E-numan Is Fun With an Award-Winning, Philippine-Made Craft Gin
The concept of e-numan—or a virtual drinking session with colleagues, co-workers or friends—is still relatively new, but probably growing as we speak. Save for a few people who prefer their own company while imbibing spirits, drinking has always been a social activity, but restrictions due to the ongoing health crisis necessitates creative ways to enjoy a cocktail or three with others of a similar bent.
That’s pretty much my roundabout way of explaining how I spent one Saturday with my laptop on my kitchen table listening to a talk about gin and sampling the spirit with about 100 other people through the magic of the internet. The Tasting Club—a collective of food and wine connoisseurs run by gregarious couple Kevin Charuel and his wife Adrienne—has been hosting several of these tasting events since 2016 when they lived in New York City. It was always in-person, of course, usually at a wine bar or restaurant, but the ultimate party pooper (a.k.a. the coronavirus) forced the couple to move the festivities online.
Craft gin from Laguna
On this particular event, The Tasting Club invited banker-turned-craft spirits maker Matthew Westfall. After a quick introduction to gin—what it is and how it’s made—Westfall addressed the audience and talked about his creation—the proudly Filipino-made gin called ARC.
Short for archipelago, ARC’s distillery is in Calamba, Laguna and has only been around for barely two years, but in that short period of time, it’s already established itself as a premium liquor brand not just in its home country but around the world. Esquire Philippines actually wrote a profile about ARC and its founders last year.
“(Our mission) was never about the money,” Westfall said. “It’s really to promote the Philippines on the global spirits map.”
On that front, I’d say the brand is well on its way. ARC has won numerous awards from prestigious organizations, including citations at the 2019 World Gin Awards: Best Contemporary Style Gin for its flagship spirit, ARC Botanical Gin, and the Best Matured Gin for its oak-aged ARC Barrel Reserve Gin. It was also rated 9.9 out of 10 by one of the most popular chroniclers of spirits and liquor in Germany, ginvasion.de.
Roots in the Philippines
Westfall, who is American, actually has roots in the Philippines and “drink-mixing” in his veins. His father, Peter Westfall, arrived in the country in 1926 and actually worked in San Miguel.
“He’s credited for inventing (the formula) that would become the (softdrink) Royal Tru-Orange,” he said.
Westfall himself first arrived in the Philippines as a volunteer for the US Peace Corps in the early 1980s before joining the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. After he finally hung up his suit and tie two years ago, his retirement plan consisted of laying the groundwork for what is now ARC gin.
“The main botanical of every gin is the juniper berry,” Westfall said. “ARC has 28 botanicals, 22 of which are locally sourced and foraged. We work with fresh produce—lemongrass from organic farms, mangoes from Pangasinan, calamansi from Quezon, fresh flowers, and dalandan, and others. Everything is fresh, which industrial gins can’t say. They don’t work with fresh because the supply chain would be a nightmare.”
A taste of craft gin
After the introductory lesson, Westfall finally invited everybody in the virtual session to bring out their testing kits. It was time for the tasting. The kits were composed of three spirit bottles: ARC Botanical Gin, Lava Rock Vodka and Barrel Reserve Gin (200ml each), two bottles of Fever Tree Tonic Water (200ml each), a spice kit for making a classic gin and tonic (including dehydrated lemons, cardamon, juniper berries and anise stars), and a set of food pairings that includes cucumber sticks, a cheesy cream spread, French salmon spread rillettes and artisan bread.
Guests were free to chime in with their thoughts on each spirit as we went through them one by one. We started with vodka, which had the barest hints of vanilla and caramel; the gin had, of course, citrusy notes, particularly calamansi and pomelo; while the Barrel Reserve had exuded cinnamon spice and some floral notes.
I can appreciate spirits served straight up, but when it comes to gin, I prefer mine in a cocktail. Thankfully, there was a quick tutorial on how to make a G&T from Charuel himself.
“There are no rules when it comes to drinking,” he said. “It’s always up to you how you want to enjoy your drink.”
That said, Charuel’s instructions on how to make a typical G&T were remarkably easy: two parts ARC gin, two parts tonic water, essence of lime or lemon, and a dash of spice for that extra kick—in this case, star anise, cardamom, and juniper berries—all in a balloon glass with ice.
I followed Charuel’s instructions and pretty soon, I was raising my glass and cheering everybody else in the group before sipping my own G&T.
Charuel also demonstrated how to make a second cocktail: a classic Negroni. This one requires one part of each of Campari, sweet vermouth, and ARC Barrel Reserve gin on a glass with ice, with an orange peel on the rim.
“If you replace gin with whisky, you have yourself a boulevardier,” chimed in David Ong, spirits expert and owner of one of the country’s best bars, OTO.
Gin that Filipinos can be proud of
Westfall’s parting words were in support of his passion project—a locally made gin that everyone who can appreciate quality spirits can truly be proud of.
“We produce about 5,000 cases per year, but we’re working on getting it up to around 12,000,” he said “But the essence of being a craft spririt is that we remain small. Right now, we’re getting orders from around the world. We’re in California, New Jersey, and Florida in the US; we’re in Singapore and Malaysia. We’re in discussions with Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand.
In addition, Westfall mentioned their Gin for Good campaign, where a percentage of ARC’s profits are donated to local environmental groups committed to support Philippine wildlife conservation efforts.
At this point, I got a good buzz going and appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to drive or book a Grab to get home—my bed and a good night’s sleep was literally just a few steps away.
It’s definitely not the same as a traditional inuman, but yes, an e-numan does have its advantages.
The Tasting Club’s next virtual tasting event is happening on Sunday, September 27, 2020, and will be a master class featuring artisan cheeses from Mindanao as well as local craft beers from Laguna. The Cheese Maker and Master Brewer will be part of the experience. For more information, visit The Tasting Club’s Facebook page.