Steven Soderbergh’s Crazy Quest to Bring a Bolivian Brandy to American Bars

Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
April 4 2014 2:50 PM

The Importer!

Steven Soderbergh is in love with a Bolivian eau de vie. Now he wants America to fall in love with it, too.

(Continued from Page 1)

This is an experiment in independent booze distribution. The sole financial support for Singani 63 is Soderbergh’s discretionary income. He is willing to assume some further risk in pursuit of discovering a niche for singani in U.S. culture, but he cannot keep throwing his extra money into an absurd vortex. Rolling out the product in New York City, he aims to make deals with 25 bars within nine months.

He channels business jargon gingerly: “The goal is to create a paradigm that we can somehow convince people is scaleable.” At worst, he will have invested in a good story about the time he tried to import liquor. At best, he’ll attract a deep-pocketed partner and expand across the country, while also retaining control of the brand’s voice. Which is, from a mass-marketing perspective, an intriguingly perverse condition.

His early experience as Singani 63’s chief copywriter involved a disappointing lesson: It would be against the code of industry practice to advertise with the tagline This &%#! will #&%! you up!: “You can’t do it. You’re not allowed to discuss the effect it has on people. I wonder why you can’t, when that’s clearly the point. Maybe we can backdoor our way in? ‘We’re not allowed to say, This shit will fuck you up, but ….’ ” He says, “It’s hard for me imagine a scenario where there will be an ad on national TV for this because any ad I make will be weird.”

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Soderbergh’s great artistic gift is analytic curiosity. Formal critique is central to his creative approach; his characters inhabit process-driven procedurals. You can take the genre-deconstructionist out of Hollywood, but you can’t take away his meta-sensibility: “The only way I can write ad copy is to discuss the construct of the sell, so you feel like you’re in on something, at heart, a little bit.” The inspiration for his forthcoming social-media campaign is Ring Lardner’s You Know Me Al, an epistolary novel in the voice of a baseball pitcher whose letters home illuminate a story he’s too dim to see. “It’s a masterpiece of elliptical information release,” he says. “We’re gonna create somebody who is the singani person responsible for the Twitter account, and we’re gonna make them a total fuck-up, so there’s another narrative going on.” 

He has dallied with a similar concept on the Twitter account representing Extension 765, his online boutique selling art, memorabilia, cool t-shirts, and an Ocean’s Eleven mousepad. In July, the Extension 765 Twitter account was ostensibly run by a Danish-American intern named Hanne Klitbutten, who dispatched office gossip about her existentially desperate boss.

The Soderbergh character of the feed harangues his underlings with depressive monologues about the cultural bankruptcy of contemporary life, then cheers himself up with lunch at Nobu. Hanne is not impressed with his business acumen.

* * *

The interviewer ought to ask Soderbergh whether his liquor adventure is an expression of something like a midlife crisis, but the question seems rude and the correct answer seems obvious and who wants to quash a quinquagenarian’s fun, especially when he’s offered to grab the check? The best buzz his product delivers is the thrill of devising creative release plans and improvising upon the art of the deal.

                                    SODERBERGH
                        In terms of the sensation, it’s kind of similar to
                        working with Harvey when we were doing
                        Sex, Lies
. He was the king of zigging while other
                        people were zagging.
                             (beat)
                        But he was also really good at creating a
                        controversy around stuff, and I’m
                             (chuckling)
                        not sure how to do that.

INSERT -- The Singani 63 “shelf talker”—a small in-store ad designed to trap your eye as it scans the displays. The illustration: A before-and-after drawing seemingly snipped from a cheap magazine ad for a baldness cure. The text: “THE SECRET TO GROWING NEW HAIR ... has not been discovered, but that doesn’t mean that Steven Soderbergh has given up hope. In fact, while he waits for the miracle cure, he sure likes him some Singani 63 …”

                                        SODERBERGH
                                 (looking up from the card
                                 to somehow nod at the
                                 crown of his own noggin)
                            See how personal this is!

* * *

INSERT -- A noirish napkin inked with a sketch of Slate’s singani gimlet, the name of which nods to a compact masterpiece.

       The Limey

        2¼ ounces Singani 63
        ¾ ounce lime cordial (or Rose’s lime juice)
        orange bitters (optional, optimal)       

        Build in glass. Stir with ice.
        Drink & repeat & fade out.