There's a new spirit sweeping across D.C., and a lot of bars and restaurants are starting to take notice. That spirit is Singani, a traditional Bolivian alcohol, which has a light, floral taste and is relatively easy in drinkability compared to other popular spirits, like whiskey or gin.
Singani is new to D.C. but it's actually a very traditional Bolivian spirit that's been produced for about 500 years in the Andes Valley region. It's often considered the national drink of choice for Bolivians, and it comes from the Muscat of Alexandria grapes, grown in higher elevations, some 6,000 ft. above sea level.
"Singani is pretty simple. It involves no other ingredients. It’s just a distilled grape," says Ramon Escobar, the founder of Chufly Imports, who imports a particular brand of Singani to Washington D.C., known as Rujero. "The grapes are not particularly bold or unique, but when they're grown at that high elevation, the flavor of the grape changes. It helps to produce a floral and aromatic taste."
Singani was originally born from the Spanish conquest. Jesuit monasteries in Bolivia kept vineyards, where the grape was grown. Winemaking eventually turned into distilling, and now several hundred years later bodegas are still producing the spirit, some from the same grapevines. Escobar says the fermentation process only takes a few weeks to produce Singani.
"This spirit has a special place in a lot of peoples’ hearts," Escobar says. "This is not a mass produced spirit, and it's relatively hard to find in the United States. Bolivians love it and people in D.C. are starting to take notice too."
For Escobar, the drink resonates with his family and heritage. His father hails from Bolivia, and right now Escobar is working with Bolivian families to produce textile bags that act as carrying cases for the bottle.
"The first alcohol I had was [Singani] Rujero," Escobar says. "This is one of those products that Bolivians can be proud of, and one that bartenders in D.C. are gravitating towards."
There are more than a dozen bars in D.C. that carry the spirit. You can also find the Singani for sale in a few specialty liquor stores. This Eater map identifies just a few of the bars putting their own spin on the spirit with unique cocktails.