5 Reasons Why We Should Care About LambanogDecember 20, 2018
- Nico GocoWords
Lambanog makes people go crazy. At least that was the image I got from reading “We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers” back in my third year high school literature class. In the story, a Filipino downplays his affinity for alcohol while enjoying Lambanog with his foreign guest. Our countryman casually enjoys his hooch, while his poor friend slowly begins to experience wild hallucinations.
Lambanog, as I would later learn, comes from the fermented sap of the coconut tree. This is then distilled to make the drink more potent. The usual alcohol content of lambanog is 80 to 90 proof (40% and 45% alcohol, respectively). It is a clear, colorless spirit, with a neutral taste, potent kick, and a finish with a hint of sweetness.
I got my first taste of it early in college. A friend from Laguna regularly brought back gallons of the stuff. While I wouldn’t say that everyone went bonkers after getting soused up on Lambanog, I will say that our evenings got pretty interesting. In between emotional breakdowns, hysterical sobbing, and silly dance moves, what stuck in my mind was, “Wow. Lambanog tastes good.”
That first shot led me to make my way down south in search of the puro or pure Lambanog. (You can keep that bubblegum crap, thank you very much.) Buying Lambanog is almost as interesting as the drink itself. My own experiences involved old ladies with shaky hands pouring several ounces into empty peanut butter jars being used as glasses for me to drink. Asking for a taste of the Lambanog you’re buying is customary and expected.
I honestly like pure Lambanog more than all the other locally, commercially produced spirits here (like rum, gin, and brandy). I appreciate it not only for its potency, but also for being easy on the palate, and its versatility as a cocktail base.
It makes me a bit sad that Lambanog still hasn’t broken into the mainstream, though, it certainly isn’t from lack of trying. In the 90’s, Lambanog makers tried to enter the market by offering flavored lambanog. The novelty proved successful initially, but just like the tamagotchi, chameleon cell phone cases, and elephant pants, the fad did not last.
Their marketing approach was probably to blame for the failure. They passed it off as a novelty product, and they relied on gimmicks rather than the actual merits of the product. I’d also hazard to say that the taste buds of its target market weren’t as sophisticated as they are now. Back then, people were looking for just a quick way to get a buzz, rather than a drink you could savor for its flavors, as well as its alcohol content.
Despite the setbacks it has suffered, I believe Lambanog still holds tremendous potential to be recognized. Just like the cachaça from Brazil, and vodka from Eastern Europe, Lambanog is a drink we can be proud of.
Don’t believe me? Here are 5 reasons that may change your mind:
1. It makes for great cocktails/mixes.
Lambanog is a very clean-tasting spirit, with a subtle, sweet finish. This gives it plenty of versatility in cocktails, since you can pretty much pair it with anything you want. Try it with citrus or lychee juices, for sweet, but potent mixes. Its clean taste also makes it perfect for infusions. Traditionally, Lambanog is steeped with either raisins or prunes to give it a sweeter flavor. With the variety of fruits we have, the types of infusions you can do are endless. For the enterprising barkeep and the alcohol gourmand, feel free to experiment. It’s easy. Place Lambanog in a mason jar, steep your favorite fruit in it, and delight your guests with an apéritif you made yourself.
2. Support for local producers
Like most of our local agriculture, the coconut industry is in bad shape. Popularizing Lambanog can really help out our farmers. Supporting good local products makes sense not only economically (products are made cheaper), but also elevates the quality of the items. When consumers support local producers, we get better products in return.
3. It’s part of our culture.
Okay, so it’s almost always a cop-out to say that we should love something just because it’s part of our history, but cultural identity when it comes to enjoying alcohol is also important. It is a heritage drink, one that has been enjoyed for generations. If for nothing else but its longevity, it deserves respect.
4. It”s a very good drink.
In its pure form, it’s a very good alcoholic beverage. It has very little impurities. The flavor profile is potent, but still smooth and sweet. It’s also quite cheap. Lambanog is also all-natural, which many of our local products (having been doused every which way with additives and artificial flavors) cannot claim. For the price point and the quality of the alcohol, it’s very hard to beat.
5. You can use it in the kitchen, too.
With so many dishes out there that use alcohol as a component, why not substitute Lambanog for the vodka, wine, or beer the recipe calls for?
The flavor of Lambanog makes it great for seafood. Try it with an oyster shooter with a dash of salt, , and calamansi. Cook seafood (like mussels and shrimp) with it. Cooking mellows out the alcohol, and heightens the sweeter flavors.
For many of us, our appreciation for alcohol is still in its early stages. A lot of us are still struggling to move past that stage where getting hammered in the cheapest way possible is the goal. We need to learn how to enjoy the nuances of alcohol.
The next time you get invited to an inuman, why not give the real local stuff a try? It will probably make for more enjoyable nights, and ones that you can actually remember when you get up in the morning.
(Bonus: Here’s a link to Lambanog’s feature in Three Sheets, the Travel Channel’s show about alcohol all over the world.)
Did you try out the bubblegum flavor back in the day? Have you had pure lambanog? Do you have funny drinking stories to share? Let us know in the comments!
Roces, Alejandro R. (c. 1940s). “We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers.” Communication Arts and Skills Through Anglo-American and Filipino Literature. Josephine B. Serrano & Milagros G. Lapid. Third Edition. Quezon City: Phoenix Publishing House, 1999, 310-315.