“Tagay!”, “Inuman na!” – stumble onto a street corner in the Philippines (especially during Christmas and town fiestas) and you’ll likely hear people pouring out a glass or two as they celebrate many special occasions. More likely than not, they’ll even be renting out a karaoke machine to turn the night into a sing-along booze fest.
History even shows how Filipinos have had a reputation for being avid drinkers, being called “greedy for drink” or “tacao ninoy sa tuba”, as noted by Spanish friar Juan de Oliver in the book Declaracion de la Doctrina Christiana en Idioma Tagalog. While this colonial assumption may not truly apply today to most Filipinos, the fact that special occasions call for some sort of liquor remains.
Admittedly, many cultures do have their own form of drinking culture. This immediately poses the question: What makes drinking uniquely Filipino? Let’s take a look at the reasons why.
Social drinking can be found in many cultures – from the Japanese hanging out at their izakayas after work with colleagues, to the French savouring their fine wines at dinner parties. Filipinos have a similar tradition called the “tagayan”, a ritual of camaraderie and friendship done among friends who are simply out to have a good time. In every “tagayan”, a glass is shared by members of the group, which would then be passed to every member of the group to drink. Its origins can be traced back to Quezon Province, where visitors are often offered a shot of a coconut-based drink called lambanog to drink.
Pulutan, or finger food is the Filipino’s perfect companion to any alcoholic drink. Be it a sizzling plate of sisig (chopped pig’s head and liver cooked in vinegar), crispy pata (crispy pig’s leg), or a simple bowl of salted peanuts, any Filipino-style drinking session would not be complete without pulutan.
One striking characteristic of several Philippine liquors is that they are coconut or sugarcane-based, which can impact even the most experienced drinker. Other crop-based beverages such as fruit wine are also sold throughout the country. Here’s a look at a few famous varieties:
A type of sugarcane wine from the province of Ilocos Norte, basi holds a reputation for being a strong alcoholic beverage even before the time of Spanish colonization. Made from fermented sugar cane juice, it is flavored with duhat (known as java plum bark), ground glutinous rice, and other local crops.
Known as coconut vodka, lambanog is known to some as a “poor man’s drink” because of its inexpensive production process. The drink is distilled from an unopened coconut flower sap, and may also be flavored with cherry, apple, or mint for a contrasting kick.
Like lambanog but even stronger, tuba is made from distilled coconut sap – resulting in a bittersweet and somewhat stinging flavor. Said to be the toughest of all Filipino drinks, it’s a favorite among rural folks during town fiestas.
Famous Local Liquor Brands
Apart from the varieties unique to the Philippines, the country also has almost every type of localized drink you could think of – from beer, to brandy, to rum, and gin. These can easily be bought at any major supermarket and convenience store.
San Miguel Brewery
Different from the Spanish beer brand of the same name, San Miguel Brewery began its operations in Manila in 1890. Receiving a royal grant from the King of Spain to brew beer, it has since grown to become the largest producer in the country, home to brands like the classic pale lagers San Miguel Pale Pilsen and San Mig Light.
For more experienced drinkers however, the brand’s extra-strong lager Red Horse Beer remains the top choice.
A popular brand of locally produced rum, Tanduay is known for its slightly smoky taste, with hints of dark sugar and oak.
Famed for their cut brandy, they are considered to be the world’s largest brandy company, acquiring several liquor-makers in Spain and Mexico.