I fortuitously and serendipitously chanced upon Palaweño Brewery a year ago, when I booked a trip to Puerto Princesa City and El Nido, Palawan. Based on the superior ratings and favorable reviews at Booking.com as well as a more than reasonable price point and a quiet but relatively central location, I decided to book at the homey and family-owned Matutina Pensionne. While doing more research on what to do in Palawan (given that it was my third time in Puerto Princesa, there would not be too many new touristy things to try). Imagine my excitement when I found a Facebook page for the “first craft beer in the Philippines’ last frontier”. I shot them an email, and I was even more surprised to find out that the people behind Palaweño Brewery were the same people running Matutina. The surprises would not end there, as I discovered when I got to Palawan that the brewers were ladies. Malu and Ayah not only ran the Pension House, but the brewery as well, with the same friendly guest staff, particularly our favorite, Apol, short for Apolinario, helping out with the heavy lifting.
At the time, they only had two beers, served in bottles. Palawan Wit was their first brew, a Belgian-style witbier, the recipe of which they tinkered with and eventually perfected without even trying an “authentic” craft beer yet. I had dared say at the time that this was a close rival to my favorite of its style, Hitachino Nest’s White Ale. Ambog Ale, on the other hand, was a hoppy take on the usually malty sweet American Amber style. I loved it, and I saw the potential for this brewery to appeal to the hopheads in Manila if they built on the flavor profiles of their offerings at that point. This was a highlight on a vacation full of them, and that’s saying something (especially because I got engaged on this trip).
One year later, they have expanded their production to include a tap system, moved out of Matutina to their own taproom, and even have begun a microbrewery tour. (Incidentally, I’m not sure if they are still running the Pensionne. I sincerely hope so, as my now-wife and I had some fantastic memories of Palawan thanks to that home away from home. And yes, they also sent over a case of beer as a wedding present to us). They have since introduced several new beers of various styles, hosted the usual foreign backpackers, media groups both national and international, and your favorite PBA players even.
I know the road for them has been tough, and they have had their fair share of criticism. A lot of their stock that had reached Manila in the middle of 2014 turned out funky, skunky, sour, astringent, or whatnot. I don’t know if it was improper sanitation, bottling, shipping, storage or what have you, but some negative reviews came, and I myself tasted a bad batch or two. I defended, and at some point, rationalized that the problem may have been in bringing the beers here, as their ales were fantastic when fresh. Luckily, the ladies have weathered the storm, and are now supplying a steady stream of beer to Manila. The quality is much more consistent with what they serve fresh at home.
Incidentally, their coming into their own also coincided with their third (by my count) redesign of their labels into something more minimalist, modern and elegant. They kept their Ayahay seal, and made it the prominent center of solid-colored backgrounds – a different one for each brew. It’s a lot cleaner than their old designs, and the logo really jumps off the bottle. I always loved the native-meets-coat-of-arms look of their logo, and as Malu told me, it is the one element of the brewery that will never change, as it was designed by a friend who had passed away in a tragic car accident. Their new labels not only do justice to the memory of their friend, but to the quality of the beer and the hard work of these ladies as well.
The first of their new offerings I tried was Ayahay IPA. It was a more hoppy and bitter than Ambog, as it ought to be, and while the improvement was there, it had a bit of that distinct yeastiness I often get with local home brews. Nevertheless, a good beer, and as good or better than many first-time IPAs I’ve had from local brewers.
Their Hunter Honey Nut Brown Ale (made with the famous Palawan raw honey) was a nice take on the classic nut brown style which rarely is experimented on by local brewers (Katipunan released its Christmas in Our Malts Chestnut Brown Ale, but that’s as far as I can recall), likely because again, it is a more malt-forward style that brewers tend not to like (but craft beer neophytes may gravitate towards). This was malty, with a prominent honey flavor but without being too sweet. Definitely, I’d take this over Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar. In the US, it is recommended to pair this beer style with a roast chicken or turkey dinner, and indeed, it went well with pan-roasted chicken thighs and vegetables.
Nognog Oatmeal Stout was their Christmas 2014 limited release. While the name may seem a bit awkward, maybe even racist, and definitely reminiscent of politicians which leave a bad taste in the mouth, the beer itself was pretty good. It was all black coffee roasted malt – with a subtle sweetness and bitter finish, and robust enough to stand toe to toe with other stouts or porters out there. Compared to everyone’s favorite Anderson Valley Barney Flats, this Oatmeal Stout could hold its own.
Tandikan was a Kiwi IPA, which, because of both the fruit involved and again, that usual yeast issue, ended up a bit on the tart side, but it was definitely a unique experience worth trying. I’m not big on fruit beers as they tend to be too sweet, but the fact that it was on the sourish side and still had the hops I longed for made it work for me. That said, this is a style I would only go for when I’m in search of something new. But that’s just personal preference.
Incidentally, they now have a Raspberry beer that I haven’t tried and probably won’t unless I share a bottle with someone to taste. Again, it’s just a general aversion I have to fruits (even fruit desserts).
Finally, this brings me to Palaweño Brewery’s magnum opus: Tipping Point IPA. This was, as they called it, their “take on the Plinian tradition”, or in other words, a Pliny the Elder clone. It came strongly hyped because they themselves were proud of their brew, but the first batch they sent to the Metro went bad, but early this year, I was finally able to try it after they couriered me a complimentary bottle (along with the aforementioned Nognog). This was their best so far, primarily because it tickled all my favorite taste buds. However, the aroma and flavor were closer to Stone IPA or Brewdog Punk IPA than Pliny, and if you’ve tried all three of those beers, you know that that’s not a bad thing at all. Hopefully they turn this into a regular release.
So, after a year of promising an article, I write one on Palaweño Brewery. It was also International Womens’ Day yesterday, and I hope you enjoyed my reading about these fantastic women and their delicious brews as much as I enjoyed meeting them, watching them learn and grow as brewers, and even being a part of their story in my small way.