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Oh Japan, that happy place

It’s 2019, three years since my first trip to Japan. I never realized I had a happy place until I actually experienced separation anxiety when I flew back. I always thought that these “happy places” were abstract constructs. It didn’t matter where I was or what state I was in. The happy place was always a video game in some form. In my room. On my phone. But I never thought it to be a place.

And it’s weird, really. I enjoy the travel. The journey does excite me but the contrast of being in a place that is more foreign planet than country makes it so much interesting. In 2006 when I was writing for another tech publication, the editors would joke around to having “news” from “Planet Japan” because everything was just so over the top. I mean, the mere Japanese toilet that comes with background music to hide your farts were a pragmatic work of art.

Cheap bucket list thrills: see a snow man

So that was it. A foreign place with a language I cannot understand and yet I can easily make my way around town with these unlimited JR bus passes and order food without talking to anybody thanks to push button menus in almost every modern restaurant. I recommend Japan to anyone that wants something new. There’s wanderlust in the city where shops sleep at 7PM and the salarymen make their drunken shuffle to the karaoke. Where two-year-olds accompany each other to school without the help of grown ups because they know they can trust strangers. Where there are robots just because.

In 2016 I visited Tokyo for the first time. The streets of Ginza, Japanese whiskey, BIC Camera, Izakaya, Don Q. This opened my eyes to text book Japan.

Later than same year we went to Osaka and from there made our way to Kyoto (for the market), Narra (for the deer), and Kobe (for the beef). This trip expanded my perspective of how easy it is to get around a country. That you can cram 10 destinations in one day with efficient public transport.

snow is like dirt, but cleaner



Then early this month — first quarter of 2019 found me on an impromptu trip to Hokkaido for work. I was researching Hokkaido, as this tropical body has never felt snow when I got a call from a friend, “hey we’re sending you to Japan.” Speechless, my phone kept buzzing — it was a series of messages from another colleague, “Go to Japan.” Making sure that there were no hidden cameras around my office (as this may have been an elaborate prank by psychics), I said,

“OK but I should tell my boss.”

“Hi boss, I’m supposed to go to Ja —“

“We know. Enjoy! It’s minus 20 so suit up.”

And that was it.

I’ve written about my Hokkaido trip for the Manila Bulletin so you can read that. A huge thanks to Japan Airlines for sponsoring this trip. #FlyJAL #GetMoreJapan

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I only really go out once a year and that’s for Whiskey Live

Hello there. It’s true. I’m sleepy by 9PM and loud music is just .. loud. I believe I have evolved into my final form, a true blue Tito. I have evolved from San Mig Light buckets in my 20’s to walking around trade hall with a Glencairn glass in my late 30’s. The notion of a conference lanyard that can hold a whiskey tasting glass appeals to me, because I care not much for appearances, and it is precisely how my fellow titos (and titas) feel stumbling about the biggest whiskey even of the year. For the price of a good bottle of scotch, I get to sample more than 80 whiskeys (and a bit of rum and gin) from around the world. If this doesn’t appeal to you, dear reader, then you’re probably in your 20’s. You’ll get there.

Because I get it. In the same way that I used to hate the smell and taste of coffee in my teens — and suddenly having it appeal to me in my late 20’s, the same goes with whiskey. We had a staff member from our online department join us. She’s 20. And she told me she drinks anything (good I said). “This is where you learn to enhance your palate,” I also said. The challenge of the night is to try to remove the taste of alcohol and go for the nuances of each whiskey. They all taste different. It’s like going to a huge festival where everyone serves longganisa but they all come from different regions. What’s inside is different. How it’s made is different. It’s like trying to identify the nuances between Vigan and Lucban longganisa. Same but different.

I’m not going to go deep into the finer points of Whiskey Live — like how the Auchentoshan booth had Philip Bischoff from The Manhattan Bar (Asia’s Best Bar!) make amazing highball cocktails with hazelnut liquor and vermouth. Or how I got to experience Hamish Houlston’s deconstruction of the Chivas Regal 12, allowing us the privilege of blending and bottling our own single malt components to approximate their flagship release (and taking it home!). I definitely cannot go into the finer details of Matthew Westfall and Full Circle Distillers — his grandfather is responsible for Royal Tru-Orange, with Matthew taking botanicals to a new level with the distillery’s flagship — ARC gin (short for Archipelago), a rare sipping gin that is light on the nose and easy on the palate. I can’t, because words won’t suffice when spirits are involved.

I will tell you the worst part though: leaving. But yeah yeah how cliche right? Absence makes the heart grow fonder right? Let us stop with the cliches, guys! Actually, it’s more like abstinence makes the heart more healthy. Tito me wishes for a palate in my late 30’s with the bodily fortitude of my 20’s so my literal heart doesn’t get a heartburn from all that alcohol (I am a responsible adult, hear me!).And yes, being a responsible adult, I left close to midnight (just when it seemed like the party was really happening) because I have been sipping whiskey since 6PM. Crowds make me cranky.

Whiskey Live Manila — 11/10 would go again next year.

This article originally appeared on print inside the Manila Bulletin’s lifestyle section.

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Digressions

Whiskey galore and more — 3 tips for alcohol tourists in Scotland

If you’re rather fond of a drink at social occasions, with meals or even as a post-work relaxant, it’s possible that you’ve sampled some of the fine alcoholic beverages that originate in Scotland.

According to trade figures from the Scottish Government, Scotch whisky exports from the UK to the rest of the world in 2017 totaled £4.359 billion in 2017 — a £356 million increase on the year before.

But, although ‘the water of life’ is Scotland’s most famous alcoholic gift to the world, the nation also produces superb gin and craft beer.

If you visit, you’ll be able to break up time at the bar with cuisine treats at cafes and restaurants, golf at some of the best courses on Earth and strolls through stunning countryside and charming cities like Edinburgh.

If sipping these treats from the source while savoring one of the world’s most beautiful nations sounds sublime, here are three tips for alcohol tourists in Scotland.

  1. Getting there

Depending on your departure point, you can reach Scotland from major US airports or with itineraries with layovers in places like Hong Kong and Bangkok.

But one of the best ways to get in a carefree mood for a Caledonian trip is to travel to the airport in your own vehicle — it’s far less hassle than unreliable journeys on packed public transport.

Book airport parking from Looking4.com and drop your ride off in a secure space before boarding your flight. You’ll shimmy towards check-in without a worry in the world, perfectly prepped for your very own highland fling holiday.

  1. Dewar’s

There are whisky distilleries dotted all around mainland Scotland and the Highlands and Islands, but Dewar’s distillery tour in Aberfeldy near Perth is a promising first stop, thanks to its location in striking distance of the country’s busy central belt.

You’ll learn all about the way Dewar’s whisky has been cleverly marketed worldwide across several generations and taste some terrific blends right from the barrel — all in a stunning setting tucked between rolling hills in a verdant valley.

Be sure to travel with a designated driver or book a taxi if you’re sampling the whisky’s on offer — drink driving laws in Scotland are appropriately stringent.

  1. Innis & Gunn

With a wide range of craft beers that includes tasty IPAs and a refreshing small batch lager brewed with naked golden oats, Innis & Gunn is one of Scotland’s foremost brands for ale aficionados.

And their distinctive pint glasses featuring the iconic stag’s head logo is frequently ‘liberated’ from pubs across the land.

You can sample the full range of beers from Innis & Gunn with high-quality bar meals at their beer kitchens in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow — but remember that their most popular products are also available at local pubs where they’re priced slightly more reasonably.

These three tips for alcohol tourists in Scotland are only the tip of a drink-soaked iceberg — you’ll find more imbibing inspiration in practically every town and city you visit.

So do a little research, drink sensibly and have the time of your life in bonnie Scotland.

What’s your favorite Scottish drink? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Defining the “craft” in the local craft beer scene

This piece originally appeared in the Oktoberfest feature for The Manila Bulletin Lifestyle section.

Sometime in 2017, I joined a home brewing workshop under the guidance of Jaime and Nadine Fanlo of Pedro Brewcrafters. Finally, my romanticized dreams of moonshining — creating my own beer at home would come to fruition. I mean how hard could it be, right? Having spent an entire day at Pedro’s microbrewery in San Pedro, Laguna (this is where Pedro gets its name), flashbacks of my below-average grades in high school chemistry quickly turned my romantic aspirations into a Romeo & Juliet tragedy. You need to be absolutely crazy to try making beer at home. But then again, there’s a thin line between crazy and passion — let’s meet some of the crazy ones from the local craft brewing scene.

Jaime defines craft beer by showing a basic difference between craft and commercial beer we find mass produced in the supermarkets, “In my mind both products are good and have their purpose in the market. Commercial beers are usually brewed in very large quantities by known commercial brewing companies, with a majority of the stock holders having nothing to do with the brewing process.” On the other hand, craft beers are brewed by smaller, independent companies where most if not all owners are involved in the actual brewing process.

Kiyo Miura of Katipunan Craft Ales Inc adds to this sentiment by saying that it may come as a surprise to some that a majority of the beers we grew up drinking are essentially the same style — the mass-produced macro lager. “A handful of big brands churn out these brews which share an interchangeably crisp, albeit bland and inoffensive profile.” It’s basically the beer made with the least common denominator to appeal to a broad range of tastes.

“Craft beers, on the other hand, include the several dozen other styles in existence along with a continuously expanding list of sub-styles. From the dark and boozy Imperial Stout to the bitter and citrusy West Coast IPA, ales offer a far wider spectrum of flavors, smells, and experiences,” he adds.

“You can’t say you love beer and have not tried small batch craft,” says Ana Warren Gonzalez, Banquest & Events Manager at The Black Pig, that serves a range of foreign and local craft beers — most common on the local tap would be Engkanto, known for its fruity and light flavors. It’s essentially the difference between drinking hotel lobby coffee and an amazing pour over at a specialty coffee shop.

“Craft beer is all about breaking old definitions of what beer is supposed to be”, says Claudine Lanzona of Curious Creatures Taproom in La Union. Yes, even the surf town of La Union needed more beer options: “Mango chili beers, passionfruit beers, coffee chocolate stouts — mind expanding stuff. beer awakenings and so on.” Curious Creatures curates a number of inventive craft beer from various breweries — Craftpoint, Wicked Elias, Cebruery, Crow’s, Joe’s Brew — there’s something for everyone — from the conservative Pale Pilsen / Red Horse dude to the most adventurous drink snob.

Even the handling of craft beer is quite different. Because most craft beer is unfiltered and unpasteurised, it needs to be always refrigerated and consumed almost immediately to taste its full flavors. Which is why craft beer is really best enjoyed from the tap. Beers on tap come directly from the kegs, where the beer is protected from the sunlight. Contact with the sun deteriorates the beer’s taste, hence many bottled beers are served in amber bottles to lessen the effect.

The growing popularity of local craft beer still hasn’t realised its full boom, with growth being gradual and steady thanks to the growing number of local microbreweries and home brewers (approximately 40 in the country as of latest count), serving their craft beers to bars and retail outlets.

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Four magical things happen when your parents transform into grandparents

When couples welcome children into their lives, the change isn’t just about them. The whole dynamic of parenting is extended to the new grandparents.

You are given a glimpse into when they first became parents
Let me paraphrase a line I read on a website several months ago about parenting. It goes something like “becoming a parent is like having new doors open that you never thought were there before.” It’s the same with grandparents.But in their case it is the reopening of doors that were closed when their children left the nest.

Joni Mitchell said it best – “we’re captive on a carousel of time.” Whenever my parents are with my two boys, an archive of almost forgotten memories are lifted from cold storage. Like how there’s always a serving of taho in the afternoon for snacks or how my mom would always sing and dance with me, as she now does to my boys. It’s like these memories were put on stasis and were triggered by my mini me’s.

Everything else to them is trivial (even you!)
This is funny but what’s the best way to get your parents off your back? Given them grandchildren! Nothing else will be more important after they’re out. I’ve heard this same phrase echoed by my friends who have young kids by their parents, “I don’t care what happens to you, just make sure nothing happens to my grandchildren!”

Their quality of life improves
You’ve probably read about it online, but studies do show that grandkids may be responsible for adding a few years to your parents quality of life. The company, awe, enthusiasm go both ways. What’s interesting to me is that I’m basically seeing a mirror of my childhood – the way my brother and I would hang with my parents in the bedroom at night is quite similar to how my parents do so now with the kids. And they’re both fine with keeping strict iPad time. Bless the world for grandparents, because they know how far they can go when it comes to spoiling our kids.

You experience unconditional love going full circle
When we examine the role of grandparents under the lens, we see nothing but love, wisdom and in a way, a different sort of nagging. It’s funny how I personally get reminded to do things, care of my mom but told through the mouth of my eldest son. “Dad, aba is asking if you went to mass na. Don’t forget to go to mass okay?”

This article originally appeared in the Manila Bulletin lifestyle section for September 2018.