This article originally appeared in the lifestyle section of The Manila Bulletin in September 2019.
Josemari Cuervo is a hyphenate. 90’s kids will know him as the original voice of Razorback (the one before Kevin Roy). But if you met him today, he would probably give two business cards. They both have to do with appraisal — one for real estate and the other for evaluating how much alcohol you need when you sit in front of him. Crows Craft Brewing and Distilling Co. — or put simply, ‘Crows’ made its steady way from the neighborhood bars of the south to the ubiquity of specialty grocers and Poblacion.
A man is made of the stuff he’s most passionate about and two people with intertwining passions will always end up talking about things that make them tick. It was in such regard that I found myself about an hour early at Resorts World, waiting for a get together to start. I found myself sitting beside Mari, a man I knew online and a a regular face at Bar Pintxos, a neighborhood tapas bar I frequent. We talked about our two passions, he the brewing and distillation of alcohol, me coffee.
How he was able to create his barrel-aged gin and whiskey.
How I was able show how how the mineral in water affects the taste of coffee.
How he was able to use those same barrels to create a reposado beer, meaning his flagship ¡De Puta Madre! aged for 90 days in an American oak barrel.
How I was able to pick up my jaw from the floor as a reaction to what he just told me.
How he was also able to create a Pinoy brandy where instead of grapes, he used mangoes — the French call it an Eau de vie which is basically a spirit that undergoes of the process of being made into a brandy, but using fruits other than grapes.
At this point I was just listening and had nothing more to share.
“Come tomorrow. I’m launching it at Pintxos,” he says.
I’m sitting beside Mari and holding up a Glencairn glass with his reposado beer. “How do you do it?” I asked. “Beer is sensitive. What kind of magic did you have to do to pull this off?”
You can ruin an entire batch of beer with contamination from exposure to oxygen alone and here’s this guy telling me that he was able to age it for 90 days in a cask.
“The trick is you gotta fill it to the brim so nothing gets through. No cracks, nothing.” I take one last look at my glass filled with an ounce of his ¡De Puta Madre! Reposadoand take a swig.
My god what a transformation. I’ve been drinking Mari’s beer for 6 years and I’ve tasted nothing like it. It’s very forward with hops but the strong bitterness is immediately tempered with fruity and sweet notes that leaves you wanting more. It’s actually quite the standard Filipino palette —as we are fond of bitter foods and sweet desserts. it’s quite the same. The reposado edition (the term is often used in tequila meaning aged for two months to exactly a year) allows the oak barrels to play with the hops, tempering it to highlight the fruity notes. What you are left with is a more refined version of ¡De Puta Madre!
The evening passes and now I am holding up another Glencairn glass. This time with a clear liquid. Is this gin? Because it sure looks like it. No it’s brandy. But not from grapes. “Oh so this is it. Eau de vide — literally “the water of life.” Strong on the nose at 50% ABV but you do get traces of green mango on the mouth. I wouldn’t take it neat, but methinks this would go quite well as a faux negroni. This instead of gin with equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth.
“Now that I’ve made these things, am I going to mass produce them? No, of course not!” That really just works for the beers. But his reposado? The whiskey? The gin and his eau de vie? “You gotta message me if you want some.” And that’s how you literally get to order. You send him a message on social media. Or on his website crowscraft.com. You get put on a list. Then you wait. I mean, that’s his hashtag — #NotForEveryone.