Try the Local Craft Beer That's Designed Especially for Filipinos
It was a scene out of Fight Club. From the busy street, the place has no sign or anything else announcing the existence of anything—only a rather inconspicuous building number. The somber guard at the gate asked for my name, twice, then instructed me to park and walk towards the back of the lot. Another guard will meet you there, he said.
I gingerly walked on gravel towards the glass doors, where I spotted Guard Number 2 walking out, as if on cue, to meet me. I ask for directions to "the brewery," and he quietly leads me there, past empty office spaces (not abandoned as I thought, but soon to be occupied by other tenants); through several doors; a long illuminated hallway; another door which opens into an air-conditioned, windowless office. At the back of that room is a door. It looks like the door to a broom closet or bathroom, but it surprisingly opens into a bright, spacious space full of tanks and pipes. At this point, I was preparing myself to meet the Tyler Durden-esque character in charge of this operation.
However, Ian R. Paradies, founder and president of Napa Gapa Beverages Corporation, was not the sinister, wifebeater-wearing persona I'd concocted in my mind. He welcomed me with a smile, his round, green eyes reassuring rather than menacing. He cracked jokes, and I was immediately put at ease. He introduced his partner in this endeavor, the imposing brewmaster Josh Karten, and he addressed the elephant in the room. "Remember that movie Twins?" Paradies asked, referencing the '90s movie starring Arnold Swarzenegger and Danny Devito. The pair's height difference obviously a common icebreaker.
However, big things come in small packages they say, and Paradies' diminutive frame is packed with huge, ambitious ideas. His love for beer drove him to the point where he wanted to make his own. He didn't know how, so he found someone who was good at it.
Back in 2015, a common friend introduced Paradies to Karten, who at the time was busy with the popular Rhode Island-based brewery Proclamation Ale Company, which he co-owns. Paradies at that point was ready to do his own thing, leaving his job at one of the world's largest port management companies.
"I decided I needed to do something that would fulfill me," he shared. A dream that finally came to fruition when he found the missing bolt to his unstoppable brewing machine. Karten has partnered up with Paradies through his company CBC, providing Napa Gapa with "technical services." This pretty much involves everything, from research and development to the everyday operations of the brewery, a full immersion which required Karten to pretty spend most of his time in Manila."
What convinced the master brewer to focus his energy on a start-up in an emerging market like the Philippines? "Well, Ian convinced me!" Karten boomed. "I mean, I have a family back home and I had to ask my wife." He reenacted the scene on how he sheepishly asked for her permission. Apparently, Paradies did most of the work, gaining Mrs. Karten's blessing and pretty much charming the entire town while he was at it.
"At the bar (in Rhode Island), I would sometimes be working at the back and Ian was mostly doing his own thing," Karten narrated. "Next thing I knew, he has befriended all of our regulars. He even knows people who have been coming to the bar for ages but whom I've never gotten around to meeting! Seriously, he has a gift."
And once Paradies got Karten on board, they proceeded to making "magic," which is the inspiration behind naming the brewery after the Filipino mythical creature. Paradies was bent on making Filipino craft beer, and Karten gave his full support.
Paradies admits: "We approached other brewers (before Karten), but they wanted to make their style of beer. I wanted to make beer that would appeal to the local market, with flavors that are distinctly ours." With this in mind, he and Karten focused on local fruits and citruses. While hopheads would look for pine-heavy notes you would normally find in West Coast IPAs, Karten felt that it was too heavy for the tropics. Therefore, they adjusted, relying heavily on the feedback of Paradies' beer-loving family and friends.
Paradies offered up a rhetorical question: "What's the point of making something good if not a lot of people can drink it?"
They made us try five variants, all tied together by vibrant, tropical notes that sit well with our generally harsh weather. The ales (blonde, pale, IPA, and double IPA) are noticeably lighter and more fruit-forward than their Western-made counterparts. "Fruity, but still dry," Karten pointed out, since he and Paradies insist on a lighter style across the board (only in flavor—the IPA still packs a whallop at 8% ABV, the double IPA 8.5% ABV). This quality is something unique to Engkanto since generally local brewers tend to follow the lead of their Western counterparts and pander to hopheads who, in turn, tend to prefer heavier, more bitter IPAs.
This is the magic formula: using the best ingredients (the hops are sourced from the U.S., the grains from Australia), but keeping their price point so competitive that even the C market could now shift to craft beers. Their lager—dry, light, citrusy, and highly drinkable at 4.5 ABV—is a veritable game-changer. "It's a bold move on our part since Asians have great lagers," Karten imparts. "But then, that's also why we decided to make our own. This is what people drink here. And, really, it's not easy on our part. It's so much easier to make ales."
While this bromance is currently keeping their small brewery on the down-low, the current construction of a bigger brewery in Carmona, Laguna, shows their commitment to go nationwide. Paradies dreams of selling his Engkanto beers at his home province of Cebu, and beer traveling long distances are better bottled.
"But, for the keg batches and seasonal beers, we will continue to make them here," Paradies confessed. Karten excitedly started talking about a stout ("with coconut," he coyly adds) and a dalandan ale—flavors and styles which would surely get snatched up by the bars and restaurants Engkanto plans to supply. "It's an emerging market," Karten states. "Anything can happen in a young market such as the Philippines. That's scary, but also really exciting."
For more on Engkanto Brewery, visit their Facebook page.