Matthew Westfall has the backstory of a leading man on a quest to make his country, the Philippines, the darling in one of the biggest industries in the world – gin. His mission is filled with irony though, given that the Philippines is already the number one country in the world in terms of gin consumption – thatâ€™s 46% of the total world consumption. But with a global industry worth more than USD$3 billion, the Philippines barely makes a dent at about 2% of the market thanks to gin being labeled as a drink from the streets.
Enter craft gin — not to be confused with the fast-moving supermarket libations we see in billboard and TV commercials. Not that these are bad – theyâ€™re just on a different level. Think instant noodles put side by side ramen made from scratch at a ramen bar – from the noodles to the stock. This â€œauthentic ramen barâ€ has a name and it is Full Circle Distillers, producers of ARC Botanical Gin. In Westfallâ€™s words, ARC is a â€œcitrus-forward contemporary or modern gin, with a focus on local Philippine botanicals.â€
The 28 Flavors of the Philippines
ARC stands for archipelago, obviously after the thousands of islands that make the Philippines. To create a gin that embodies the flavors of the Philippines is no easy task, which is why it took four years to perfect the recipe of ARC Botanical Gin. It has a total of 28 botanicals. Its citrus forward notes are thanks to Davao pomelo, Sagada oranges, Baguio lemons, calamansi and dalandan. Other ingredients include Benguet pine buds from Sagada, lemongrass from a farm in Rizal, and Pangasinan mangoes. The list includes sampaguita, kamias, star anise and black pepper. With many notable regions in the Philippines represented, Westfall has really gone â€œfull circleâ€ with his citrus-forward recipe: his German grandfather arrived in the Philippines in the early 1900â€™s to work for San Miguel, and was responsible for the formula for Royal Tru-Orange!
There are dozens and dozens of small batch craft gins out in the world today. Many of them however taste quite similar and are not as palatable when consumed as a sipping gin. ARC Botanical Gin is quite different. If you are a non-gin drinker because you find the taste of alcohol too strong, a whiskey glass pouring with a large ice cube will change your mind. Itâ€™s refreshing and goes down smoothly. It hits you like a tight, platonic hug – safe and warm. It goes well as a classic G&T (gin and tonic) as well as other cocktails that use gin as the base such as a martini or a negroni.
No Smoke, No Mirrors, No Compromises
â€œAt Full Circle we adhere to the highest craft distilling standards and have modeled ourselves on some of the top leading craft distilleries in the world.â€ Because the Philippines is highly unregulated when it comes to distilling spirits, a lot of moon-shining occurs, where people just make their own spirits from their backyard, a practice common in the province. The dangers of course include methanol poisoning which can be fatal — a phenomenon known locally as â€œgin bulagâ€ because you can really lose your eyesight from incidents like these. It is very different with ARC. â€œOur distilling process utilizes a state-of-the-art German copper pot still from Carl GmbH which features controllable plates and a best-practice programmable logic controller.â€
There are no smoke and mirrors for Full Circle Distillers, which means that theyâ€™re opening their state of the art distillery in Laguna to the public for tours and private events, the first of its kind in the country. Not only do they have a FDA License to Operate (as well as individual certificates for their products), they are also a PEZA registered, export oriented company.