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.