5 Reasons Why We Should Care About Lambanog

December 20, 2018

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.

Lambanog Export

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.

Hometown Lambanog

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.

Roadside Lambanog

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!


References:

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.


Image Sources: Expat Philippines / Fotothing / Flickr

Nico Goco Nico Goco

Nico is an engineer with a fondness for food, drink, and cooking. This is in serious conflict with his desire to lose weight. Writing is his outlet to make sure the right side of his brain still works. When free, he likes to read, travel, and nurture a dozen different hobbies. He also believes that the perfect fried chicken is the cure to anything.

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22 comments in this post SHOW

22 responses to “5 Reasons Why We Should Care About Lambanog”

  1. Benjamin Canapi says:

    I approve of this article. *thumbs up*

  2. Trish says:

    I do not drink, but this article makes me wanna try Lambanog. Haha. 🙂

  3. Christina says:

    If you know of any companies that ship to New York, I’m all ears.

  4. Pilar San Luis says:

    Lambanog and Tuba are the same right?

  5. Lesly Bries says:

    My buddies and I once nabbed a couple of bottles of homemade lambanog on our way out of Alaminos. The only accurate term for this in English is firewater. Bacardi 151 has nothing on the authentic stuff.

    • Nico Goco says:

      firewater is a pretty accurate way to describe it. The homemade stuff can really go upwards of 100 proof! Though they’ve made 80 to 90 proof the industry standard. 🙂 but yeah, the stuff I buy from the local co-ops really pack a punch.

  6. Pinoy Steel says:

    Drinking lambanog with raisins from Candelaria, Quezon, straight out of the jug 😉

  7. Krystian Velonza says:

    I infused a bottle of lambanog with lots of raisins about half an inch of raisins in the bottle and stored it for five years, 5 feet under the ground. When i opened it and offered a shot to our Scottish visitor, he found it soothing and great. I wonder if we can replicate the method they do in whiskey in lambanog, store it in oak barrels.

  8. lonelydisco says:

    It’s pretty fitting that the best drink for wherever you are is whatever’s local. Lambanog sounds like the perfect drink to getting drunk!

  9. Vinel Villasanta says:

    I’m starting to love Lambanog a lot! 🙂 Thanks for your wonderful article Sir Nico! 🙂

  10. random kano says:

    I absolutely love pure lambanog but ironically the problem is that it’s almost impossible to find in MM. Landmark sells Mixmate pure one for 110, for whatever reason the crappy flavored ones are 90. Why? It seems like a silly pricing tactic. Only store that sells reasonably priced lambanog as well.
    Other stores sell the high end stuff which can be 4-500 per bottle and that’s too expensive. Why is it that every store has Empi available in various forms but lambanog doesn’t exist? It’s silly. Is it that hard to keep some space for lambanog?

  11. @random kano: Shipping/delivery logistics and marketing expenses are to blame for the price creep. Add to that the inflation and VAT that ensnares everyone. Lambanog price in general gauges the quality of the product. Older and better tasting ones are dearer. Try nipa lambanog for a change. It is a lot milder and the taste is anywhere from exotic to pure finesse as the nipa palm ingests varied water salinities in mangrove areas. No two nipa lambanog brands will taste the same for that reason. Ours is available via Ebay philippines and Shopee at the moment. We called it ‘laombanog’ coined from ‘laon’ (aged) and lambanog.

  12. @Krystian Velonza: Oak barrel aged lambanog will be a prized possession. However imho, having a barrel made out of local timber would be the ideal way to go. Unfortunately, experimentation towards that is hampered by blanket bans on timber trade. It will be a real struggle to obtain an alcohol friendly timber in our market / forests. Of course, we are all nature lovers delved into forest conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Sad state we are in, but we drinkers need to mention the topic in our inumans hoping to find ears and brains that care 🙂

  13. Mark Davis says:

    I first tried Lambanog back in 1999 at my friends place in Quezon City. On a trip back the next year we drove to Lucena in Quezon province to pick up a 5 gallon jug for $20! Since this was prior to 9/11 I took 3 one liter plastic bottles filled with the Lambanog in my carry on luggage back to California. Before I boarded the airline people asked what was in the bottles. I told them it was “Holy Water”. They were fine with it. I enjoyed my Lambanog for many days back home. TRUE STORY

  14. Elaine says:

    I have few experiences with lambanog, it really was a bad but funny and sad at some point experience. To summarize it all, after drinking a lot (for me that’s a lot, 1 liter of lambanog shared by 3 people), when I’m already drunk and dizzy I will remember EVERYTHING before I fell asleep, but I won’t remember anything after that. So when I’m finally awake I will learn that I did sort of things during the time that I thought I was asleep. I totally don’t remember at all it’s like it’s been wiped out of my memory, it’s the same as sleep walking. What I did? I will never tell. But I do appreciate this product so I’m trying to find ways how to use it, except getting drunk with it. So thank you for this post, I might try it with my cooking.

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