In countries like Japan and America, craft beers have made a small but substantial Neil Armstrong step on bar menus and liquor shop sales. In the Philippines, where San Miguel is the patron saint of tambayan (despite valiant challenges from the counter-hegemonic Beer na Beer), craft beer remains the domain of a hobbyist few. But a gang of microbrewers making beer on the rooftop of a Manila office building is working to change that.
I interview two of the four boys just outside Ritual, the local grocer where you can find their ale. It is a warm day, and the Indio Pale Ale condensing on the table at first seemed slightly out of place. They liken their ale more to an American pale ale than, to what a pun might suggest, Indio Pale Ale or IPA.
Raffy, who brews the beer himself, flips the bottle cap off and pours it for me to try. I have always looked upon pale ale as a cold weather libation, but as I pick up the bottle, I immediately sense that the beer really understands the heat of its setting. Paring back the hops more pronounced in some pale ales left not only a lighter beer, but also one that allows local tongues a good introduction to craft beer.
“We had a lot of iterations since October,” Raffy says of the Indio Pale Ale. “From the start we wanted to brew a pale ale, something other people would drink also. A lot of early feedback we got was, they still find it too bitter. So we tried to tone it down a bit.”
“Within the pale ale style there’s some flexibility regarding what you can do, so we tried mixing and matching different malts and hops,” explains Miguel, one of the partners.
“People are really open to try it; they may like it, they may not like it,” Raffy notes. “Some people like the beer that they’re used to. I don’t think these are habits we can change.”
“Overnight,” Miguel adds.
The Southeast Asian tradition of sweet, crisp pilsners and lagers are being challenged here. The Anglo tradition of pale ales, even in countries they have colonized, never seemed to take off. But with pale ales being the de rigueur brew of microbreweries, and for a local brewery to follow this cottage tradition, the Katipunan Indio Pale Ale is a strange but welcome change.
These bottles are already starting to sit beside our pulutan, as they are stocked in Sa Kanto, a Filipino restaurant in the Podium, which serves plated kwek-kwek and isaw. And I can’t imagine why this fledgling beer made in the name of friendship won’t work.
Instead of competing with the big boys of supermarket dominance, these young boys are putting up a good-looking face for local microbrewing, sharing shelves with imported microbrewers, and keeping the space open for other local microbrewers who they encourage to come out of hiding, giving our nights-out (and in) new brews to gather around with.
They’re not the first bunch of microbrewers around, but they seem determined to stay. “It’s not perfect beer, but it’s something we enjoy,” Raffy says, then grins.
What was a one-gallon labor of love and hops in Raffy’s kitchen in Katipunan has become 20-gallon heifers that have long moved beyond the hands of a small group of family, friends, and members of their home brewing club. “Something between a brewery and a home brew set-up” is how they describe their current facilities, “but we are planning to expand as soon as possible, which would multiply our capacity by 10 or something like that.”
Growing up in Katipunan, studying in Katipunan, and now quitting their day jobs to brew in Katipunan, they’ve found their way into fridges and barkadas far beyond Katipunan circles. While this is becoming serious business for four high school friends, it’ll hardly be the case for people who buy it.
“Once we are able to expand, then we can talk about going to more places,” Miguel says. “But now it’s just about brewing and brewing and brewing.”
You can find Katipunan Craft Ale in Sa Kanto at The Podium and in Ritual at The Collective. Twitter @katipunancraft.