The first Filipino craft gin is so darn awesome

IMAGE Jaclyn Clemente-Koppe

What kind of person makes his own gin?

Don't ask Josemari Cuervo, owner and brewmaster at Crows Craft Brewery and, just recently, distiller of the first Philippine-made craft gin. He will just give out a sheepish chuckle and avoid the clumsy and embarrassing business of talking about himself. Ask him about the process of making the aromatic spirit, however, and he will give you the detailed and tedious run-down.

"Well, first, l had to make sure that it was legal," Cuervo shares. Once he received confirmation, he proceeded to set up his own little distillery. He gathered the botanicals he needed to make his own special blend then started to play around. His friends and guinea pigs (no animals were harmed in the making of the gin) are quick to say that his first batch was—to put it mildly—unpalatable. Miguel Vecin, chef and owner of Bar Pintxos and longtime friend of Cuervo, doesn't mince words. "I spat it out, man!" He exclaims. "Horrible."

The stuff that managed to make it to bottles finally is the third batch, consisting of 23 botanicals. To put things in perspective, commercial gins, like Tanqueray, have about four. Cuervo wanted his gin to have the aromas and flavors of the Philippines, "but at the same time it needs to taste like gin." Juniper is a given, then Cuervo pretty much went to town. He added lavender, cardamom, rose hip, coriander, cinnamon, among others. To boost that local flavor, he dehydrated some citrus fruits like dalandan and calamansi, then added sili labuyo for a kick.


There's more, obviously, but what matters is how all 23 botanicals magically came together into one fragrant, refreshing, nicely balanced spirit. The flavor doesn't immediately jump out and yell "Pinoy," but the citrus notes make it the perfect antidote to the tropical climate, with the floral botanicals providing a lovely base. The beauty of its complexity is that it doesn't smell nor taste complex, it's just—simply put—gorgeous.

"It's like a cologne, right?" says Sol Ramirez, Cuervo's fiancé, "so, tell me honestly. Did you like it?" Her daughter, Maxine, the graphics designer behind the elegant-yet-rock and roll black and white branding of the Crows bottles. peers from over her shoulders and awaits my verdict. This is what makes small-batch productions so cool: You meet the people responsible and see where their inspiration comes from. For Cuervo, it looks like he's heavily influenced by the ladies in his life. He wanted something that they would sniff and say, "Hey, I like that." Which is what Ramirez—who doesn't drink alcohol—says about his gin.

So, I tried asking Ramirez the same question, hoping this time I would get an answer. She pauses thoughtfully, then answers: "Most people kasi, when they try something new and they like it, they wonder, 'oh, where can I buy this?' In Mari's case, its different. He researches, he figures out how it's made, then he tries to make his own." That's how he started making his beers, and now, his gin.

"He's really a passionate guy," Sol earnestly adds. I'm glad I asked the right person.

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Crows Hand-crafted Gin is available only through [email protected]

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Jaclyn Clemente Koppe
Chinkee writes and eats for a living. By living, she means cake. Or steak. When she's not eating, she's running her own blog-shop,
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