Besides the familiar social lubricant favourites out there today, particularly in the Philippines, a great many brews of different persuasions have happily emerged for every type of craft drinker. Rather than a run-of-the-mill commoner, anti-mainstream contenders have thankfully hit the marketplace (and your friendly local watering hole). In fact, while beer consumption in the country has declined by over 10 per cent since 1994, that of craft beer has consistently increased. Here are a few of the Philippines’ top chugs.
Beer, craft in particular, possesed that secret ingredient X for Ian Paradies. And so, in 2015, Paradies put up his own brewery, under Napa Gapa Beverages Corporation, with partner Josh Karten and the mindset that he would create flavour profiles and aromas that would appeal to the Filipino palate. “I felt the timing was right to put up a brewery as the market only had a few players and Filipinos were looking for variety,” shares Paradies.
As per the Filipino influence, Engkanto was thus born. The logo, as Paradies, points out, depicts a Filipino moth, speaking to his idea of magical transformation and interest in local superstitions. “We loved the idea of connecting Filipino folkloric beliefs because we want to take Filipinos from what they believed beer was to what beer can and should be.”
Paradies and Karten met via the owner of Craft Beverage Consulting and the Rhode Island-based brewery, Proclamation Ale Company. They instantly hit it off; while both bring the passion to the microbrewing table, Paradies, bitten by the entrepreneurial bug has the business side down pat, and Karten, the more technical of the two, oversees the R&D and the daily operations.
Employing US-style practices and fusing this with Filipino-centric recipes, Engkanto brews five flagship beer variants to great effect. There is the lager, blonde ale, pale ale, India pale ale (IPA), and double IPA. “These cater to a wide range of beer drinkers, and [even appeals to] people that don’t typically drink beer,” Paradies shares.
All five leave the brewery in kegs at Paradies’ new hip Poblacion establishment, Polilya, he serves his frothy beverages in no other way save for draught. Explains Paradies, “We believe that draught beer is the best way to fully enjoy a beer and all its flavours and characteristics.”
The frothy foam atop the Engkanto brew? He and Karten are building a larger facility in Carmona, Cavite, aimed at producing his stellar offerings in bottles with the goal of shipping out nationwide.
“It’s about going back to basics… giving respect to the malt, hops, yeast, and water,” says Josemari Cuervo. Funnily, it is not lost on the world that he could be mistaken for the founder of that Mexican tequila brand what with a name so synomous with massive nights out and notorious hangovers. “So I just used the translation of ‘cuervo’ which means crow in Spanish,” explains the Mestizo of how his clever eponymous branding came to be.
Surrounded by palates jaded—albeit fatigued—by the same old commercial golden stuff churned out by mega producers, Cuervo was moved to action. His experimentation turned into a phase of delicious discovery as well as a niche well met. Thus, Craft Brewing & Distilling Co., his little brewery that could, was commercially established in 2013 but it was as early as 2010 that he delved into the craft, so to speak.
“I found a beer brewing kit in the U.S. which had all the ingredients and tools for brewing one batch of 10 bottles. I was hooked! Problem was there were no ingredients available to brew another batch so I took advantage every single time I travelled back to the States. I would fill balikbayan boxes with malted barley and hand-carry hops back with me,” he says. “I never thought beer could taste or smell incredibly diverse from the usual large commercial producers available in the marketplace.”
It truly was a golden era and the big guys reigned supreme for decades. At the time there were barely five craft brewers in the Philippines. Then, as more mini outfits emerged, importers took notice and started bringing in all the necessary raw materials and tools needed to advance and scale-up operations from a purely home-brewing operation to a more commercial scale.
Thankfully, Crows has and will always be a limited batch brewery keeping its focus on quality rather than quantity. “Staying artisanal is where it’s at and I think craft beer is here to stay. It won’t take over big commercial beer business but it is an alternative option for more discerning craft enthusiasts. Craft brewers should not concern themselves with being the biggest, cheapest craft beer in the marketplace. They should focus on their product and everything else will be just fine,” he asserts, adding, “Craft beer is very much meant to be local and ideally It should be served where its brewed and not too far from the brewery.”
A sip of any of Cuervo’s cold ones will tell your palate that his influences hail from the west coast (U.S.) where the craft is very hop-centred. Here, the use of hops is taken to another level wherein the bitterness levels are right up there and the spectrum of aromas of west-coast variants are distinctly all their own.
Creating recipes for his four babies was something very personal for Cuervo and of his craft beer journey, he says he certainly enjoyed pushing the envelope.“
I’m a total hophead... someone who takes more importance in the aroma and bitterness of the hop as compared to the maltiness of the grain. If you look at the amount of hops per litre of beer brewed, it is considered by many to be extreme. That’s the way I like it so that’s how I brew it. I’m not looking to win a contest as the guy who brews the most ‘drinkable’ craft beer. I brew the beer I like to drink. Many have told me they can’t drink my beer but many have also said they love it. Crows likes to go overboard with the parametres that are set to define the style. Whether it be a pale ale, wheat beer, IPA, or a double-IPA. I enjoy going further than what the hop boundaries are supposed to be in a recipe,” he says.
For starters, there’s his IPA, Mala Hierba, and the ‘hierba’ he refers to here is the almighty hop used for both bittering and aroma. Mala Hierba comes from a saying which goes ‘Mala hierba nunca muere’ or ‘bad weed never dies.’ The Hierba Buena Pale Ale is Mala Hierba’s angelic sibling—100 per cent organic. Using only the finest certified organic malt and hops, Crows brewed the very first Philippine organic craft beer. Having only five per cent alcohol and low bitterness, there can be no guilt attached to this pale ale.
Next up is his double-IPA, De Puta Madre! (a Spanish expression used by many, which has come to mean that something tastes extremely good). “What better way to brand my flagship style than with the expression itself,” he shares. Lastly, there’s his wheat beer Carte Blanche, so called, explains Cuervo, because he went beyond the parametres of what a wheat beer should have in terms of alcohol and hop bitterness.
“People are sick and tired of big business. Large commercial brewerieshave been providing cheap beer for a very long time. You get what you pay for—cheap tasting beer. If you don’t care about taste and aroma but just want that alcoholic hit, then that’s your choice. Mind you, craft brewing isn’t cheap. We don’t have sophisticated brewing equipment that could make the beer look like liquid gold. Craft is about being artisanal, where aroma and taste is more important than how it looks. It’s about knowing it should be drank fresh because there are no adjuncts to preserve it like larger commercial breweries do,” he says.
Established in the fall of 2014 by Lucas Taylor Hendricks and his wife as part of the “second great wave” of Filipino craft breweries, the couple brewed their first batch in March 2015. They have since expanded exponentially, casting a wide net that covers Cebu, Manila, and a slew of central Visayan bars and resorts. “I’m sometimes not even aware of where we are as a result of our great partner distributors!” says Hendricks.
Under The Cebruery, seven core beers were created to showcase different traditional styles from different countries of origin with different flavour profiles but also to incorporate local ingredients into every single one.
Explains Hendricks, “Many not familiar with craft beer assume beer is just a pale, yellow, fizzy, slightly watery, moderately alcoholic beverage—we wanted to show people that, based upon history, tradition, local tastes and flavours, and the use of a wide variety of locally available ingredients—that beer could be light or dark; bitter or malty; sour or sweet; roasty or spicy, low or high in alcohol. We only limit ourselves in the use of artificial flavourings, chemicals, and extracts. Other than that, we start all our beers with a firm grounding in tradition and then give everything a uniquely local twist using, say, sour mangoes in our Guimaras Gose or local cacao in our Chocolate Hills Porter.”
Besides its niche slant, The Cebruery also advocates another massive trend that is so au courant: responsible sustainability. “I think the growth of the craft industry is a recognition that people are becoming more supportive of healthier, more economically and environmentally sustainable products, as well as a desire for more intense and experimental flavours. Beer is no longer universally considered a working man’s drink—it can be as refined and sophisticated as a world-class wine or a well-made cocktail, but it can also be democratic, less elite, and more accessible than any of these. Now that the floodgates have been opened and local ‘beverage artists’ are familiarising themselves with the techniques that just 20 years ago were considered by all to be beyond the ability of anyone to do except, say, San Miguel with their billions of pesos in equipment, you’ll have more people producing,more interest in what beer can be, and more interest in creating these uniquely local Filipino products with high quality local ingredients,” he says.
Just as it is insinuated in the surreal quality of the designs of The Cebruery’s labels, the first sip of any of Hendricks’ foamy antidotes is like the first time one steps through the proverbial looking glass. Finishes Hendricks: “It’s finally discovering the weird, wild, and crazy world of craft beer—this enormous assortment and array of flavours, aromas, and styles that delight the palate and histories and traditions that offer a glimpse into other cultures.”
Katipunan Craft Ales
Early 2012, head brewer, Raffy Taruc, rallied the beer guzzling troops, who then promptly made their first one gallon batch in his apartment kitchen. After some months of pleasurable R&D and notching enough batches under their brewing belts, they later incorporated the company and sold their first bottle of Indio Pale Ale later that year. Proudly, Katipunan Craft has since doubly scaled up and now operate out of their very own brewery in Pasig.
“Each of us at Katipunan Craft has had our own story of that first eyeopening sip of craft beer,” says Taruc, referring to partners Miguel Buling, Brett Lim, and Kiyo Miura. “Whether it was the creamy banana and clove of Hitachino White Ale or the hoppy citrus punch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. We had been missing out on the myriad flavours and aromas that ales offer since we grew up with essentially one beer style—the macrobrewed commercial lager. Craft beers can be sweet, sour, savoury, salty, bitter, earthy, herbal, citrusy, piney—you name it—and all just from varying combinations of malt, hops, and yeast,” shares Taruc, adding, “Our aim has always been to get people comfortable with having these flavours in their beers and help them get past beer’s stigma of being a cheap and watery way to get wasted.”
The demand for micro vs. the macro has flourished and the process of opening up a brewery has become far easier in recent years. In fact, the timing seemed quite serendipitous for the “revolutionary” Katipuñeros according to Taruc as the market was, as they say, ripe for the picking.
“When we were starting out, there was a very small but growing homebrew community. The barriers to entry were dauntingly high as equipment and ingredients weren’t locally available and there was barely a customer base to speak of. Today, raw materials can be ordered online, supply and distribution chains are in place, and the public is far more informed about the product. The past decade has also seen a shift in local food culture, with diners placing greater premium on innovation and creativity with flavours along with a respect for ingredients and technique—all hallmarks of craft brewing too. And since craft beer, like wine, is exceptionally pairable with any cuisine, it’s really not a tough sell. We’re seeing craft beer transition from a fleeting trend to a mainstay in both bar lists and the Pinoy drinker’s vocabulary,” he says.
An overview of craft beer demographics in the Philippines indicates a pretty diverse market. The average craft beer drinker here ranges from the 20-something millennial foodie to the 30-something professional looking for a quality nightcap, and even the 40-something dad and tita venturing from the familiar glass of wine or cocktail. To serve this clientele, Katipunan Craft stock bars and restaurants in and around Metro Manila with a greater focus on BGC and the Makati CBD.
With demand firmly in place and their flavour profiles ready to stir things up, the only thing left to focus on was a name and branding. Taking a leaf from the book of Sam Calagione, founder of legendary American brewery, Dogfish Head, the crafters took to the notion that a brewery’s name ought to be something they could look back on down the line and feel a personal connection with.
“We decided on Katipunan, the place we had grown up around as high school classmates before becoming the four founding partners of Katipunan Craft Ales. We liked that the root word ‘tipon’ connoted coming together and fostering camaraderie. It was also a happy coincidence and an honour that we share the name of Bonifacio’s revolutionary army as we, too, in a far humbler way, sought to bring change to a stagnant macro-dominated market,” shares Taruc. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the urbane Katipunan man set against a striking red ‘K’ of the Katipunan Craft Indio Pale Ale, Signal No. 1 stout, Three Hops And A Hop IPA, and Summer Down The Road can be spotted from across any room at select bars and restaurants.
The three craft musketeers behind Craftpoint are Carlos Juan Paolo “Chip” Vega, Marvin Moreno, and Aldous Bernardo. After the three met at a home brewers’ get-together in Makati, ideas were hashed out and a fruitful partnership was formed. While Moreno and Bernardo have had seven years of brewing experience, self-proclaimed “enthusiast” Vega became the missing business development and marketing link. Thus, Craftpoint was established in 2013, just a year after they met.
Charming and boldly packaged, Craftpoint’s heady line-up comprises Hopnosis, India Pale Ale, Revolution Belgian IPA, Liberation Pale Ale, Summer Sessions Blonde Ale, Summer Passion Blonde Ale, and Revolution Belgian IPA.
Shares Vega, “Our brew masters are particular about quality and challenging their creativity to create very unique craft beer experiences. The flavours that come out of that kind of brewing philosophy range from familiar to bizarre. We don’t have any particular flavour or style set whenever we create our recipes but we always aim to make it something interesting and enjoyable.”
The trio sees the role of big beer names having been invaluable to the development of the craft beer industry in that beer was and is made very accessible. To them, demand simply evolved into what craft beer can cater to—creativity, passion, and a culinary adventure. Concludes Vega: “We see a lot of new breweries and business models being tested and that tells me that the market is signalling that consumers are now more curious about craft beer and are willing to pay for a good craft beer experience.”
Generally, theirs is a clientele that enjoys good food and drinks. “Back when we started and the craft beer industry was just taking off, it was just a small and uniform segment with the rest still intimidated by the idea of drinking craft beer. Now, the market is more open to trying new styles of beer and appreciating the different nuances of these styles,” he says, similarly acknowledging that the same could be said for the rising trend in coffee and cocktails. Craftpoint now boasts many points of distribution nationwide with the bulk of their products found throughout Manila as well as surftown San Juan, La Union, where their rare brews are available on tap at Curious Creatures, a laidback hipster joint.