Mexico has tequila, Brazil, cachaca and the Caribbean has rum. Every region, country and destination has their drink that is local to the land and intrinsic to the people that live there. That is no different in Bolivia where the distilled spirit singani is a staple in every home and at every event.
Singani is made from the same famed grapes cultivated in Bolivia’s winemaking region of Tarija and El Valle de la Concepcion. Since the 16th century, the distilling of the white muscatel grapes has been part of Bolivian patrimony.
Wine and Singani producing regions of Bolivia
Singani grapes are only grown at an elevation of over 1600 meters. Prized for an intense aroma, the muscat grape produces an especially fragrant and flavorful liquor. Though singani vineyards are open year round, the grapes are only harvested once a year. Once collected the muscat grapes begin a fermentation process; first the collected liquid is heated then run cold. and cut off from distillation early to give the liquor its unique singani qualities.
Once the process of fermentation is complete, the resulting liquid is cut off quickly, after only six months, to retain the liquor’s unique singani grape qualities and unusual aromatic profile before bottling.
Singani has been a part of Bolivian culture since the mid to late 1500’s. The strong alcohol was used in everything from drinking in the home as is, to mixing the liquid with hot milk and spices to keep the miners of Potosi warm during the cold winter months.
When railroad engineers from Britain and America came to Bolivia in the 19th century to lay Bolivia’s network of tracks they too became enamored with the country’s national alcohol. Missing their gin and ginger drinks from home, the rail workers improvised and created singani cocktails blending the local tradition with whatever carbonated drinks they could find. Today “shoofly” or “chuflay” as the popular blend is known, is still a widely popular singani based drink in Bolivia.
A singani distillery in Bolivia
Bolivia is a country of festivals and celebration, many of which are fueled on late into the night by the powers of the national alcohol. Singani is a staple of these events, especially St. John’s Eve in June, the 16 de Julio celebrations in July and Oruro’s famous Carnaval. Along with big nationwide celebrations, singani is imbibed at everything from wedding festivities and birthday parties to typical weekday dinners.
A visit to Bolivia is incomplete without trying singani at least once. The liquor is available everywhere from street side stands to small pensions and fancier restaurants. Today, many of the latter are using the brandy like liquid in a variety of imaginative cocktails including singani sours and the more unusual “mokachinchi” where the liquor is mixed with the minty herb yerba buena and champagne. For those who are interested in cocktail culture and want to visit the source of the liquor, tours to the vineyards and producing plants in and around Tarija are possible and are a unique experience to Bolivia.
Regardless of where you try singani, or whether you drink it straight up or as part of a fancy cocktail, just make sure you do; the liquor is a part of the authentic Bolivian experience that should not be missed