Philippine Local Liquors

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Philippine local liquors could either be indigenous or commercially manufactured beverages. The production of liquors is one of the most profitable industries in the Philippines. Alak is the generic Tagalog term for liquor or wine.

Filipino-Chinese industrialists, whose businesses have been established since the Spanish colonization period in the 18th century, and transnational corporations own a part of liquor companies. However, because of the influx and supremacy of commercial drinks, native drinks have been confined to small-scale local productions.

Filipino Drinking Culture

Filipino merry-making activities will not be complete without beer. Beer is essential during fiestas, birthdays, and parties. Filipinos would even simply hang out in the streets, in their yards or in front of convenience stores to drink.

Even advertisements are targeted into enriching the Filipino experience of drinking beer. Beer and liquors in the Philippines are portrayed with positive images. Depending on what market they want to target, liquor companies are focusing on basic Filipino values. For instance, beers and other alcoholic beverages have been associated with thirst quenching, male bonding, machismo, friendship and camaraderie, unity, youthfulness and fun among many others. Most common in the advertisements is the use of popular local action and sexy actors and actresses as their image models.

Take San Miguel Beer, for instance. They have had the following themes of advertisements that focus on Filipino culture:

  • S-capade (to connote summer escapade, but interpreted by others as sex escapade)
  • Sarap mag beer (Feels good to drink beer)
  • Sarap ng samahan (unity)
  • Kahit kailan magkaibigan (friendship)
  • Hero and the beer (a boy saves a girl and then they go on a drinking binge together)
  • Love and courtship
  • Christmas spirit
  • Fiesta and other occasions
  • 5-thirsty (drinking beer every 5:30 or after work to relieve stress)

Common Native Liquors

Tuba is coconut toddy that has a stinging sweet and bittersweet taste. The process involves extracting the sap of an unopened coconut bud. The tip of the bud is lopped and the pale juice allowed trickles into bamboo containers. A sturdy tree yields about a gallon of liquid daily. The fermenting process involves the sweetish liquid is stored for one to three days in earthen jars or bottles in modern times. The rust tint of tuba is acquired through the addition of powdered bark called tangal.

From the coconut water comes a syrup concentrate for tuba. Tuba is a sweet, fresh or mildly fermented sap taken from tapping the young expanded flowers of the coconut.

In certain barrios of Malolos, Bulacan, tuberculosis patients are advised to drink or even bathe in tuba as a cure. Nursing babies in Bantayan, Cebu are fed with this beverage. It is said that only tough men can withstand the effect of tuba, as it is known to affect men’s senses and sanity. Filipinos consider tuba as a type of hard drink.

Lambanog is wine made from coconut. It is famous for its potency that normally carries about 80 to 90 proof variations. Lambanog is mostly produced in the Quezon Province, Philippines. It has been passed down throughout generations of coconut plantation farmers.

The process involves collecting the sap from the coconut flower, similar to rubber tree tapping. The sap is then cooked and fermented to become tuba, a popular coconut toddy. The tuba is then distilled to make lambanog.

The lambanog making process is inexpensive and coconut trees are abundant in the Philippines. This made the lambanog to be coined as a “poor man’s drink”.

In Quezon, drinking lambanog is usually a communal thing – men sit around in a circle and tagayan will ensue. The men take turns drinking shots from a cup placed in the middle of the group. Usually, there is also someone singing and playing the guitar to add to the festivities; he takes his turn at drinking too, so the music gets more interesting as the drinking goes on. It was made an export product in 2001 and has attracted foreign markets. To attract the youth and expand its marketing possibilities, it is now marketed and sold in different flavors such as cherry, jack fruit, apple, orange, four seasons, mint, etc.

  • Basi (sugar cane wine)

Basi is a sugar cane wine made in Ilocos Norte, Philippines and particularly plentiful in Naguilian where a Basi Festival is held annually. The product has been produced and consumed since before the invasion of the Spaniards.

Basi wine is made by fermenting boiled, freshly extracted, sugar cane juice. The juice is then boiled in vats and stored in earthen jars. Once it has been cooled, flavorings made of ground glutinous rice and duhat (java plum) bark or other fruits or barks is added. A dried powdered starter is used to start the fermentation. The mixture is left for up to three months to ferment and up to one year to age. The final product is a light brown color and has a sweet and a sour flavor.

Agkud is a liquor made from rice, corn, cassava or sorghum.

Laksoy is a liquor distilled from the sap of a nipa palm. It is widely made and available in Caraga, Mindanao. The process involved in making laksoy is tedious and time-consuming. However, small-scale industries producing this wine still have been flourishing in Butuan, Caraga’s regional center. It is drunk during festivities and special occasions.

Nipa palms that abundantly grow along riverbanks are selected based on the maturity of their bough and fruit. This will determine the quality and grade of the sap that will be collected. Mud is applied to the bough and fruit of the nipa palm once palm once every three days for a succession of six weeks. The mud will be later be scraped off before cutting the bough. After cutting the bough, a salhod (bamboo container) is attached to whet the sap. The sap is thoroughly drained by slicing two to three millimeters off the cut-bough in the next five days. The tree will then be left untouched for the next three to four months to produce more sap for the next collection. Fermentation will require the sap to be stored in a banga, an earthen-made jar, for two days. Longer fermentation will turn the sap into vinegar.

Tuba is poured into the distilling apparatus called laksuyan. The consistency desired is achieved by regulating the temperature used for the apparatus. The kettle kawa (kettle) is insulated with mud. For any one third of laksoy produced, a sufficient amount of water is poured into the kawa to maintain a certain temperature. Firing is also kept to a minimum. The laksoy is then poured into a bottle through a funnel.

Tapey is the only known Igorot rice wine and the only known rice wine in the Philippines. It is mostly produced in the northern part of the Philippines. Its retail price is approximately US$3 for a 750ml bottle.

Tapey is made with rice yeast or “bubod” that look like rough, round biscuits, the red variety of glutinous rice or “malagkit” and banana leaves that have been washed, heated over fire and wiped with a clean damp cloth. It is then placed in a jar for cooking. The glutinous rice is cooked with less than the normal amount of water. It is then removed from heat before it gets thoroughly cooked. The banana leaves are prepared and laid flat. The rice is slathered over the banana leaves to cool off. Simultaneously, while the rice is cooling, the bubod must be pounded into a very find powder, which should be mixed evenly with the rice. After this, it is put in the tightly-sealed container. It is then placed in a cool dry placed and opened after seven days. The liquid part is ladled out of the jar.

It is ideal that the whole process is done in a cool dry place. It is also a superstition that the maker must not be disturbed and no one talks in the surroundings lest it will make the tapey sour.

Mostly, it is the Igorot women who make the wine and the male head of the household or the oldest person in the household is to open the jar once it is ready to be drunk. The jars used have been owned by generations of families and have witnessed countless family traditions and stories. The wine, when properly blessed before serving, is said to help those who drink it to stay away from trouble.

This kind of wine is more often than not served during special occasions at the time that the men and women are ready to handle it already.

Overtly fermented rice wine becomes bitter and sour and is instead used to add flavor to various local dishes generally called “pinaspasan”.

Major Liquor Corporations

Beer is generally the favorite among Filipinos due its affordability compared to hard drinks. In 1998 alone, it has been reported that Filipinos have consumed about 1.25 billion liters of beer (equivalent to 3.9 billion of beer bottles). It is also the most available being widely available at groceries and convenience stores.

San Miguel Beer (SMB) is the Filipinos favourite alcoholic drink. Being a locally produced beer, its name has been steadily and deeply embedded in the Filipino psyche and it has become almost a generic name for beer in the Philippines. Its target market covers not only those from the C-D income bracket but also those in the corporate field. In 1997, SMC had spent $15.2 million on advertising, becoming the seventh largest advertiser in the country.

San Miguel Corporation is the country’s biggest beer company ranking number nine in the Philippine’s Top Corporations of 1999. Their sales have totaled up to US$766 million with a total of 327.6 million bottles of beer in 1998.

Asia Brewery is the second largest brewery in the Philipines, with 10% of its share in its home market. It produces malt beverages like beer, shandy, iced tea, bottled water and carbonated soft drinks. The corporation was established by business tycoon Lucio Tan with the goal to uplift the standards of Filipino products while making it affordable for its Filipino consumers. Its flagship brand, Beer na Beer, which was launched in 1988 under the original name of Beer Pale Pilsen. Disputes on the overgeneralization of the name forced the company to change it.

The corporation claims that Beer na Beer was preferred by 9 out of 10 people in a blind test. Its high quality and attractive pricing strategy made it the second biggest selling beer in the market. In 2001, Beer na Beer was reformulated and now, it has 6.0% alcohol. The next famous brand under Asia Brewery, Inc. is the malt liquor called Colt 45, which was launched in 1995 and tagged as “America’s premium strong beer”. Its biggest competitor is Red Horse Extra Strong from San Miguel Corporation. Asia Brewery Inc.’s other licensed brands are Carlsberg (the brewery's first beer in 1987), Lone Star (launched in 2000), Lone Star Light (launched in 2002), Colt Ice (launched in 2003), Lone Star ULTRA (the country's first low-carb beer, launched in 2004 and Stag.

The corporation claims to use quality water that has been through several purifying stages. Barley, the cereal grain of choice in the brewing process that imparts a rich and mellow flavor in beer, is brought to the malthouse where it is cleaned, steeped in water, allowed to germinate and then kilned. The resultant malt is a natural source of carbohydrates, enzymes and flavor compounds. Malt is what is known as the “soul” of all great beers.

Asia Brewery, Inc. also uses whole grain and broken rice to adds a lighter, crisper flavor to the beer. Melted granulated sugar is also mixed into the mixture during the boiling stage. Hops, that give the bitterness in the beer, are mixed in as well. And finally, yeast is essential as they metabolize the fermentable sugar into alcohol during the fermentation process.

Tanduay Distillers, Inc. is the sister company of Asia Brewery focused on producing hard drinks. Tanduay Rum has been produced in the Philippines for over a century. It was begun by on Joaquin Elizalde, together with his uncle, Juan Bautista Yrissary, and the Manila-based Spanish businessman and financier Joaquin Ynchausti. They have established a partnership named Ynchausti y Cia, which acquired the Manila Steamship Company. However, these businessmen did not originally trade or sold liquor. Their original line of business was shipping chandlery and abaca-making. The steamships they owned traversed the route of Laguna Lake to Manila. Later on, Valentin Teus, a cousing of the Elizaldes, joined the partnership. It was Teus who acquired a distillery in Hagonoy, Bulacan from Elias Menchatorre and merged it with Ynchausti y Cia.

Six years later, in 1854, a plant of the distillery was established in San Miguel District in Manila where the liquors were first bottled in oak casks. The Elizaldes have successfully sustained the growth and continuity of the business over generations and has evolved into the modern Tanduay Distillery. It has been considered one of the largest distilleries in the Philippines. Tanduay Rum’s slogan used for marketing is, "keeps pouring on the good times".

It has received international recognition throughout the years. In 1876, it has won several prestigious awards for excellence having three wins, including a gold award, at the International Rum Festival in 2003 held at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A bottle of Tanduay gin, priced at US$0.40 cents, is more preferred by the youth because of its more intoxicating and stronger quality than that of the beer. A bottle will be enough for a few hours of drinking for a small group.

References (13 August 2007).



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