The Inbox

A Philippine countryside spirit goes classy

The Manila Sunshine

By Norman Sison, VERA Files

Mojito and Piña Colada, move over. Here comes the Manila Sunshine.

In mid-May, one of the top hotels in Manila unveiled an alcoholic bright yellow cocktail, precisely designed to be the Philippine capital's signature drink. That brought plenty of cheer to Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, who concocted the idea. However, there is more to just making it in the universe of mixology.

Although named after the country's capital, the Manila Sunshine is more about telling potential foreign tourists in one shot what the Philippines is about. One thing about the 7,100-island archipelago, where East seamlessly mixes with West, is its culturally diverse people.

That didn't make it easy to come up with the cocktail name. The main consideration was how the world sees Manila.

"There was a long debate on should it say 'Philippines' or 'Boracay' or 'Island,' and everybody thought that Manila would be the best choice," Reto Klauser, area manager of Makati Shangri-La, the hotel that created the Manila Sunshine, said.

Jimenez requested Klauser early this year to come up with the drink as part of the Department of Tourism's marketing strategy to bring back to life the country's tourism industry. Four weeks later, Makati Shangri-la's bartenders came up with 35 cocktails from which Jimenez made his final choice.

Manila Sunshine has a non-alcoholic version, christened the Virgin Manila Sunshine, because the one key ingredient that gives the gentle alcoholic kick is uniquely Filipino: coconut wine or lambanog.

For centuries, Filipinos have made wines and liquors from rice, sugar cane, coconuts and fruits, which vary according to region. Lambanog is the best known. Originating from Quezon Province, it is at the center of social drinking there, complete with rituals such as pouring the first shot to the ground "para sa Demonyo" ("for the Devil" in Filipino).

Nestled near Mount Banahaw is Tayabas town, the Philippines' lambanog capital, about 140 kilometers southeast of Manila. It is home to Mallari Distillery, one the country's top coconut wine producers. Founded in 1908, it is the oldest lambanog distillery. On its 30-hectare coconut plantation stand 2,500 trees.

Each day, mangangarits (sickle handlers) scale 30-foot tall coconut trees with their blades and aluminum containers to collect oyster white sap from the trees' unopened blossoms. They cross from tree to tree via bamboo bridges, one for stepping on and the other to hold on to. An expert collector can gather sap from 100 trees a day.

The sap is fermented for two to three days. It is then filtered, producing toddy, known locally as tuba, in itself billed as the Philippines' national drink. The tuba is distilled in a 60-gallon wood-fired still, which yields about 12 gallons of lambanog.

Lambanog must be at least "80 proof"  to be of good quality. But it's not for everyone. A whiff can convince one that it is actually pure alcohol.

Although sold today in chic bottles and offered in different flavors to woo young drinkers, lambanog is still largely a cottage industry. It barely registers as an export product even though the Philippines is one of the world's top coconut exporters.

"It's still in its infancy," Joselito Mallari, who runs Mallari Distillery, says of lambanog exports. "Lambanog has no mass production. Categorically it's a micro or small business."

Mallari Distillery produces only 400 liters a day.

Another drag is inconsistent quality, which varies according to the producer. To boost industry profitability, the Department of Science and Technology is standardizing and modernizing the manufacturing process.

Lambanog does make a good souvenir for family and friends abroad. Hong Kong-based English teacher Jay Khilnani bought a bottle of pure lambanog on impulse at a Kultura Pilipino shop during one of his regular vacations to Manila in 2009.

"I didn't know much about it," the Briton and self-described regular drinker said.  "Lambanog definitely deserves a place in my liquor cabinet."

Thanks to Manila Sunshine, lambanog has reached the world stage. In it are flavors of mango and pineapple, a hint of triple sec and a spice of Tanduay Rhum, a Philippine brand dating to 1854 and seen as a drink of the masses. Completing the concoction is a garnish of lemon grass and a pineapple wedge.

Klauser plans to share the recipe to bars, hotels and restaurants soon, saying: "We don't look at it as our creation. We look at it as the one drink that belongs to the Philippines."

Manila Sunshine is currently available in Shangri-La hotels in the Philippines and will soon be on the beverage menu of its hotels in over 20 countries. It's also offered at the Heritage Hotel Manila.

"People who travel want to try the local food," Klauser said. "Manila Sunshine will form part of that experience that tourists will bring back home."

So, when somebody comes here and asks: "What would you recommend?"

Filipinos — or the Manileños at least — now have an answer.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

  • Philippine leader apologises over 'world's worst airport'
    Philippine leader apologises over 'world's worst airport'

    Philippine President Benigno Aquino publicly apologised on Wednesday for failures in air conditioning at Manila airport, already named by an online travel guide as the world's worst. The fresh debacle at Terminal 1, used by foreign airlines, came as millions of Filipinos begin travelling for the Easter holidays during one of the hottest months of the year. The transportation ministry also issued a separate public apology Wednesday, on the eve of four-day Easter holidays in the Catholic …

  • Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry
    Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry

    Heart-wrenching messages of fear, love and despair, sent by high school students from a sinking South Korean ferry, added extra emotional weight Thursday to a tragedy that has stunned the nation. Nearly 300 people -- most of them students on a high school trip to a holiday island -- are still missing after the ferry capsized and sank on Wednesday morning. Mom, I love you," student Shin Young-Jin said in a text to his mother that was widely circulated in the South Korean media. …

  • PH grants visa-free privilege to 7 more countries
    PH grants visa-free privilege to 7 more countries

    Travelers from seven more countries can now experience how fun it is in the Philippines without worry, as the government extended them visa-free privileges. …

  • Perry ‘flirting with Diplo’
    Perry ‘flirting with Diplo’

    Katy Perry reportedly spent most of her time canoodling with EDM star Diplo at the desert music festival. …

  • PH, China, Malaysia negotiating hostages’ release

    The Philippines and China are now working with Malaysian authorities in negotiating with the kidnappers of the Chinese tourist and Filipina worker who were abducted from an island resort near Semporna in Sabah on April 2. Speaking at a press conference after the Putrajaya Forum 2014 in Kuala Lumpur where he delivered a speech on transnational and organized crime on Tuesday, Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi disclosed that Filipino authorities, in particular, are working …

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Centipede Bursts from Snake's Stomach

    Centipede Bursts from Snake's Stomach

    LiveScience.com - 12 hours ago
    Centipede Bursts from Snake's Stomach

    A group of researchers stumbled upon a grisly scene during a field study in Macedonia last year: a dead nose-horned viper with a centipede's head sticking out of its ruptured abdomen. "All of us were astonished, as nobody has ever seen something like this," Ljiljana Tomovi?, a herpetologist at the University of Belgrade, told Live Science in an email. The remnants of the death match were discovered when one researcher, Dragan Arsovski, turned over a stone, Tomovi? The unfortunate nose-horned …

  • Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry

    Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry

    AFP News - 16 hours ago
    Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry

    Heart-wrenching messages of fear, love and despair, sent by high school students from a sinking South Korean ferry, added extra emotional weight Thursday to a tragedy that has stunned the nation. Nearly 300 people -- most of them students on a high school trip to a holiday island -- are still missing after the ferry capsized and sank on Wednesday morning. Mom, I love you," student Shin Young-Jin said in a text to his mother that was widely circulated in the South Korean media. …

  • Philippine leader apologises over 'world's worst airport'

    Philippine leader apologises over 'world's worst airport'

    AFP News - Thu, Apr 17, 2014
    Philippine leader apologises over 'world's worst airport'

    Philippine President Benigno Aquino publicly apologised on Wednesday for failures in air conditioning at Manila airport, already named by an online travel guide as the world's worst. The fresh debacle at Terminal 1, used by foreign airlines, came as millions of Filipinos begin travelling for the Easter holidays during one of the hottest months of the year. The transportation ministry also issued a separate public apology Wednesday, on the eve of four-day Easter holidays in the Catholic …

POLL
Loading...
Poll Choice Options