With more than 294,000 Filipino migrants in Australia and millions more around the globe, it’s surprising that it took so long for Filipino cuisine and drinks to steal their moment in the spotlight.
As Asian food writer Maida Pineda notes, it’s taken decades for Filipino food to become more familiar outside the Philippines — but now, it’s finally getting traction abroad. Foods such as adobo, kare-kare, sinigang, lechon, sisig, and halo-halo are slowly working their magic on the tastebuds – and waistlines – of people beyond the Philippines’ 7641 islands.
And of course, with food comes drink. According to Filipino food blogger Jonah de Jesus, Filipinos have been brewing and distilling liquor since well before the Spanish conquistadors ever set foot on the Philippine islands. Upon the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet, natives offered them a jar of local alcohol, along with some fish, figs, and coconuts.
Historians believe this was either arak, which is a wine made from palm, or tuba, wine made from fermented coconut nectar. Moreover, Filipino drinking culture has persisted well into the 21st century, along with pulutan or drinking snacks to boot.
While award-winning bartender Richie Cruz says the country has “a long way to go” when it comes to gaining recognition internationally, it’s no secret that the Philippines has begun to make its mark in the world of alcohol and bartending.
Renowned Filipino bartender Kalel Demetrio has said that the country is “the dark horse of the mixology world.”
It promises to be an exciting year for Filipino drinks brands, as Asian spirits, liqueurs, beer and wines enter a new era of global recognition. Here are just a few of the brands leading the charge.
Local favourite wins top award
Lambanog comes from the Quezon province in Luzon, and is known as one of the most popular spirits hailing from the Philippines. The palm liquor is prepared by fermenting and distilling the sap of an unopened coconut flower. Different flavourings can be added afterwards.
The brand making a name for itself internationally is Lakan. Its crisp and smooth beverage won the Gold Award during the 53rd World Selection of Spirits. Though this drink has gained popularity over the years, this distinction put it on the map for alcohol enthusiasts as a drink to look out for. It can be drunk on its own due to its sweet flavours or mixed together in a Lambanog Lime & Soda. Just be careful when sipping this as it contains a significantly high alcohol content at 40% ABV.
San Miguel’s Australian boom
Most parties and other celebrations in the Philippines are not complete without beer. Though the drink has a long history dating back to ancient civilizations, it was popularised in the Philippines by Spanish colonisers.
San Miguel has been one of, if not the, longest-standing breweries in Southeast Asia.
The brand is extremely popular in the Philippines and has a growing number of fans in the global community as well. So much so that in 2020, Australian brewing company Gage Roads formed a deal with San Miguel to distribute its range, including the Pale Pilsen, Low Carb Beer, and extra-strength Red Horse.
Around 40,000 cartons of San Miguel brands are sold each year in Australia. Globally, the brews are sold across 50 other countries, generating a whopping $7 billion in revenue. With the wide variety of beer available under the San Miguel name, it is no wonder why people all over the world want to get their hands on these drinks.
Filipino rum sales boom
Rum may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about alcoholic drinks from the Philippines, but it makes sense considering the country’s thriving sugarcane industry.
Among the rum brands gaining worldwide attention are Tanduay, Don Papa and Kasama.
Tanduay is the oldest rum distillery in the Philippines, starting operations over 160 years ago in 1854. It has been the world’s top-selling rum for the last three years, outselling Bacardi.
Last year, it was the only million‐case brand to report double‐digit growth, securing the top accolade of Rum Brand Champion 2021. Tanduay managed to grow volumes from 20.5 million cases in 2019 to 23.9m cases in 2020 – a 16.6% increase.
“Currently, we have reached the US, UAE, China, Singapore, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg,” a Tanduay spokesperson said. “We are slated to add more distribution regions in North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific in the coming months. With our recent global expansion, we are hoping to reach more consumers that would patronise the brand.”
Filipinos enjoy it straight or added into many popular cocktails, such as the Weng-weng, a potent mix of tequila, Scotch, brandy, rum, bourbon, vodka, orange juice, pineapple juice and a dash of Grenadine.
Meanwhile, Don Papa is the world’s fastest-growing super-premium rum. The brand recently arrived on Australian shores and has quickly established itself as a favourite with both consumers and bartenders.
Don Papa was launched in 2011 by Stephen Carroll, who previously worked at Diageo and LVMH before creating Bleeding Heart Rum Company. Carroll was inspired by stories of an island in the Philippines reputed to have the finest sugar cane in the world.
Negros Occidental, known locally as Sugarlandia because of its rich swathes of sugar cane, is a fertile island that is home to the active volcano Mt Kanlaon.
Filipino craft gin turns heads
Filipino craft spirit pioneers are also exploring gin production. Launched by journalist Cheryl Tiu and restauranteur Carlo Calma, Proclamation Gin has put the country’s national flower, the sampaguita, at the forefront of its brand,
There are 12 botanicals inside Proclamation Gin, including juniper berry, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, orange peel, lemon peel, liquorice root, cassia bark, almond nut, lemongrass, fresh Sampaguita flower and toasted sticky rice.
“We really want to have a global Filipino product, world-class, export-quality,” Calma told Tatler. “I think in the past few years only now the world is recognising Filipino cuisine and there is a big interest there. When we started we would let the top chefs and top bartenders in the world try our gin – and consistently, they are intrigued and love the flavour profile notes.”
Proclamation recently made its debut in New York.
“It’s so surreal to have had the premier launch of our Filipino small batch gin, 100% made in the Philippines, in one of the greatest cities in the world and at one of Manhattan’s most gorgeous venues, The Peninsula New York’s Chalet de Ning,” Tiu said.
The new wave of alcohol connoisseurs from the Australian cocktail boom would definitely enjoy a trip to the Philippines, if only for their adventurous beverages. Or keep an eye out these spirits on Australian shores, as they’re becoming more widely available internationally.
By Asha Ezra Clarkson