I lived in the Philippines for 16 years (1988-2004), and during that time, finding craft beer was next to impossible. That was a real problem for me, because I don’t like pilsner/pilsen and seemingly everyone in the Philippines was perfectly satisfied with what I could hardly stand. Don’t get me wrong. San Miguel is one of the best pilsners in the world, but if you don’t like pilsner, having the best in the world hardly matters. Oh, I’ll have one on ice after 18 holes on a hot day at Riviera, but I’d just as soon have a diet soda.
Back in the days before microbrew started showing up in Manila, about all you could do for something better than San Mig Pale was Cerveza Negra or Guinness. For a Guinness in a decent pub atmosphere, I could always go to Murphy’s in Legaspi Village or to the Prince of Wales at Greenbelt, but that was about as good as it got for many years.
I remember when Planet Beer opened on Makati Avenue in Bel Air. I was living in Bicol at the time and only got up to Manila every other month or so, but knowing that good beer would be available when I visited Manila was very exciting. I took Joey Bautista to Planet Beer on my first visit. The beer list was impressively long, but the prices were ridiculously high. I think they were bringing it in a six-pack or two at a time, so supply was low, demand was high and prices were crazy. A 12 oz. bottle of Red Hook ESB was going to cost me P400 – about $16 at the time, if I remember right – and when I ordered one, Joey just about had a conniption over the price. He didn’t understand my love of beer. Actually, the Red Hook was relatively inexpensive: a bottle of Chimay would have been P1,500!
I was shocked when the waiter at Planet Beer told me they didn’t have a cold Red Hook and asked if I would like a San Mig instead! Instead? Granted, there isn’t really that much flavor difference between a Red Hook ESB and a San Miguel Pale, but if a customer is willing to pay P400 for a beer, no waiter in his right mind would divert the customer to a P35 beer instead! He should have said, “I’ll put two Red Hooks in the freezer for you and you can enjoy a Cerveza Negra, compliments of the house, while you wait for the ESB to chill.” Unfortunately, but maybe not surprisingly, Planet Beer’s existence was short-lived.
I remember when a few microbreweries were attempted in Manila back in the ‘90’s. There was that one – Ironhorse, was it? – over at Crossing (Shaw/EDSA). I tried it a few times, but it really wasn’t very enjoyable. Hardly anyone in the place was ever actually drinking the brewed-on-premises stuff, and for good reason. I hate to think that people formed their impression of microbrew from what they drank at that place. I have to salute those who tried to make a go of it there - at least they gave it a shot - but somehow the brewing just never clicked.
There was a decent attempt at a microbrewery in Glorietta. It was a nice looking facility with the copper kettles and all, and the brewmeister was a veteran brewer from San Miguel and very knowledgeable, but the ale was never very good. Always had a bad yeast funk to it; even the nose was bready.
There was the Paulaner Brauhaus at the Dusit. Is it still open? I think the pub is still there but not the brewing facility. As I remember, they did a pretty decent pilsner, but I don’t think they ever tried top-fermented ale.
Once when grocery shopping at Cash-n-Carry in Makati, I found a whole shelf full of Pete’s Wicked Ale. What a find! I just about had a heart-attack. While Celine loaded 25 bottles into the shopping cart, I texted my buddy, Andy Isaacs (rest in peace, brother), to tell him of my find. He went down there an hour later and cleaned them out!
Speaking of Andy, he was the only other craft brew fanatic I knew in the Philippines at the time. Well, there was Dr. Noel “Noey” Castillo, but his appreciation of microbrew, though very real, was minimal compared to Andy’s. I mean, Andy was really into it. I met him through Cesar Carriedo, a non-drinker who, when he learned of my passion for microbrew, immediately wanted to hook me up with his friend Andy, who had developed an interest in and love for craft beer while in the U.S. Andy and I became fast friends. A couple times when I went to the States, I loaded up a Balikbayan box or two with a diverse selection of bottled micros and shipped them to Andy. He told me that unwrapping each of those individually-wrapped bottles of brew thrilled him like a kid on Christmas morning.
Celine and I went up to Baguio with our good friends Kit and Maribeth Santos. Kit is a real beer drinker, but he’s pretty much a San Miguel Pale Pilsen guy. I've tried to get him to appreciate micros - even taken him to ale houses in Seattle and Tacoma - but he's a hard case. He compares everything to his beloved San Miguel, and nothing else strikes him just right. Anyway, on this trip to Baguio, as usual, I brought my own stash of microbrew because I just can’t stand drinking the fizzy yellow industrial swill. During the course of the weekend, we ended up over at Phillip “Ipe” Recto’s place, one of the most laid-back and nicest guys around. Ipe expressed interest in my private stash of beer. I think he was intrigued that someone could be so particular about beer, and he mentioned he knew a guy – a Filipino – who was also really into microbrew. At Ipe’s, I also met Perry Aragon, another great guy. He, too, was very interested in my beer and said his brother-in-law was really into microbrew. In the course of conversation, I realized that Perry’s brother-in-law was the beer-loving friend Ipe had mentioned earlier. In order to explain how much of a microbrew fanatic his brother-in-law was, Perry said, “He even has a guy in America sending him boxes full of microbrew.” We all had a good laugh when we realized that I was the guy sending his brother-in-law, Andy Isaacs, all that beer!
Times have changed, and they’ve changed for the better regarding craft ale in the Philippines. It seems that there was a desire for microbrew hidden just under the surface and waiting for someone to tap it. The one to tap it was Jim Araneta, and now the beer has really started pouring all over Manila and beyond. Jim has taken his passion for microbrew and turned it into Global Beer Exchange, the source for craft brew in the Philippines. If you don’t know about it already, wise up at http://www.facebook.com/GlobalBeerExchange or at http://www.globalbeerexchange.com.ph/. Great brew is at last showing up all over the place. It's really a phenomenon. If you're going to be in Manila, consult the Global Beer Exchange websites and be sure to patronize establishments carrying craft brew from Jim. For all your microbrew needs in Metro Manila, contact the folks at Global Beer Exchange:895.6173 or 917.984.5076 (4560 A. P. Reyes Ave., Makati).