Philippine Craft Beer in 2014
2014 has been a banner year for beer in the Philippines. I would go so far as to say that it’s been the most eventful and momentous so far since the craft beer started. Decades from now, food and beverage historians and writers could very well say that this was the year the craft beer scene really began to take off from tight-knit fledgling community to a recognized phenomenon.
Numerous new nanobreweries popped up — with some seemingly out of nowhere; and others finally taking the long-awaited next step from homebrewing. The Craft Beer Association of the Philippines is also in its gestational period, with the initial organizational structure and membership likely to be finalized within the next year.
Even “big” breweries, particularly the distant second-placer in terms of volume sales, has acknowledged the growing market behind good beer. Even industrial lagers were seen touting the hops they used in a since-abandoned campaign, and a new, local attempt at a Blue Moon counterpart was launched (this one is a mass-produced and -owned beer, purporting to be a Belgian-style wit, even, but tasting nothing of the sort).
Problems, particularly with customs and the importation of both raw materials and craft beer itself, plagued both importers and brewers. However, as the events of this year have shown, inefficient (and/or corrupt) bureaucracy and red tape will not get in the way of a steadfast will. The craft beer movement is here to stay, folks.
One of the biggest, and to my mind, most successful events of the year was Drink Up Philippines. This was perhaps the first real beverage festival in the country, and it took a bunch of Hong Kong-based event specialists to make it happen. By way of disclosure, I met the organizers of Beertopia in Hong Kong and Drink Up in the Philippines at a recent event at Edsa Beverage Design Studios. At least one of them, I was surprised to find out, speaks Filipino, so maybe they’re not all full-blooded Hong Kong-ese. Furthermore, I paid for my ticket, albeit at a slight 20% discount care of the then-launching Xavierbier. That said, the variety of drinks available, from mass market drinks (gotta get sponsors after all) to a pronounced emphasis on small-batch producers (from craft breweries to distilleries and cocktail bars), partnered with good food and good music, made the event a success (at least from the point of view of a craft beer enthusiast — I have no clue if Drink Up was a financial hit).
There are probably around two dozen small batch breweries in the country today (from those starting to get their equipment and perfecting their recipes to those already out in the market), both craft and well, not-so-craft. Even better, they are spread far across the different islands of the Philippines, making it a bit of a chore to try out everything. Here are some of the new and not-so-new breweries of 2014:
The Perfect Pint is the first local craft beer-centric brewpub that truly focuses on pairing food and beer. They also have the occasional home brew available (it runs out easily, and I don’t know how often they brew). As a brewery, I can say that they are off to a good start: their Guts n’ Glory IPA was perhaps the best beer from a new brewer that I tried at Drink Up. More on them as a brewpub in the very near future.
7107 (not to be confused with Great Islands Craft Brewery, which makes its own 7107 ale) is the in-house beer brand of Burgers and Brewskies. I tried a pretty decent Belgian dubbel at Drink Up, and have seen glimpses online of a wheat beer which they brew more regularly, but which I haven’t tried. They have a distinct home brew yeastiness to their ale.
Katipunan Craft is by no means a newcomer, but they did come out with their only new release of the year, Weizenberg, a crisp and tasty Belgian-style wit that, in my opinion, straddles the flavor profile of both Belgian and German wheat beers. It is light, at 3.8% but nevertheless filling due to its high carbonation. A nice brew for when you need as much mental and motor skills to spare.
Joe’s Brew, which offers the Soothsayer and Fish Rider pale ales, and Sierra Madre Wheat Beer, is the brainchild of Francis Oñate, the man behind the Beerology food trucks (a craft beer retailer) and Amazing Cones, if I’m not mistaken. Soothsayer was a tasty, sessionable pale, but a bit too light for my tastes. Fish Rider was a hoppier, hardier version, which was another favorite of mine at Drink Up. I’m not sure what their agreement is (co-owners? friends?), but the beers appear to be regularly available at the newly-opened Locavore in Kapitolyo, Pasig. A friend of mine is one of the owners, although I have yet to visit.
Munting Ilog is a Filipino brewery, but not a Philippine-based brewery. Its mysterious and secretive brewer “Wallah B. Tiojan” is based out of California, by way of Munting Ilog, Cavite. I don’t even think that’s his real name, and the fact that his profile picture is sometimes that of a big drug kingpin from Breaking Bad makes me even more curious about who he really is and what he really does. Heh heh. Nevertheless, his Tulisan IPA and Mama Citra’s Citra Pale Ale are on par with the usual west coast brews that are imported here. It’s no surprise that he has won some homebrewing awards in the U.S.
James Gatlabayan, on the right with the author, is actually a friend of my wife, and is a new brewer with only a couple of batches under his belt, but he malts his own barley and came out with some of the best first-timer brews I have tried, a British-style IPA and an Oatmeal Stout. Looking forward to this guy really starting his own brewery.
Did I miss out on some of your favorite new brewers or brewpubs? Of course I did. This is only an introduction to the year that has been. More features on 2014 releases with brewery spotlights and the best places to savor a real beer will follow over the next few days and into the new year.
Hoppy Holidays indeed!