When microbreweries and craft beers first made their way to the Philippines, they presented an alternative to binge drinking pretty much the same thing. At the same time, this new industry also posed a certain dilemma: the economic kind.
Case in point: the first craft beers had the price of hard liquor. And in a country where getting drunk is somewhat deemed a luxury, people get more alcoholic fulfillment chugging three bottles of the local brand than trying out and sipping one of the expensive ales.
Although in reality, this type of beer could come at a low price, if not for free. Proof of which is a growing circle of local beer connoisseurs that has been pushing for cheap, flavorful beer through a decade-old industry. Most of them coming from overseas, home brewers have been at it for years and are actually encouraging more people to get into the venture.
This not only adds to brewed options, but also creates competition, which translates to lower craft beer costs. For the brewers themselves, the brotherhood united by a common passion flourishes and that means more good beer for everyone.
With the help of retired US marine and beer distributor Louis Wright, FHM had the chance to talk to four of these guys, who let us into their lives as home brewers.
Day job: Environmental consultant on fisheries
Affiliation/prominent craft beer enthusiast groups: Manila Mashers Homebrew Club
Home brew you’re most proud: Honey Wheat Ale. It has the color of honey, a refreshing, clean, wheat-flavored taste, with just a kiss of honey at the end.
Favorite local beer: Only craft beer for me, please! I like several of the local ones but haven’t found a favorite yet since I still haven’t tried them all!
Favorite international beer(s): (Breweries) Harpoon, 3 Stars, Fin du Monde, Allagash
His awe of people appreciating “something so gross” grew into genuine admiration for beer once James Mitchell came of age.
“The first time I tried a sip of beer was from my dad, back when I was a kid. It was a large-scale commercial light fizzy lager, and I remembered absolutely hating it!” Once in his 20s, James’s discovery of uncharted flavors converted his indifference to craft beers into a passion for home brewing.
The adage “Necessity is the mother of invention” applies to the reason James started with the venture; he simply wanted to make good beer no matter where he lived. “Kind of like a survivalist mindset, but for beer!”
Using “crappy” ingredients and a used beer kit from Craigslist, James came up with his first brew, which according to him had a “strange green apple-ish” taste. Practice indeed made perfect as James is now able to ferment beers that genuinely taste great—just ask the people around him.
“Sharing my homebrew with friends and seeing their faces light up with surprise is one of the things that keep me going in the hobby,” he shares. “And it certainly feels more gratifying than sitting on your laptop all day doing sedentary work or mindlessly browsing Facebook.”
Work didn’t end there, though. Once he came into his own in home brewing, James started comparing his blends with other beers available in the market. Asked if there is such a thing as a perfect brew, James explains:
“There is for the moment. No single beer will always be the best one for all situations, but there are moments when the beer in your hand is the best you could imagine for that moment, and it’s an amazing feeling. You wouldn’t trade it for any other!”
LEANDRO 'LEE' DAVID
Day job: In between jobs, formerly an analyst for a bank
Affiliation/prominent craft beer enthusiast groups: Beerhere.org; Craft Beer Association of the Philippines; Manila Mashers Homebrew Club
Home brew you’re most proud of: French-style saison and Grey Shirt pale ale (brewed with a friend of mine)
Favorite local beer: Just local craft. Turning Wheels’ Mountain King IPA; Katipunan Craft’s Signal No.1 and Three Hops and a Hop; Great Island Brewery’s Pearl of the Orient
Favorite international beer(s): Dead Guy Ale, Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, Brooklyn Lager, Hennepin, Punk IPA, Even More Jesus, Breakfast Stout, Pliny the Elder
A trip to Europe, where he was introduced to a very wide range of beer choices, piqued Lee’s interest to add to the current beer selection here in the country.
“I just wondered why over here, when we grab a beer it’s always the most popular brand and it’s always this light-colored fizzy stuff,” he recalls. “In Europe, a single pub can have 10 different taps of different beers.”
Lee realized that if he learned to make his own, then he wouldn’t have to be limited to the commercially available stuff. And when he did, he even developed preferences. “I like dark beers like stouts and porters, malty beers similar to English bitters, and aromatic but not overly bitter IPAs.”
Like many others, the Internet was his takeoff point. The casual online browse on the topic—Google and YouTube—snowballed to a more extensive research about beer styles, malts and hops, even traditions. Next time Lee knew it, he was about to buy ingredients and equipment from a homebrew store in Singapore.
Lee isn’t shy in describing his first brew (2012) as “awful. It was so bad that I didn’t let anyone drink it.” Unable to plan the day well and just “winging it” the whole time, he concocted something that tasted “like sweetish, sour, alcoholic vinegar. It probably got infected but I wasn’t really too sure at that time.”
He has come a long way in home brewing since creating that mess. Now, all Lee has to bear are the brief spells of waiting. “But when you get to the end of the brew day you just feel this overwhelming sensation like, ‘Yes, I’ve done it!’ After those long hours, you’ve made something tangible that hopefully, people will enjoy.”
While he dreams of making it big in the business, Lee is aware of the different pressures that level entails. He admits, “I don’t want to generalize but some may sacrifice creativity for the sake of making sales. They’d think of what would sell to the people rather than what they really want to do.” In home brewing on the other hand, it’s all about “making and sharing beer, experimentation and self-expression.”
Going back, safe to say Lee made good on his primary goal, not just in expanding local beer variety.
“The local craft beer scene has really grown exponentially in the past few years since I started getting into craft brewing,” he says. “I really admire these people and I consider them as friends and family of Philippine craft beer.”
PEPPO 'FILBREWER' STUART DEL ROSARIO
From: Iligan, Philippines
Day job: Production manager, Green Gold Gourmet Foods, Inc.
Affiliation/prominent craft beer enthusiast groups: BeerHere.org, Tastybrew.com
Home brew you’re most proud of: Trinitario Porter. The chocolate is very intense that you can smell it while being poured in my favorite glass.
Favorite local beer: Fat Pauly’s Diwata. The best Belgian Wit Ale I’ve ever tasted.
Favorite international beer(s): Tripel Karmeliet. Nothing beats the aroma of the delicate spices carefully blended with the hops, malt, and yeast.
While he thinks there is no perfect brew as the process is essentially an “art,” Peppo believes consistency can be achieved given that it is also a “science.”
A balikbayan box from the US in 2009 containing beer kits got him started with craft brewing. Peppo recalls: “We brewed a pale ale then, using liquid extract and DME (dry malt extract). My brother and I were so nervous the following day when fermentation was at its krausen (meaning), spitting out beer foam all over the floor.”
Despite the mess, the product turning out heavenly was the best consolation. And his dissatisfaction with the limited beer variety back then—“you only get Pilsners wherever you go”—led him to continue brewing at home. “It’s about variety. Flavor, aroma, mouth-feel, texture, color, and head were what I was looking for then,” Peppo shares.
Being based in Iligan City, where he says life is so simple that people “don’t have the need nor want for modern gastronomic indulgence,” was also a factor in his decision to craft his own beer. “I just wanted to brew and share it to people and friends here so that they will be educated on craft beers.”
Who would’ve thought a birthday gift in 2008 from his Dutch friend—a beer deck explaining its various categories—would become a source of fulfilment for Peppo every time he makes a successful batch.
“That says it all. From that day on, brewing will forever be part of my life even when I become old and onto the days when I can drink no more,” he declares. “It is an infinite quest for knowledge, to brew beers beyond perfection and to innovate and create other possibilities that have never been explored before using all the ingredients imaginable. Home brewing never limits your creativity because of the scope of economics involved.”
Day job: Good manufacturing practices consultant
Affiliation/prominent craft beer enthusiast: Craft Beer Association of the Philippines
Home brew you’re most proud of: Belgian Summer Saison. It has a nice body that is slightly dry, but still tastes a little sweet.
Favorite local beer: Pearl of the Orient Pale Ale from Great Islands Craft Brewery, San Miguel Super Dry, Cerveza Negra (blended, which is actually even better) if there is no craft beer available.
Favorite international beer(s): Pliny the Elder, Sublimely Self-Righteous (and other Stone beers), Sierra Nevada (Pale Ale, Torpedo IPA, etc.), Chimay, Paulaner Weissbier, Dunkelweiss
Before moving to the Philippines, Mario had already dabbled in home brewing in the US, hoping to make beer on a par with those at microbreweries and brewpubs he frequents—only cheaper.
“Actually it wasn’t very much cheaper, but it was more fun,” he admits. “I found out I was drawn towards beers with more flavor, not just the regular light ones. Then I moved toward imported and darker beers from England and Europe, just expanding the range of flavors that I enjoyed.
His first crack at the venture turned out well; he used a Mr. Beer kit, which he says “is really easy not to mess up.” Upon residing here in the country, Mario knew he had to start from scratch—like going all-grain—and sometimes improvise with the dearth of apparatus and supplies. His background as a microbiologist also proved valuable.
“Once I moved to the Philippines, it has been about making beers that are not available here,” he shares. “I couldn’t find stouts and IPAs here, for a while, so that has definitely been an interest in my initial brewing.”
With his experience and aptitude in home brewing, Mario could easily jump into the business side of things and introduce his beers to the consuming public. But he chooses not to.
“I consider my homebrew to be the most expensive beer I can drink” he says. “Since it takes me about eight to 10 hours during a typical brew day, followed by a week or two of manually controlling the temperature of the fermentation with frozen water bottles, then two to four hours bottling or kegging my beer—that is a lot of time that I have to arrange with my busy and tiring schedule. And that is why I feel my beer is precious and should only be given to those who will appreciate it.”