Our Liquor Meter Measures the “Tama” and “Tagay” Factor of 5 Local Alcoholic Drinks

December 11, 2014

Philippine liquor can be considered one of the strongest friends and foes in drinking. Apart from the immediate impact in terms of taste and “tama” that liquors like basi and lambanog are known for, history shows that we’ve always had a reputation for being greedy for drink or “tacao ninoy sa tuba”, as reported by Fray Juan de Oliver, O.F.M. in the Delcaracion de la Doctrina Christiana en Idioma Tagalog. “Night and day are one in their drinking; they do not tire; their desire for it does not wane,” the document reads. Although this colonial assumption is no longer applicable to most Filipinos, our country continues to produce liquor made from coconut. These drinks offer an entirely different experience in terms of taste and everything after compared to foreign spirits and liquors. So what type of effect do our drinks have in terms of taste and “tama?” On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest, 1 being the lowest), a few local alcohol drinks will be scored according to the following factors:

First Taste

Any kind of alcohol always makes it first impact on the first sip. This factor will rate how strong the drink is once it touches your tongue.


Alcohol’s first taste either lingers in your mouth or disappears right after being sipped to allow for that smooth, warm finish. Five indicates that the alcohol’s first taste persists; one means it provides that smooth finish.

“Tagay” Factor

This factor tests how much of a “tomador” you need to be to drink as much as you can of the liquor. On a scale from 1 to 5, 5 means it requires the strongest and most experienced tomador.

Potential Hangover

After you’ve proven your strength as a Filipino drinker: will you regret this achievement morning after? This factor also bases its measurement on the first three factors and how they go together in each drink. Five means you could need a sick leave the day after.

1. Basi


Basi was around even before the Spaniards arrived and it still holds a notorious reputation as a local alcoholic beverage. This sugar cane wine comes from Ilocos Norte and is made from fermenting boiled and extracted sugar cane juice. After fermentation, the juice is boiled in vats before being placed in earthen jars. The cooled juice is flavored by duhat or java plum bark, ground glutinous rice, and other kinds of barks and fruits. The final mixture can be fermented for years and if kept any longer, the extract eventually turns into suka.

First Taste: 5/5

This drink’s long time fermentation can be tasted with just one sip. The sugar cane’s sweetness is present for a very brief moment until the sourness takes over.

Aftertaste: 5/5

The sourness of the drink lingers even after taking a long break between sips. I made the mistake of eating a heavy dinner before I tried this drink, so the acidity of the basi also made an impact on my stomach. Basi’s intense taste explains why Filipinos insist on pulutan or eating while drinking.

Tagay Factor: 4/5

The sour element may be a preference for some, but it also may put off others from drinking any more. If taken with enough pulutan, you’ll probably be able to drink half a glass throughout a long period.

Potential Hangover: 3/5

Basi is no “traydor” thanks to its extra sour taste, so it’s your discretion how much you want to prove yourself as a “tomador.” You can either pace yourself according to how your tongue reacts to the sourness or keep going to avoid the lingering aftertastes in between each drink.

2. Nilak


Nilak stands for “niyog na alak.” Although this description connects it to lambanog, this nilak concoction had a lower alcohol percentage and offered a different taste from the more infamous Filipino liquor.

First Taste: 4/5

This nilak had a similar taste to basi, but with a better balance between the sweet and the sour. The sweetness was more evident upon first sip and lasted longer on the mouth. But that didn’t stop the sourness from making quite an impact as the nilak passes through the throat.

After taste: 4/5

The sourness is there and needs some time to settle in, so you may need a break after two or three glasses. I tried it on ice for easier drinking and the addition made the nilak slightly smoother on the tongue.

Tagay factor: 3.5/5

Since this drink is slightly sweeter than basi, you could end up drinking more glasses throughout the night.

Potential hangover: 4/5

After two or three glasses, your mouth could get used to the balance between sweet and sour. You may end up getting too comfortable with the drink and eventually transition into the warmth of the coconut alak.

3. VuQo


Photo by Gela Velasco

VuQo Premium Vodka may seem more contemporary in terms of its packaging, but its history dates back to four centuries. According to VuQo’s website, the drink “is based on an ancient technology practiced in the Philippines long before the Spanish conquistadores set foot on its shores.” Like lambanog and other “niyog na alak,” VuQo showcases how even coconut can be distilled into something like vodka.

First Taste: 4/5

Like other strong vodka drinks, VuQo assures you its potency upon first sip. Those who aren’t used to drinking vodka from a shot glass would probably prefer it mixed or iced. Yet it’s only on the tongue that the drink gives a strong kick; after that initial impact, the vodka goes down smoothly.

Aftertaste: 1/5

This drinks initial punch disappears as soon as you’re having the next drink refilled. The mouth is parched from the alcohol, but no funny aftertaste lingers.

Tagay factor: 3/5

The drink warns you of its power upon first sip, but the smooth finish could encourage you to have some more.

Potential hangover: 4.5/5

One bottle contains 40% alcohol and the drink’s smooth finish encourages you to drink even more. I suggest having a few shots if you plan on being extra friendly that night.

4. Lambanog


Lambanog is known as coconut vodka or coconut wine, with the drink distilled from an unopened coconut flower’s sap. This drink is infamous for its high alcohol content and thus offers the ultimate challenge for the tomador.

First Taste: 5/5

The bottle wasn’t kidding about having 45% alcohol/volume. I could barely survive one sip and I ended up diluting my first drink in ice.

Aftertaste: 2/5

Similar to VuQo, the lambanog had no lingering aftertaste. But the larger alcohol percentage made the drink a bit tougher to swallow.

Tagay Factor: 5/5

The challenge lies in drinking each shot straight and not succumbing to diluting your serving in ice. Perhaps after three or four shots, your body has enough drunk courage to drink more than expected.

Potential Hangover: 5/5

This drink gets a five out of five (again) for the 45% alcohol volume. Keep in mind that is nearly half of the drink’s volume, so imagine how much you consume in one shot or three.

5. Kalamansi Rum


Calamansi is instantly associated with the Philippines and so it made sense that rum be flavored with the country’s go-to fruit. Out of all the local liquors, the calamansi rum was the sweetest, as the Mindoro calamansi extract masked the white rum blend.

First Taste: 1/5

This drink tasted more like sugar than alcohol, but that’s what makes it so appealing to a larger set. We recommend this drink to those who want to feel the impact of alcohol, rather than immediately taste it.

Aftertaste: 1/5

The calamansi rum tastes more like very sweet calamansi juice, so don’t expect any particular tastes to last in your mouth.

Tagay Factor: 1/5

There’s not much for the tomador to prove if the alcohol is easy to drink. But I’m sure the less frequent drinkers or those who prefer cocktails wouldn’t mind having an extra glass or two of the calamansi rum.

Potential Hangover: 3.5/5

This drink only contains 16% alcohol/volume, but juice-like taste encourages you to fill up that tall glass. The calamansi rum may end up being the night’s “traydor.”

Which local liquor do you like to drink with pulutan? Which do you consider the strongest among our local liquors? Sound off in the comments below!

1. Doreen Fernandez, “A Conversation with Fray Juan de Oliver on Drinking and Drunkenness,” Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture, Pasig: Anvil Publishing, 1994. Print.
2. Tropikal Kalamansi Rum
3. Lambanog: A Philippine Drink
4. Liquor Slayer
5. VuQo

Gela Velasco Gela Velasco

Gela is a young adult slowly settling into her late twenties. She likes to make a mess in the kitchen when no one’s looking, dance till dawn on long weekends, and dream about beef on lazy afternoons. On some days she learns how to write good in graduate school. Her life goals include sashaying somewhat like Beyonce and to write a cover story on Leonardo di Caprio.

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