I’m yet again greeted by the regular group of tambays outside the nearest convenience store. The usual suspects are gathered around the table with local brandy, taking shots from a single cup. I’d politely say no with some excuse and the understanding that, culturally, the offer is also made with some expectation of a decline. This time, I said yes and a mad scramble to free up space for me ensues.
There was no occasion. It was just what they do. Nightly, mind you. I sat listening to animated exchanges of anecdotes from their daily lives. The mundane made momentous. Braggadocio and booze. I sat in silence, smiling ear-to-ear in acknowledgment of their stories, sipping from the cup on my turn. It was just good to be alive I guess.
“Filipinos drink to bond with friends after work, party on a weekend, or during celebrations. Most of us don’t drink alone,” declares Dunstan Dy, account manager of Moët Hennessy Philippines, Inc. The Western archetypal drinking image of a lone figure hunched over a bar is always joined by a motley crew around these parts, each one playing both the lead character and supporting role in these overlapping plots. Pinoys drink with and for friends. He notes, “Drinking is part of Filipino culture. It’s present in every gathering.”
“Craft beers had taken a bite, although small, but significant enough that the macro-breweries are changing strategies to compete with their own ‘craft’ offerings. Craft cocktails have gained a cult following nationwide as well,” says Dunstan Dy of Moët Hennessy Philippines, Inc.
According to Dy, citing Euromonitor.com, Filipinos mostly drink beer. “Although trends show it was recently on a slight decline due to the availability of new ready-to-drink bottled cocktails and low-priced domestic spirits.”
He continues that the decline of commercial beer consumption is a result of the population having learned to understand quality over quantity. “Craft beers had taken a bite, although small, but significant enough that the macro-breweries are changing strategies to compete with their own ‘craft’ offerings. Craft cocktails have gained a cult following nationwide as well. The general public has learned to appreciate the craftsmanship in concocting flavors using quality spirits.
The average Filipino is first introduced to alcohol quite early with the profusion of TV ads making their way in between cartoon shows. Then there’s the macho culture pushing use (and even abuse), insisting that one who wouldn’t or couldn’t drink is boring, socially inept, or simply “not man enough.” Peer pressure then becomes the convenient scapegoat. Even our initiations into the drink seem social.
Dy started drinking in college. “My friends usually invite me during weekends at first then sometimes after our elective class,” he recalls.
For his part, Jan Rodriguez of Ilaputi started earlier with beer in high school. “I love the flavor of beer. It was Pale Pilsen.” Indeed, he drinks for the sheer pleasure of it. “I’m not into sweets. Drinking is my dessert or appetizer,” he says.
Interestingly enough, Group Beverage Manager of Pylon Hospitality Inc. (ABV, Prisma) Kenneth Bandivas was introduced to drinking at an even younger age of 10 when his parents had him try tequila and beer to allow him to experience and understand alcohol’s effects.
As with the ferments, tastes get better and more refined with age. Rodriguez drinks only quality beers—no adjuncts—and quality spirits. “I love Balvenie Double Wood, Glengoyne cask strength, Highland Park 18, Turning Wheels IPA, and several US brands for craft beers. For gin, Nordes with quality tonic water and a good Old-fashioned.” As Dy carries the brands, he drinks these, too, on top of Glenmorangie, Belvedere, and Hennessy VS. “And Moet, of course,” he adds. Meanwhile, the Diageo Reserve World Class 2015 champ Bandivas no longer does buckets and endless shots. Wanton excess is replaced by sophisticated cadence, always starting with effervescent or sour cocktails such as a whiskey sour before proceeding to an Old-fashioned or a negroni.
Then again, they all agree on the necessity of pulutan—with Bandivas making a case for gastric balance. Food pairings are now also done with virtually all kinds of drinks as an increasing number of diners lean towards such gastronomic experiences. Rodriguez asserts, though, that with craft beers, high quality whiskies, and gin, pulutan can be skipped since these drinks can stand on their own.
“What one drinks depends on one’s company, mood, and occasion. Our drinking culture is what it is but there is always the opportunity when people come in my bar to share my knowledge on drinking, which is more of appreciation than intoxication,” says Jan Rodriguez of Ilaputi.
Dy thinks that Filipinos should drink finer spirits and wines. Rodriguez, on the other hand, believes that there is never that one drink for everyone. “What one drinks depends on one’s company, mood, and occasion. Our drinking culture is what it is but there is always the opportunity when people come in my bar to share my knowledge on drinking, which is more of appreciation than intoxication,” he observes.
As a person working in the industry, Bandivas encourages clients to always try something new. “I know there would always be beer drinkers and hard drinkers. Filipinos should at least try cocktails.” He points out that higher price points may be a pushback but that it’s all about the tailored experience made by the bartenders.
Given that their businesses thrive on more consumption, Dy thinks that more should be done on educating consumers to drink responsibly as drunk driving is one of the major causes of road accidents in the Philippines. Bandivas takes the more proactive route by refusing to serve customers who have had one too much and even booking them a ride home. “I would rather be thanked the next day rather than regretting not having done anything.”
Ice, melty as it was, was running low; each following shot getting more watery and the bacon-flavored junk food on its last few crumbs. I took more than an hour from my usual five-minute midnight mission. Eyes heavy with sleep and insobriety, I sat in silence smiling ear-to-ear, sipping from the cup on my last turn. There was no occasion celebrated. It was just what they do. Nightly, mind you. And, boy, did it feel good to be alive.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 14 No. 4