Like with most spirits, gin is a craft in and of itself, and local outfit Full Circle Craft Distillers Co. wants to show the country and the world everything it could be with its product, ARC Botanical Gin.
Made with painstakingly blended local ingredients and the usual parts that go into a batch of gin, it’s as premium a local brew can be. Here, co-founder Matthew Westfall shares a few facts and stories about this Philippine player.
Full Circle Craft Distillers Co. is the culmination of a century-long German-Russian-American-Filipino family legacy that includes, of all things, Royal Tru-Orange.
A hundred years ago in 1918, Full Circle Craft Distillers Co. founder Matthew Westfall’s German grandfather Peter arrived in Manila for a particular, interesting assignment. He was tasked to extract flavors from native fruits to be used in new soft drink products for San Miguel. Peter Westfall is the man who literally invented Royal Tru-Orange back in 1922, and in 1926 he obtained Filipino citizenship.
Matthew Westfall made a Hollywood documentary about Manila.
Decades later, the younger Westfall, an architect and environmental planner, would arrive in the Philippines to do volunteer work with the US Peace Corps. Westfall fell in love with the country, put out a documentary about Manila called “On Borrowed Land,” and contributed to many important environmental and urban developmental causes and projects here. He went on to work around the world, where he explored distilleries and wineries, culminating in the idea behind Full Circle. He set up the distillery to not only create top-notch spirits but also to support both urban and rural inclusive development in the Philippines.
“Full Circle is not simply about the production of alcohol,” Westfall says. “Rather, we distill our spirits and work with the rich flora from across the Philippines in order to transform their essence, their character, into a single magical moment of sensory enlightenment. In doing so, we strive to evoke memories and create experiences that awaken a genuine awareness of nature and creation.”
The Philippines is apparently the biggest consumer of gin in the world.
Westfall shares that the country consumes a whopping 46 percent, or 22 million cases, of the total amount of gin produced in the whole world. Gin leads the kinds of spirits being drunk in the country at 36.8 percent, beating brandy and rum.
Gin is experiencing a renaissance in Manila and Asia.
With gin bars dedicated to premium gins and spirits popping up around the city, it’s not just liquor like whiskey and sake, as well as the now-ubiquitous cocktail bar having their time in the Philippine sun. “The Filipino spirits enthusiasts now have more choices than ever before and local tastes continue to evolve as a response to that,” Westfall says. “We aim to be part of that and to offer an opportunity to drink local, and drink better.”
The reputation of Philippine gin isn’t too stellar despite the rich ingredients available at its disposal.
Gin is considered a premium spirit, but no one outside the Philippines is really drinking Filipino-made gin. This is despite the fact that foreign distilleries don’t have the same kind of ingredients we have here, such as fruits and plants.
“Full Circle is not simply about the production of alcohol,” Westfall claimed. “Rather, we distill our spirits and work with the rich flora from across the Philippines in order to transform their essence, their character, into a single magical moment of sensory enlightenment. In doing so, we strive to evoke memories and create experiences that awaken a genuine awareness of nature and creation.”
Twenty-eight botanical ingredients are used and blended in a bottle of ARC (short for Archipelago) Botanical Gin.
That’s right—28 different plants, fruits, and flowers make up the recipe that comprises the unique spirit that flows from a bottle of ARC. Twenty-two of the 28 ingredients are 100 percent Filipino, from at least four provinces. The local botanicals that go into a bottle of ARC and make it stand out include: fresh mango from Pangasinan, pomelo from Davao, dalandan from Quezon, Benguet pine buds from Sagada, calamansi, dayap, lemongrass, star anise, black pepper, sampaguita, ilang-ilang, and kamias.
Full Circle went through 35 different versions of their gin recipe before arriving at the current blend.
Westfall and German master distiller Dr. Klaus Hagmann worked with loads of local citrus fruits the former brought to Germany just to get the recipe right. “I would carry in suitcases of fresh Philippine botanicals,” Westfall says. “I would then hand-carry these bottles home to Manila, and hold tastings with friends and family to gain their feedback.”
Full Circle also produces other proudly local products that makes the most of the land.
One of these is made with local volcanoes. ARC Barrel Reserve Gin is the same gin, except it’s stored and aged in medium-long-toasted American Oak barrels imported all the way from the Napa Valley. More awesome is the ARC Lava Rock Vodka, which is vodka filtered with lava rocks from the Taal and Mayon volcanoes. Talk about a truly local blend.
A Full Circle rum product is also in the works. Other than gin and vodka, Westfall reveals that they’re eyeing and concocting an old-school agricole rum product, a true throwback to how rum was traditionally made.
“Our aim is to return to the old traditional ways, long before rum went industrial in this country and began to rely on imported base spirits from the Caribbean and Latin America,” Westfall says. “Our cane spirit will be laid down for aging in ex-bourbon barrels for several years, and released only when the spirit is ready.”
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 15 No. 6