Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh has never been to Maine before, but he’ll be flying into Portland for 24 hours Tuesday to introduce the state to his latest project – a new spirit he’s importing from Bolivia.

Singani is the national spirit of Bolivia, distilled from the white Muscat of Alexandria grape grown in the Andes at a minimum altitude of 5,250 feet. Soderbergh first tried Singani when he was in Bolivia to shoot the movie “Che,” and he has spent years  – and lots of his own money – bringing it to the United States. Soderbergh’s Singani is labeled Singani 63, the number a reference to the year he was born.

Soderbergh, the director of “Erin Brockovich” and the “Ocean’s” trilogy, will attend a happy hour launch party at Little Giant, a restaurant at 211 Danforth St. on Portland’s West End, from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday. He will screen a short he made on Singani 63’s distiller, and cocktails made with the spirit will be available. Singani, he said, is “this Swiss army knife that you can plug into a cocktail. It has no ego, it just seems to find its place.”

Briana Volk

We spoke with Soderbergh from his office in New York City. The interview has been edited for length and clarity:

Q: This is your Maine launch. How long has Singani 63 been in the United States? Are we the last corner of the country to get it?

A: We launched five years ago, in January 2014, and by no means (is Portland the last place to get it). We’re still spreading out. When you’re a small company like we are, these things happen in a very serendipitous way, and based on advice I’d gotten from other people who’d launched brands, we take organic opportunities very seriously. For instance, Joshua Miranda at Blyth & Burrows was our first account in Portland. He was interested before we even contemplated being in Maine, and those are the kind of indicators we take very seriously. You have to have advocates who are willing to educate people about the brand. Then, very soon after that, Andrew and Briana Volk (the owners of Little Giant) got interested as well. I thought I worked in a field that is very relationship-driven, but the spirit industry is that to the nth degree.

Q:  I’d like to hear directly from you what it was like when you took that first sip of Singani. How would you describe the flavor?

A: It was kind of a three-act structure. The first thing I noticed, as someone who was a vodka drinker for the most part, I noticed this very interesting complex bouquet. Vodka by law is not supposed to have any smell; that’s part of its definition, so this was a new thing. I was drinking an 80-proof spirit that had a very floral bouquet, and that surprised me. Then I started sipping it, and it was very complex on the palate. I thought there was a kind of peppery quality, but there is a floral aspect to it. We have a lot of people say it reminds them of gin, but then other people say, oh no, it’s got a tequila thing going on. It’s something people clearly have a personal reaction to. And then the third act was there was no secondary burn.

In the early stages, I was just trying to get my hands on some for my personal use, and then over the course of shooting the “Che” film, I had the idea of trying to import it because it had never been out of Bolivia, which also surprised me. I came to understand later that the reason is it’s very expensive and labor-intensive to launch a brand, especially in New York City, which is where we started.

We’ve targeted the really high-end mixologists. It’s usually used in a classic cocktail, so people are at least halfway there. We have a Singani negroni that is very, very successful because people love negronis.

Q: Do you like it straight up, or as a cocktail?

A: I drink it on the rocks.

Q: Tell me a little about the short you made on the distiller.

A: On one of the trips during the (grape) harvest, I took some equipment with me and made an industrial film. I felt it was potentially helpful, especially in a master class/seminar environment, to give people a glimpse of where this thing comes from, and the company that makes it, which is fourth generation, family-owned. There’s some very inside-baseball detail about what it takes to make Singani.

Q: Are you otherwise into the food scene, or is it just this particular drink that captured your imagination?

A: That was really it. I was someone who likes bars and restaurants, and certainly would listen to recommendations about places to go and things to try, but it wasn’t really taking up a lot of psychic real estate. Now the most obvious alteration in my outlook about bars and restaurants is that bars are completely ruined for me. I can’t just walk into a bar and have a good time. I have to see what’s on the back bar, what’s in the well, why are they using these brands? Now it’s work, and I can’t turn that off.

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