Life Travel

Spirited Traveller: Lambanog is the word in Manila 0

Kara Newman, Reuters
The ''Wow Makati Cocktail'' as prepared by the InterContinental Manila hotel in the Philippines is shown in this undated publicity photo. (Reuters/Handout)

The ''Wow Makati Cocktail'' as prepared by the InterContinental Manila hotel in the Philippines is shown in this undated publicity photo. (Reuters/Handout)

Hold tight to your shot glasses, travellers. If you're headed to Manila, capital of The Philippines, you're likely to find lambanog in your cups.

Although the most popular tipple among locals and tourists is San Miguel beer ("San Mig") - the country's largest brewer - grappa-like lambanog is the iconic local spirit made from the sap of the coconut palm.

This is not gentle stuff. Although locals may call it "coconut wine" don't be fooled: Lambanog is often distilled to a tongue-numbingly high proof - sometimes as high as 166 proof, more than double typical spirits strength. Sweetened versions in flavours like melon and bubble gum also are sold in bars to appeal to younger consumers.

(A more upscale version of lambanog, distilled to a more palatable 80 proof, is sold in the U.S. under the VuQo brand name, and marketed as vodka.)

Learn this word: Mabuhay. It means "long life" in Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines. You'll be saying this a lot as you hoist your shot of lambanog to toast friends and colleagues since drinking is a joyful part of local culture and business entertainment.

"Filipinos in general love to drink with friends to celebrate milestone events like birthdays, a job promotion or the closing of an important business deal," says Jenny Peña, who works with the InterContinental Manila. "Town fiestas are also occasions for drinking sprees."

At the end of the workday, it's common to unwind at "cozy bars" offering drinks and live music. Peña recommends that bar-hoppers explore the sprawling Greenbelt shopping mall in Makati and The Fort strip in Taguig; both offer masses of bars and restaurants.

Although the typical way to consume lambanog is in a shot, more upscale establishments will blend it into cocktails. For example, at Chef's Table, run by Cordon Bleu graduate and Asian Food Channel regular Chef Bruce Lim, the Tomato Cozy mixes lambanog with tomato juice, kalamansi (similar to lemon) and roasted garlic for a thrilling variation on the standard Bloody Mary.

Recipe: Wow Makati Cocktail

(Courtesy of InterContinental Manila)

Makati is Manila's financial, commercial and economic hub. Although the original drink is made with gin, lambanog would be the more adventurous spirit to substitute here.

1 1/2 ounce gin (or lambanog, if you dare)

6 ounces beer (preferably San Miguel)

2 1/4 ounce pineapple juice

3 ounces guyabano (soursop) juice

2 1/4 ounces kalamansi (Filipino lemon) juice or regular lemon juice

1 1/2 ounce mango juice

Dash grenadine syrup

1 fresh pineapple wedge

Place all ingredients except the pineapple wedge in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the pineapple wedge.

(Kara Newman is the author of "The Secret Financial Life of Food", Columbia University Press; publication date autumn 2012. The opinions expressed are her own.)


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