This Bartender Turned Lechon Into a Cocktail
On the first day of the 2016 Diageo World Class regional round in Bali, Indonesia, the participating bartenders had to put a local twist on a classic cocktail. Michael Keith Tubiera, head of Rambla's bar program and one of the four representatives from the Philippines, thought: what do people say when they're talking about the Philippines?
“We call it the ‘Sibu,’” he says of the lechon-inspired cocktail he created especially for the contest. He borrowed the Cebuano technique of cooking lechon and put tanglad, roasted pineapple shrub, and lemon into Ketel One, then capped everything off “with lechon demi glaze.” A sip of the Sibu will turn you heady—the effect akin to drinking a roast pig.
Forget the Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned is a beloved cocktail made traditionally with whiskey, bitters and sugar then served in a short round tumbler. Tubiera's cocktail is far from a classic. His lechon cocktail is inspired by Rambla’s beloved conchillo. It elicited such a reaction that Michael knew if he ever made it to the next leg of the competition, he would definitely stick to a patriotic theme.
The 25-year-old bartender from Nueva Vizcaya unsurprisingly cruised through the Bali round and set off to represent the Philippines in the global finals in Miami, Florida, last September—his second time to join the competition and his first to represent the country.
He spent a month preparing for the finals alone. “I do a lot of self-study. I read online, look for trends, do research and development here at the bar, a lot of experimentation,” he says of his preparation. He takes this same level of precariousness when crafting drinks for Rambla, but for Diageo, Michael set his sights on two things: Philippine traditions and the kitchen.
This theme is evident in the 'Gabriela,’ the ampalaya-infused aperitif, and the atchara-instilled digestive ‘Pamana,’ the two cocktails he created for the first challenge in Miami, where they were required to make pre- and post-meal drinks.
For Gabriela, he mixed Tanqueray No. 10, Secco, and bitters with ampalaya shrub, a most unusual ingredient to use in cocktails but one that’s common in Ilocano kitchens. “Ampalaya makes a good aperitif because it’s bitter. It opens your taste buds, making for a good starter,” Michael says, explaining the bold drink named after Ilocana warrior Gabriela Silang. The drink is clean and made balmy, thanks to the addition of the bittermelon.
Reminiscent of an Old Fashioned, the Pamana features Bulleit bourbon, vermouth, bitters, and of all things, atchara that’s been turned into liqueur. “It’s used as panghimagas when we eat, right?” Michael says. “So that’s why I included that in the mix.”
The Miami leg of the competition featured six rounds of challenges; only the top 12 competed in the last two. Though Michael failed to get to the finale, he successfully showcased Filipino ingenuity and gave classic cocktails a Filipino twist.
His other creations include the Bonny, a drink infused with sweet potato syrup, for the “Pool Party” round where they had to prepare drinks for celebrities like Beyonce, Michelle Obama, and Penelope Cruz. “I found out that they all like French fries! Potatoes! So I made a sweet potato syrup, use it with gin or vodka, and then added glitter syrup to make the drink glamorous.” Here, he used Ketel One, and added watermelon, lemon juice, and finished it off with chrysanthemum foam for a light and low ABV cocktail.
But for all his mind-bending creations, it was his simple modification to the margarita that truly proved his mettle. ‘Borderless’ is a drink he concocted for the leg where they had to impress President Barack Obama with a cocktail. It’s just your everyday margarita except Michael added pili nut liqueur, lime, and agave syrup to Don Julio and then capped it off with beer foam. The result is an elegant, well-balanced drink, a strong finish to a long and stressful day.
To the curious, this magical margarita is actually an off-the-menu item at Rambla. Because really, Michael might not have brought home the bacon, but he came back with something far more important and valuable. He brought home a drink, for crying out loud.
Find Michael Keith Tubiera at Rambla, Joya Tower, 28 Plaza Drive, Rockwell Center, Makati City.