bolivian government has determined that this liquor must come from a clearly delineated region in the same way that true champagne must come from France’s Champagne Valley. The grapes are grown at elevations ranging between 5,250 feet (1600.20 m) and 9,200 feet (2804.16 m). This results in grapes that are more flavorful and contain a higher level of antioxidants due to the intensity of the sunlight.
As of April 2013, Singani Los Parrales has been available for purchase in the United States (in Washington DC). It is believed to be one of the first times singani has been available for legal sale outside its home country. (Although a trip to Bolivia is well worth it for many other reasons!)