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Oscar winner brings new spirit — literally — to ‘Magic Mike’

Updated October 1, 2021 - 3:01 pm

Exposure is what a show does for its cast, although the Sahara Las Vegas’ “Magic Mike Live,” like the movie that inspired it, takes the norm a bit further. But here’s another element: Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who directed the “Magic Mike” movie and is part of the creative team behind the show, is hoping it’ll do the same for his pet project, Singani63.

Singani without the 63 is a spirit that has been produced in Bolivia since the early 16th century, but has been all but unknown in the United States. To change that, Soderbergh has taken its show on the road. As part of it, the “Magic Mike Live” team concocted cocktails paired to various elements of the narrative.

Ricky Lyn, the company’s U.S. director of sales and creator of the cocktails, compares them to “a mixtape you’d share with friends.”

“In the show itself, the (lead) character becomes a blank canvas” as the action progresses,” Lyn said. As he changes, so does the nature of the cocktails.

They begin with the Serenade, “tropical, alluring, herbal,” which launches the plot of a young dancer finding his way in life. The Serenade contains Bacardi Dragonberry, Singani63, passionfruit-basil syrup and lemon, with a red wine float.

The finale is, appropriately enough, The Finale, which launches the by-then raucous audience off for the rest of its evening. “Luxurious, lavish and lush,” it’s a mix of Singani63, velvet falernum, peach liqueur, lemon, pineapple syrup and sparkling wine.

The signature is the Unicorn, named for the guiding force of the show and served in a branded souvenir glass. “Confident, pretty and bright” — suitable for women the show aims to empower — it combines Botanist gin with Singani63, Pavan muscat liqueur, watermelon, lemon and prosecco, with a rim of Electricdust, a “flavor and sensation-enhancing dust” powered by the buzz button flower.

Electricdust was created by Mariena Mercer Boarini, resort mixologist for Wynn Las Vegas and Encore.

“We’re using Electricdust around the city,” Mercer Boarini said. “The show was excited to use it so they ordered it on their own, just through the reputation of the product.”

And she’s become an admirer of Singani63.

“I think it’s a really exciting spirit,” she said. “It’s unique. The aroma and flavor are so floral it’s almost intoxicating, almost enchanting. I love a good passion project; it’s certainly Steven’s. I understand why someone would want to share their passion with everyone in the world.”

And share it they have. As part of the product’s rollout, the Singani63 crew went to industry professionals such as Mercer Boarini.

“We brought it to the best mixologists in the world,” Lyn said. “Time and time again, they had the same reaction: ‘We’ve never heard of this, and we’ve heard of everything.’ It’s rare to school the professors.”

“We allowed bartenders to tell us about Singani,” once they’d tried it, said Jonathan Braithwaite, the company’s chief operating officer. “Why should I be dictating to a bartender what to do with it, when he will be experimenting with it?”

Blair Shea, Tao Group Hospitality’s director of beverage for Las Vegas, said their team first encountered Singani63 in New York. Their Las Vegas launch was at a dinner last weekend at Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

“The product is extremely avant-garde,” Shea said. “It fits well from a mixology standpoint. There’s a lot of flavor profiles within the spectrum that it works well with, when subbing out in classic cocktails as the base spirit or used as a modifier in other cocktails. It’s very unique — very floral, but with a higher ABV (percentage of alcohol by volume) than a standard cordial or modifier. Its versatility to develop an additional level of flavor is great.”

“Somebody described it as ‘egoless,’ ” Soderbergh said. “It finds its place. It’s a good band member.”

He first discovered Singani — initially produced by missionaries who brought grapevines from Spain to Bolivia to make sacramental wine — in Spain, while filming the two-part “Che.” A Bolivian crew member had thought about gifting him a T-shirt but instead presented a black-market bottle of Singani. He suggested Soderbergh try it on the rocks, as he himself drank it.

“I had an immediate response,” Soderbergh said before the show last weekend. “I was a vodka drinker when I tasted this. This was a new experience. It delivers flavor notes on all levels, and you didn’t get that secondary burn,” as from vodka.

Singani is distilled by about 100 producers in Bolivia, many of whom also are winemakers, in a process that has become legally defined in recent decades. Soderbergh said it boils down to three factors: use of the single grape varietal, the white muscat of Alexandria; that the grapes are grown and the Singani distilled at at least 5,200 feet; and production limited to the 20,000-acre Tarija region of Bolivia.

“It’s a terrible place to grow anything,” Soderbergh said. “The grape really has to struggle.”

“It grows in these almost ungrowable conditions,” Mercer Boarini said, “which just create a very special grape with a really thick skin.”

After the movies wrapped in 2007, Soderbergh started learning more about it. “I felt I stumbled by accident on something that had such potential,” he said.

He also learned about the community of distillers, and was struck by how different it was from the cut-throat climate of Hollywood.

“This industry seems to share a common goal,” Soderbergh said. “Someone suggested I import it,” and deciding to take that suggestion, he partnered with the largest producer in Bolivia in 2008.

The logistics and legalities of importing something brand-new to America would be even more time-consuming than you might imagine. His first shipment of 250 cases arrived in 2012.

“That was the great choke moment,” Soderbergh said. “Am I doing this?”

Singani63 officially launched as a company in 2014 and the principals proceeded to spread the word. Braithwaite said he was inspired by Ron Cooper, widely credited with familiarizing Americans with mezcal.

Soderbergh said spreading the word about Singani63 has been pleasant, compared to publicity tours for movies.

“It’s not a chore to talk about it,” he said. “It’s not my story. It’s not as soul-crushing.”

And he said the reception has been much better than it would have been in 2008, thanks to the rise of the craft cocktail and the introduction of other spirits unfamiliar to Americans.

“We arrived at a time,” he said, “when having a story was really useful.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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