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The Curious Origins of Ginebra San Miguel's Name

Its name comes from two literary figures who are also “pure” and “stainless.”
IMAGE Ginebra San Miguel
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Ginebra San Miguel traces its history back to 1834 when the Distileria Licorea de Ayala or Ayala Distillery was established in the Philippines. One of its products was Ginebra San Miguel, a gin that was the result of a formula that purified alcohol to give it a stronger body and smoother taste. It appealed to both masses and members of high society.

In the early 1900s during the American occupation of the Philippines, Ginebra San Miguel was given the distinction of being the only Philippine product deemed “pure” and “stainless,” the highest distinction for commercial products at that time. 

Its name comes from two literary figures who are also “pure” and “stainless”: Guinevere and Saint Michael.

Guinevere (and its other forms, Gwenhwyfar, Gwenivar, Guenevere, Guenever, Ginevera, Genevera, Ginevera, Gennifer, Jennefer, Jennifer, etc.) refers to the legendary wife of King Arthur in English medieval literature. The name comes from the old Welsh name Gwenhwyfar, which means “The White Enchantress” or “The White Fairy.”

Interestingly, the word “gin” also traces its roots to the French name Genièvre or its Dutch variant Jenever, which both refer to a plant called juniper, whose berries were used to add flavor to gin in the 17th century. Both Genievre and Jenever are variants of Guinevere and Ginebra.

On the other hand, Saint Michael refers to none other than the Archangel Saint Michael, who is recognized in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The name Michael comes from the Hebrew word Mikhal, which means Who is Like God. Other versions of the name include Mikhail, Mikel, Mikhael, Michahel, and Mikal, among others.

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The Story Behind ‘Cuatro Cantos’

Photo by Ginebra San Miguel.

‘Cuatro Cantos’ is a nickname affectionately used to refer to Ginebra’s 700-milliliter, four-cornered bottle. The Cuatro Cantos was born after La Tondeña, a distillery owned by Filipino-Chinese mestizo businessman Carlos Palanca Sr., purchased the Ayala Distilleries, expanding the distribution of Ginebra San Miguel throughout the entire country.

The La Tondeña facility was heavily damaged during World War II, prompting  Palanca to revolutionize Gin production with the introduction of mechanized bottling. It was during that time when Cuatro Cantos bottles were produced, creating the signature look of Ginebra San Miguel, according to the company.

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