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 – that’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 – they’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 “authentic ramen bar” has a name and it is Full Circle Distillers, producers of ARC Botanical Gin. In Westfall’s words, ARC is a “citrus-forward contemporary or modern gin, with a focus on local Philippine botanicals.”
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 “full circle” with his citrus-forward recipe: his German grandfather arrived in the Philippines in the early 1900’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. It’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
“At 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.” 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 “gin bulag” because you can really lose your eyesight from incidents like these. It is very different with ARC. “Our 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.”
There are no smoke and mirrors for Full Circle Distillers, which means that they’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.