Mysticism, folklore, and the craft beer culture in the Philippines

Engkanto’s brewery in Makati. PHOTO: Supplied

It’s a wonderful time to be a beer drinker in the Philippines. Thanks to the recent explotion of the craft beer culture in the country, there’s now a broad range of local beers available in bars, restaurants, and even on the liquor aisle of your favorite supermarket. The industry’s growth isn’t showing any sign of slowing down. Beer geeks are the new cool kids.

“The craft beer scene is kind of at its infancy here. We’re nowhere close to the US or European market, but there’s a lot of excitement,” explained Ian Paradies, one-half of the power duo who founded Engkanto, the newest craft brewery in town.

In Filipino folklore, an engkanto is a supernatural being with the power to enchant people — something similar to an Irish fairy. It can be mysterious, dreadful, and fascinating all at the same time.

“We love the idea of folklore, mysticism and enchantment. And when you drink… everything becomes magical, right?” Paradies joked. He clearly has a knack for making people feel comfortable.

It all started in 2015 when Paradies got inspired to join the craft beer revolution in the Philippines. He grew up drinking local mass-produced beer and had enjoyed it, but he thought it was time to shake things up and push the bounderies of the Filipino palate.

There was just one problem: he didn’t know how to brew.

Good thing a friend introduced him to Josh Karten, who co-owns Proclamation Ale Company, known for producing award-winning beers in Rhode Island. He is now Engkanto’s brewmaster.

Karten knew that joining Engkanto would mean shuttling between US and the Philippines every so often. With his wife’s permission, he started his new beer adventure in this beer-loving nation.

“It’s been very rewarding. everybody is just incredibly excited,” Karten said. He seemed to have mastered the art of talking about his beers and tinkering with the brewing system at the same time.

It was fun geeking out about beers inside an actual brewery, with an actual brewer explaining the art and science behind every drink.

Karten said that thick and viscuous beers such as stouts and porters would be difficult to drink in the Philippines considering the country’s tropical weather. He expects Engkanto’s core selection of relatively lighter-bodied yet full-flavored brews to be more popular with Filipinos since it’s similar to what most of us are used to drinking.

Engkanto is initially releasing five well-diferentiated brews: a pilsener-style lager, blond ale, pale ale, an East Coast-style IPA and double IPA. Occassionally they’ll also release special brews and seasonal releases, most likely inspired by local fruits and other indigenous ingredients.

“One of the things that we sought out to do from the very beginning is to create good beer that is affordable. That’s actually a big part of our model. Why make a beer that you are proud of if only a limited number of Filipinos could enjoy it?” Paradies said.

They have a small brewery in Metro Manila where they will continue to make keg batches and special brews. This is also where they train restaurant, bar and hotel staff on how to properly handle, serve and taste beer.

In one of their tasting and training sessions, a small group actually finished an entire keg — it’s a testament to how drinkable their brews are.

Later this year, they will open a bigger facility in Carmona, Laguna, where they’ll have a large-scale bottling facility, with plans on distributing them nationwide.

Will Engkanto win the hearts, palates and bellies of our beer-loving nation? We’ll find out. The beers will be available in their partner establishments this month.

Photos: Supplied

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