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Filipinos are the world’s biggest consumers of gin, but…


A recent program on BBC said that the biggest consumer of gin in the world is the Philippines. Guests in the program were talking about how the number of juniper plants whose berries give gin its flavor has been dwindling. The name gin is from “genver,” the Dutch word for juniper.

Why they were discussing gin had something to do with how the English love gin and the idea that a low supply of juniper will mean less gin to have in the future. The makers, however, said that for a big volume of the alcohol, only a little volume of the juniper oil was needed and that they had a lot in stock. The huge Philippine market should also be glad.

But is it true about the high consumption here? I thought of the story told to me by a resident of Batanes. He said that when the supply ships come to its shores, half the cargo are gin bottles. A friend who spent months there for anthropological studies mentioned how gin bottles sent there are big, like the “litro” containers of soft drinks.

Gin has added rather imaginative phrases to our language. The square bottle of one brand has been called “quatro cantos” for ages and the low-quality products are considered “gin-bulag,” a description of what a bad drink can do to you.

Basic ingredients

But gin isn’t considered a local drink or “inuming Pinoy,” according to the late Edilberto Alegre who wrote a book on just that. Local drinks would be laksoy” or lambanog, tuba, basi, tapey. The basic ingredients can be the saps of coconut and nipa, the juice of sugar cane that can also be combined with rice.

What proved both informative and entertaining reading about local alcohol was a calendar brought out by Tanduay Rhum on its 150th year in 2004. It was the company’s tribute to tagay, the toast to drinking through its many years. It contained the following nuggets:

Basi has a place in our history because of a rebellion by the people of Piddig, Ilocos Norte, in 1807 against the regulation of its manufacture and sale by the Spanish. The short-lived victory of the basi revolutionaries resulted in the execution of their leaders.

The drink is made by cooking sugarcane juice infused with samak berries and leaves and fermented in burnay jars. Samak is a tree that grows only north of the country and burnay are the clay jars fashioned in Ilocos using huge kilns. (I have been told, however, that many of the kilns can no longer be used because there is not enough wood to fire them, hence very little burnay are made.)

Aging basi involves burying those burnay jars underground (usually under houses) where they stay sometimes for as long as five years. Digging them out involves using a map, like in a treasure hunt.

Tapuy is made from a mash of ground rice and corn mixed with a rice yeast called bubud (or fufud to Bontocs). Whenever a celebration or a cañao in the Cordilleras is held, the tapuy is not supposed to run out so water is added to the mix a little at a time until the party winds down.

Lambanog is tuba (coconut wine) that is distilled. Jesuit priest Juan Delgado wrote in the 18th century how it was aged by adding “canela bits (cinnamon); lime or orange peels, preferably the naranjita China” among other flavorings. The information also included how women in Quezon and Batangas could drink as hard as the men.

Wherever there is an abundance of coconut in places, there will surely be tuba, the alcoholic drink made from coconut sap. There are names to describe how old or aged the tuba is in Waray. From one to three days old, it’s bag-o; several weeks old is bahal; several months to years aged is bahalina.

Alegre in his book added “stainless” as the term used in La Paz, Leyte, for the fresh tuba.

Laksoy is made from nipa sap that is distilled. Dalisay is the term for the distilled drink that was described by Jesuit priest Ignacio Francisco Alcina in the 17th century.

In Barrio Babag, Butuan, where laksoy is an industry, priests use this as their wine for communion, tempering the drink with slices of potato, apples and duhat (lambog).

Other native wines

The information included other wines made in specific places and at certain times. The Manobos of Bukidnon have agkud for celebrations; made from a mix of cassava, sorghum, corn and tikap, which is rice mixed with rice yeast.

Father Alcina mentioned two kinds of wines in the Bisayas that are no longer done. One is kabarawan, made by burning an aromatic tree also called kabarawan; grounding the bark, boiling that in liquid until reduced to half and then mixing the reduction with honey to ferment it. Kabarawan is sipped with straws from the jar.

The other is intus, a Samar drink that is made from sugar cane juice which is boiled with a bark just before it becomes sugar and also fermented in jars.

That comment about gin created a thirst for information about local drinks that was quenched by reading once more this old calendar that proved to be a real treasure.

E-mail the author at pinoyfood04@yahoo.com.

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Tags: Alcohol , Drinks , Gin , Lifestyle

  • Diepor

    Its GT time.

  • Marx Louis Wang

    Mr Fenix, the title of your article should be “History of Filipino “Gin”".

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