The Philippines may be home to Asia’s largest Christian population yet its culture is steeped in beliefs with roots in ancient stories of mythological creatures, animist spirits and elemental deities. Paying homage to this ancient past are contemporary bars using cocktails to bring storytelling to life and create a cultural experience that transcends tradition, religion and modernity.
Ancestral mysticism and folklore plays well into the lives of Filipinos. In one of Manila’s most prominent and historic Catholic basilicas, the Quiapo Church, hoards of devotees and parishioners flock every first Friday of the month to pay homage to the Black Nazarene statue inside, and then afterwards experience the buzzing outdoor market in its fringes filled with witchcraft candles and herbs sold alongside rosaries and religious icons – a scene that describes much of the contrasting reality that Filipinos are faced with today.
In the hipster area of Makati that is Poblacion, considered to be the trendiest sundown scene in the country today, two bars are tapping into the Filipino’s inherent proclivity for sacred rituals and fascination for ancient spirituality. Cocktails, brews and entire booze labels are now taking inspiration from folk tales and fables, piquing the curiosity of thirsty adventure seekers looking for a new drinking experience.
At Agimat Foraging Bar & Kitchen, an order from the bar list takes you on a pre-colonial journey of flavours, sights and sounds. Smoking libations served in goblets and clay pots are served with pomp and pageantry. Complete with drumbeats and chanting, masked bartenders emulating shamans in a trance, entertain customers as they concoct drinks using rare ingredients sourced from remote provinces to give the beverage authenticity and provenance.
The name of the bar, Agimat, refers to the amulet that believers claim wards away evil and misfortune. A fitting concept for a brand whose offerings include potions and aphrodisiacs crafted out of locally derived components such as coconut liquor, foraged fauna, exotic shrubs and fruit aromatics. Agimat’s rum-based bestseller, Dasal the Babaylan (Prayer of the Priestess) contains berry wine from the Northern Isles of the Philippines, tamarind, sugarcane, forest bitters and lime. Another drink on its menu, entitled Gamot para Makalimot (Medicine for Forgetting) is made with indigenous Kalingag (cinnamon) liquor and Sampaguita flowers – ingredients that have known folkloric significance yet are only making an appearance now in the creative cocktail scene as new botanical flavour options.
Another bar in Poblacion that has been getting some of the city’s tastemakers and influencers to keep coming back for its craft beers is Polilya (Moth). The bar is the home of Engkanto Beers where its owners are also the brains behind the brews. The name Engkanto refers to supernatural creatures such as fairies that dwell in rivers or streams. Just as these mythical beings have played an integral role in the shaping the Filipino history, its creators hope to become part of local culture and tradition by introducing a recipe that was aimed at pleasing the Filipino palate. With indigenous fruits and citruses as their focus, the beers are made to complement the tropical weather and native food. The bar’s cocktail menu also consists of a line of Engkanto beer-infused specials that pay-homage to the mystical nature of its featured lagers and pales by being dubbed The Enchanted Six.
Alamat or “fable” is another artisanal microbrewery paying tribute to Philippine lore and mythology. Their featured variants include Balete Pale Ale, which showcases the most infamous Balete tree in local folklore, Urduja Warrior IPA, which highlights the legendary warrior princess of the same name, as well as Kapre Smoky IPA which is an ode to the dark, strong, cigar-smoking tree giant. Its founders are mostly artists who have illustrated the beer labels with fantastic supernatural images and draw inspiration from Filipino cryptozoology and legend.
More than mystical allure to consumers who are always looking for out of the box experiences, it seems that homegrown brands who have tapped into local folklore are also benefitting from a more positive brand image of nationalism – giving customers a perception of cultural heritage. Moreover, environmentally-conscious consumers are also being offered a chance to further their cause by supporting more sustainably sourced ingredients being used in these products.