Before the Spaniards colonized the Philippines, the Filipinos were already trading with foreigners like the Arabs and Chinese. During this time, the Filipinos acquired new products in exchange for local goods and one of these products are alcoholic beverage. In fact, the Filipino word “alak” may have been attributed to the Arab word “arraq,” which means strong liquor.
The popular alcoholic concoction called “lambanog” and “tuba” may have originated from Indian “arrack,” which was influenced from the Arab liquor. In this case, the development of lambanog and tuba was fostered because of the abundance of coconut in the archipelago. In the case of lambanog, the drink is distilled from the sap of the unopened coconut flower and is particularly potent, having a typical alcohol content of 80 to 90 proof after a single distillation, but may go as high as 166 proof after the second distillation. Though known as the “poor man’s drink,” because its easy to make, lambanog has now evolved into an export-quality brand as flavorings are added to make this drink a high-end product.
Tuba, a popular local drink in the Visayas, is another case. The process begins with the sap from coconut palm tree flowers. The sap is harvested into bamboo receptacles , where it is put through a cooking or fermentation process to produce tuba, which can then be distilled to produce lambanog.
The abundance of rice crops also led to the development of rice-based alcoholic beverage like the “kulapo” — a reddish colored wine, “pangasi” — a rice wine from Mindanao, and “tapuy” — a clear rice wine spirit popular in the Cordillera region. Aside from rice, the Filipinos also developed other alcoholic drinks from other crops like corn and sugar cane. Both crops were introduced by the Spaniards from their sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean and the corn imports from Mexico.
were hanged and beheaded in public (Credits: elaput.org)
“Basi,” a popular drink in the Ilocandia, is created by slowly cooking the juices from crushed sugar canes. The cooked juices is then poured into large clay vats and allowed to ferment. Basi has an interesting role in the region’s history too. From September 16-28, 1807, a revolt (the Ambaristo Revolt or Basi Revolt, as it’s popularly known) led by Pedro Mateo in Piddig, Ilocos Norte erupted because of their defiance of the Spanish decision to expropriate the manufacture and sale of basi, which effectively banned the private manufacture of the wine. It was a rare moment wherein Filipinos rebelled against their colonial masters not because of political pressure and religious persecution but it was because of what you called “spiritual” disenfranchisement.
An interesting specimen in our rich cultural well is the Ibanag alcoholic beverage called “lay-aw.” It is believed to be the strongest alcoholic brew in the Philippines and even rivaled the the Mexican “mezcal” in potency and alcohol content. It is somewhat similar to tapuy but corn is used instead of the glutinous rice. “Agkud” on the other hand is a Manobo liquor made from rice, corn, cassava or sorghum.
The three centuries of Spanish rule also mean that the Filipinos have acquired the European drinking culture. In the pre-Spanish period, drinking was a serious affair because it solidified marriages of two people and their families, it cements inter-community agreements and consummate tribal alliances. The introduction of European culture in the islands, however, introduced the ills of drinking culture such as gambling, prostitution and binge drinking.
Its not surprising that by the time German ethnographer Fedor Jagor visited the Philippines during Jose Rizal’s time, he made some “bad” impressions upon the people who he said “lazy” and “compulsive gamblers.” Can we blame him? Or are these traits inherited from their Spanish masters.
The art of eating “pulutan” during drinking session may be attributed to the Spanish culture of tapas-tapas. Pulutan is any cooked dish (meat, chicken, pork, seafood) taken with wine, beer, liquor during a drinking session. However, the tapas in the Spanish cultural scheme of things became a non-drinking food — somewhat similar to an American beef jerky, and the emergence of pulutan as a distinct cuisine centered on alcohol became the norm in the Philippines. Pulutan is an enigma as it is distinct from regular meals and merienda. As a matter of fact, some of the pulutan cuisine became regular meals themselves (i.e. sisig and barbecue) or pulutan itself became the centerpiece of an occasion (i.e. fiestas and birthdays).
On September 29, 1890, the Philippines became the first country in Southeast Asia to opened a brewery. Under a royal grant, Enrique Barretto y de Ycaza opened La Fábrica de Cerveza de San Miguel at 6 Calzada de Malacañang in Manila, near the Palace of the Governor-General of the Philippines. The trade-name San Miguel, originates from the local brewery of San Miguel, Barcelona, Spain. He named the company after the section of Manila in which he lived and worked.
Barretto was soon joined by Pedro Pablo Roxas, who brought with him a German brewmaster, Ludwig Kiene, as technical director. San Miguel’s brew won its first major award at 1895’s Philippines Regional Exposition. After six years of operation, the fledgling brewery was outselling imported brands five to one.
On the other hand, San Miguel’s foremost competitor Tanduay Distillers, Inc., predated them by 40 years. Tanduay Rum has been produced in the Philippines for over a century. It begun as Ynchausti y Cia under the partnership of Joaquin Elizalde, together with his uncle, Juan Bautista Yrissary, and the Manila-based Spanish businessman and financier Joaquin Ynchausti. The partnership did not originally trade or sold liquor because their original line of business was shipping chandlery and abaca-making. The steamships they owned, after acquiring the Manila Steamship Company, traversed the route of Laguna Lake to Manila. Later on, Valentin Teus, a cousin 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, 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 received international recognition throughout the years.
The art of cooking pulutan has evolved and controversial partly because of the use archaic methods as well as exotic animals. Poor people, particularly in the rural agricultural areas tend to develop unique dishes mythified for their potency and hidden “aphrodisiac” powers. “Camaro,” which are field crickets cooked in soy sauce, salt, and vinegar, became popular in Pampanga; “papaitan,” which is goat or beef innards stew flavored with bile that gives it a bitter taste; Soup No. 5, which is a soup made out of testicles that can be found in restaurants in Binondo, Manila; “asocena” or dog meat popular in the Cordilleras; and “pinikpikan” chicken where the chicken has been beaten to death to tenderize the meat and to infuse it with blood. It is then burned in fire to remove its feathers then boiled with salt and pork.
The Filipinos has also evolved grilling to a whole new level. Some grilled foods include “isaw,” chicken or pig intestines marinated and skewered; “tenga,” pig ears that are marinated and skewered; pork barbecue which is a satay marinated in a special blend; “betamax,” which is a salted solidified pork blood that is skewered; “adidas,” which is grilled or sautéed chicken feet. And there is “sisig” a popular pulutan made from the pig’s cheek skin, ears and liver that is initially boiled, then grilled over charcoal and afterwards minced and cooked with chopped onions, chillies, and spices.
I wonder if they’re drinking San Miguel beer by the Pasig River
The alcoholic beverage industry grew during the American period and it was during this time that San Miguel became the name synonymous to Philippine beer. By the time the Prohibition kicked in the United States, the watering holes throughout Manila became the place to be for American expatriates. Though Governor General James Smith went as far of mentioning the idea of enforcing “regional” prohibition in the colony, it didn’t happen simply because most expatriates made the Philippines their own vacation getaway. Interestingly, through the years America has stayed “sober,” the Philippines became an instant stopover for foreigners who go in and out of Asia. With the enforcement of the Volstead Act, the Americans have stopped all ships with liquors and other alcoholic beverages bound for the Philippines. Bills of health were denied and quarantine was enforced. This became the decade where San Miguel gained ground by capitalizing the absence of foreign competition. In a September 29, 1924 issue of “The New York Times,” the ships “can defy ruling may enter Manila without clearances for cargo and then-pay small fines.”
The Eighteenth Amendment forbids “the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes.” Nevertheless, beer houses and speakeasies were on their hey-days in the city of Manila, as a matter of fact, American administrators and other foreign expatriates freely mingled with local socialites. Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Michael Tan summed it up, “even if Prohibition [is] extended to the Philippines, we probably continued with our many happy traditional brews like tuba, basi, lambanog.”
During the Second World War, American soldiers became hooked to lambanog that they even went to call it as “jungle juice.”
Fast forward to the present time, alcoholic drinks have come a long way and now competition between the big companies have made saturated the market with different products, which resulted in the development of new concoctions that any one can imagine. San Miguel Pale Pilsen remains the most famous and widely known brand in the Philippines. Trends, however, varies according to demographics with regards to the San Miguel’s competitors. Gold Eagle Beer is more common in the rural areas while Colt 45 and Red Horse are favored by compulsive hard drinkers. In layman’s language, beer is known as “kalawang,” which is the Tagalog word for rust since beer seem to take the color of it.
Ginebra San Miguel is most selling gin brand in the country. Its iconic bottle shape is called “kwadro kantos” because of its square shape. It lighter variant GSM Blue is said to be smoother in taste. Its rivals Kapitan and London Gin failed to keep up its sales with Ginebra. Gin (Ginebra in particular) is eerily dubbed as “Gin-bulag” because it is said that drinking too much would make you blind.
Rum is eponymically attributed to Tanduay because of its distinct taste and iconic bottle. The smaller bottles are clled “lapad” because of their distinctive wide body and the tall round bottles are called “torre” or “long neck.” Its competitors include Emperador, Tondenia Premium Rum, and Anejo 65. The top three brandy in the market are Barcelona, Generoso and Gran Matador.
The growing party scene also brought in new line of drinks that cater to the younger consumers like vodka and tequila. Prominent brands include Cossack Vodka and Antonov Vodka. Don Enrique Mixkila is a hybrid tequila and distilled spirits. As for the older drinkers, a duo of Chinese wine such as Vino Kulafu and Siok Tong are popular especially in the rural areas.
Filipinos have also made distinct mixes of various liquors into unique concoctions like:
a. Gin Pomelo — a cocktail made out of Gin, Pomelo juice powder, and crushed ice. It became the drink of choice for the younger drinkers back in the late 1990’s when Tang introduced its “Litro Pack” line of powdered Juices.
b. Expired — is a simple concoction made up of two 500ml bottles of Red Horse beer mixed with one small bottle of gin. It is then poured into a large pitcher and a big chunk of ice is added into it. Some put two “Stork” brand menthol candies into the mix. It was called expired since drinkers say it tastes like “expired beer”.
c. Kagatan — the Tagalog word for “Biting” even though it has nothing to do with this cocktail. It was called “Kagatan” because the ingredients for this drink are KApe (kape, coffee), GAtas (gatas, milk) and TANduay (the Tanduay brand of Rum).
d. Boracay — is drink is apparently invented in Boracay island. It is said to be the Filipino version of Bailey’s Irish Cream. It is made up of Rum, beer, chocolate malt powder, evaporated milk, gin, and finely ground peanuts.
e. Calibog — a drink that made quite a stir from its name alone since “Libog” means “Libido” in Tagalog. Rumor has it that this drink acts like an aphrodisiac, hence the name. But the truth is that it got the name from its ingredients: CALI for the Cali brand of non-alcoholic beer, B for Beer, and OG comes from lambanog.
Alcohol drinking is a big part of the Filipino merry-making activities. Beer is an essential part of fiestas, birthdays, and parties. Even when there is no special occasion, many Filipinos hang out together in the streets, in front of their houses and convenience stores drinking gin and tonic, which is a considerably cheaper alcoholic drink.
Without it, life would be laid back and straightforward. The popular San Miguel Beer slogan “Iba’ng may pinagsamahan” will forever be in every Filipino psyche.
Local Alcoholic Drinks
Philippine Local Alcoholic Drink Brands
Philippine Local Liquors
Himagsikan Dahil sa Basi
The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes
Filipino Food Cuisine/Glossary
Killing Me Softly
Ringside view of ‘pinikpikan’ process
“The American Colonial State in the Philippines,” by Julian Go and Anne Foster
“The Evening Independent,” September 24, 1924 issue
Drying the Philippines
Philippine-American War, 1898-1902, by Arnaldo Dumindin
“Pinoy Kasi: Something brewing,” by Michael Tan. Philippine Daily Inquirer. August 14, 2009.
Munting Kasiyahan, illustration by Romeo Tanghal Sr.
Top advertising slogans, by Willy Arcilla
“Alcohol and media: The situation in the Philippines,” by Joyce Valbuena