Every culture has its own history of brewing and distilling liquor and spirits from local ingredients. When Ferdinand Magellan and the rest of the Spanish conquistadors first arrived in the Philippine islands, natives offered them local goods like fish, figs, and coconuts. They also gave them a jar of local alcohol, which historians claim was either arack, which is wine made from palm, or tuba, wine made from fermented coconut nectar.
The culture of drinking in the Philippines has continued into the present, with different bars, pubs, speakeasies, restaurants, and the like serving a wide variety of liquor and alcoholic concoctions. If you’re looking to explore locally-made spirits and wines made from native ingredients and rooted in cultural history and tradition, here’s a list of common Filipino drinks worth trying out.
Offering a potent kick is the local spirit lambanog. Most of the coconut-based liquor is produced in Quezon province in the southern areas of the Philippines, where quite a number of coconut plantations thrive. The drink is made from fermenting and distilling sap from an unopened coconut flower, producing a strong alcohol that typically rounds out at 40% ABV. It is then commonly sweetened with raisins. The result is a clear liquor which Thrillist describes as crisp and clean, with a subtle sweet, fruity tang. Although Quezon still keeps its tradition of producing the drink, there are plenty of factory-produced lambanog brands today that keep the same unique qualities of the spirit. Such is the case with Lakan Lambanog, a premium lambanog made from quality ingredients and years of perfecting the multi-stage distillation process.
Going up to the northern regions of the Philippines, the preference for alcohol changes from lambanog to basi, a fermented alcoholic drink made from sugarcanes. Enjoyed from the flatlands of Ilocos region to the mountainous areas of Kalinga, basi is a fermented drink made from sugarcanes processed in earthen jars called Burnay in Ilocos. Two types of spirits are produced, basing lalaki, which is high in alcoholic content with a strong, dry finish, and basing babae, which is sweeter and less potent. Basi is frequently made by local artisans and found along roadside stands or public markets. For a modern cocktail that highlights basi, a Filipino restaurant in the BGC area called Big Bad Wolf serves the Basi Spritz. A cocktail made from premium basi wine sourced from Vigan, white wine, elderflower liquer, campari, and orange juice, it has a tangy, refreshing beverage that highlights the unique qualities of the local liquor.
A Visayan counterpart of alcohol made from coconuts is tuba, which is similar to lambanog but is made by mixing the bark of a mangrove tree with the coconut sap, resulting in a reddish color. Mangrove bark, locally called tungog or barok, is pounded and ground as it is mixed with the coconut wine, and serves as a fermenting agent. The clear or milky coconut wine found in Luzon, although easy to make, has to be consumed in a span of one to two days before it further sours and ferments into coconut vinegar. To avoid that, the mangrove bark in Visayan tuba also acts as a preservation aid that prevents it from turning into vinegar. Just like wine, tuba also tastes better as it ages. Good, well-aged tuba is called bahalina, and tastes slightly sweeter and fruitier than its fresher counterpart. A mass-produced tuba called Vino de Coco hit the markets last 2013, making the drink commercially-available for people who want to try it. Vino de Coco offers sweet red, dry red, dry white, and sweet white varieties.
Also originating from the Cordillera region, tapuy or tapuey is a fermented rice wine that has a long tradition of being used for special occasions. Made from rice, onuad roots, ginger extract, and a natural powdered fermentation agent called bubod, the end result is mildly sweet with a strong kick, with around 14% alcohol content. The drink is described as tangy, with a unique smoothness and sweet licorice-like aftertaste. Apart from being great to drink on the rocks, tapuy also makes for a great foundation for a lot of cocktail concoctions. PhilRice recently launched a commercially-available premium and all-natural tapuy. Another small business producing bottled tapuy is Proudly Promdi, a company with a passion for indigenous liquor that partners with several Filipino fusion restaurants to produce cocktails that highlight the taste of local Filipino spirits.
Not a lot of locals know of the small, locally-grown berry called bignay or bugnay. With what Pepper.ph describes as a tangy and sweet taste reminiscent of blackberries, it comes as no surprise that the local Filipino berry can be fermented into an invigorating, fruity wine. Bignay are small, round berries in trees commonly found growing in the wild. They produce wine that can be mistaken for a glass of red wine, with its deep color, but the taste is slightly sweeter than red wine from grapes, with the bignay wine having an intensely heady fruity aroma. The berries give the wine unique, slightly tart notes similar to that of blackberries, as well as a good, hefty kick of alcohol. Today, there are plenty of local enterprises that produce bottles of good, medium-bodied bignay wine. Proudly Promdi also carries their own variant called Bielma, which is great on its own or mixed in with cocktails that highlight the berry’s unique tang.
Looking for delicious eats to pair with your choice of liquor? Check out Daydreaming in Paradise’s list of 10 Local Foods to Try When Visiting the Philippines.
If there’s one thing Jonah De Jesus loves, it’s food. He practically grew up in the kitchen, following his mom around as she put together delicious dishes (although he was sometimes more of a hindrance than a help). Although he eventually ended up taking a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, that love for all things gastronomical followed him well into his adulthood.
When he’s not watching reruns of Parts Unknown or trying to imitate Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen, Jonah spends most of his time scouring Manila for all the newest and best places to eat.