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Jeffrey Hernaez
Prost in the Philippines: It’s Oktoberfest season, in the most unlikely of places

There are many kinds of beer.
There are many kinds of beer. | Photo (detail): © Katrin Hartmann

In Munich, it’s lederhosen and parades. In Manila, it’s t-shirts and rock concerts. Whatever the form of entertainment, however, what ties the two Oktoberfest events together is a love of beer. 

By Jeffrey Hernaez

While traditionally, September signals the start of the beer festival, the Philippines celebrates its affinity for brewskies in the month of October. In fact, a big open-air event is happening on the 10th, with an expected crowd draw of hundreds of revellers availing of buy-one-take-one promos of the country’s best-known beer product to the accompaniment of the country’s hottest bands. Within the confines of upscale hotels, there are Oktoberfest promos as well, where local and imported beers are usually served with a variety of sausages.

Germany is undoubtedly a beer-drinking country, something I have observed first-hand through my first strolls on the streets. I noticed Germans sitting on sidewalk bars indulging in their bracing brews even in the morning, as accompaniment to their meals of pasta and bread. While many big breweries abound, churning out traditional favorites, that have a strong, bold flavor, I have been told that lighter craft beers are becoming popular, with the younger generations seeking out pales from microbreweries.

Craft Beer becomes more popular

One thing I have learned is how strict the beer-making process is followed according to the Reinheitsgebot, which permits only water, hops, and malt as ingredients. The “beer-purity law” also stipulates that beers not exclusively using barley-malt such as wheat beer must be top-fermented. I believe, more than anything, it is an indication of how much pride this country takes in the quality of its product.

Of course, Germans imbibe other things aside from beer, I have found from attending dinner parties that they like their Sekt and Schnapps too. I have been told that schnapps is consumed not only because of its herbal flavors, but also because it is believed to aid in digestion. I was also surprised to learn that after France and Italy, Germany is the third biggest producer of sparkling wine in the world, with 13 official wines regions. Beer cocktails are also served to those inclined, and this is something novel for me, as it is not usually done in the bars in the Philippines. Apparently, beer here can be mixed with Coke for something called a Diesel, and with Sprite for a Radler.

Drinking beer means celebrations

In the Philippines, beer-drinking is associated with celebrations. Many of the festivals around the archipelago are accompanied by feasts where beer is consumed. It is also served in special occasions, or simply during a gathering of friends after a long week of work. Rare is the commercial where it is shown to be a drink enjoyed at home alone, the advertisements always have our beer drinkers in groups; the larger, the better.

Alcohol consumption is generally a communal act among the masses, with the Filipino tradition called Tagay laying proof to this. Tagay is an act of sharing a drink from one vessel, symbolizing kinship or brotherhood. A person in charge pours the beverage into a cup or glass and it is passed around, and refilled as needed. It is a ritual not solely confined to beer, with research showing that it is a common way of welcoming visitors to your hometown; by offering a guest a glass of whatever spirits are locally available, such as Tuba or coconut wine in the Quezon Province, or Rice Wine from the uplands of the North, you are showing your hospitality.

In contrast to Germans who drink their beers with meals (I have attended a party where they served only bread and dips to go with the beers and wines), Filipinos have preferred savory and fried dishes that are particularly popular for pairings during their drinking outings. This includes something as simple as spicy peanuts fried with garlic, to deep fried crispy pork knuckles, or the sisig – a crunchy amalgamation of pork cheeks, pig’s ears, and pork liver, seasoned with garlic, citrus, and chili peppers that originated from the province of Pampanga.

Beer with coffee, mango and coconut infusion

Traditionally, beer in the Philippines are produced by industry giants such as San Miguel Brewery and Asia Brewery, with San Miguel Beer being the older brand as it has been established back in 1890, and is popular both in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. San Miguel, which started as a single-product brewery now has a wide portfolio of beers: Today, it carries a portfolio of ten strong and popular beer brands. Asia Brewery has diversified even further, with its brands Manila Beer, Beer na Beer and imports Heineken, Asahi Super Dry and Tiger Lager supported by other products such as a soy milk brand, an energy drink, and bottled mineral water.

While both beer brands are still lording it over in the tills, the concept of craft beer is also gaining ground, with a few enterprising beer lovers coming out with their own homegrown brands of IPAs and pale ales, some even infusing them with local flavors such as coffee, mangoes, or coconuts.

Whether in Germany or the Philippines, beer plays an important part of culture and society. It binds us together as friends, enjoying the flavorful pleasures that a cold mug or stein can provide. To this, I say Prost and Mabuhay!