Something’s been brewing in the last few years. A small, tight-knit community of craft brewers have made their way into different bars, pubs, shelves, and the taste buds of Filipinos. Will craft beer pose a challenge to the local beer giants? What is the difference from craft beer from good old San Miguel anyway?
Craft breweries are independently-run, with their brews referred to as crafted beers, specialty, gourmet, or even “artisan” beers. While the Philippines has yet to see a formalized alliance of craft brewers, groups abroad have put up exact figures to differentiate craft beers from the big brewers. The Brewer’s Association, an organization for American homebrewers, dictates that non-craft brewers can have no more than 25% ownership in a brewery. Microdistribution is also part of being a craft brewer. According to the Brewer’s Association website, annual production of a recognized craft brewery should be no be more than six million barrels.
Behind the Beer
The process of brewing beer is almost the same, whether it’s on the micro or mass level. There is a lot of mad science behind the brewery of beer. Pepper is taken from one part to another of the brewing area of Craftpoint Brewery at EDSA BDG, in the “lab area” space shared with the coffee brewers of the group.
Craftpoint was started by Aldous Bernardo, Chip Vega, and Marvin Moreno, inspired by a love of beer that turned into a weekly home brewing session where they conceptualized Craftpoint along the way.
In the lab, Craftpoint’s equipment consists of large tubs, and metallic industrial machines connected to pipes and meters. The process of creating beer makes use of exact temperatures, turning starch into sugar, then adding hops and yeast to create that alcoholic kick and flavor. It is essentially the same process in which any beer is made.
“The underlying principle is the same,” says Moreno, “but the machines might be different.”
But the extra step that craft beers take is in making the most of the brewing process to create different flavors.
“Every ingredient in the brewing process has a lot of variation,” says Moreno, “One example is the malt – you have malt that’s light, or malt that’s deeply toasted, it tastes like chocolate, it tastes like coffee. How you play around with those, you get light beers or dark beers, you play with the malt. Different malt will have different flavor characteristics. Like, some of them have a honey taste, some have a chocolate taste, some are nutty. So that’s one way you can control the flavor.”
“Next is hops, hops is like coffee. Different regions, different places where you grow it, it creates different flavors. There are four major growing regions of hops, one is in the US, European, New Zealand, and the UK. New Zealand is the newest one. US hops tend to be citrusy and fruity, UK hops tend to be more floral, spicy; the German hops are also floral but also earthy. Within that range there are also many, many variations. You can also play around with those flavors.”
“Yeast also provides a lot of different flavors. Like some yeast produce a cleaner profile, some yeast produce a fruit profile, some produce a spicier profile, you can combine all of this together. Plus you have fruits to play with, sugar, spices, you have a really big range of things to play around with. There are an infinite number of things you can use with that. There’s also water. Some of the beers that a region produces depends on their water. You can control your water. You can filter and treat your water. But the water here is fine with us.“
“And then there’s alcohol content. The alcohol content of a beer is dependent on the malt you put in it. The more malt, the more sugar and yeast, so more alcohol. That’s why drinks with a high alcohol base tend to be more expensive, you tend to use more ingredients.”
Moreno likens craft beer ingredients to 100% pure beef in burgers; their hops and malts are what they are, without extenders. The big beer breweries are known to use extenders in the malt, and certain chemics to prolong their beers shelf life and economize manufacturing costs. You do get what you pay for with craft beer, with more prime ingredients in each bottle.
Craft brew can also be made in one’s own home, with the right ingredients and equipment.
“Before, there was this group called a homebrewers club,” says Moreno, “It’s for people who brew their own beer. Every last day of the month we’d meet up and share our brews with other people.” More than a love for beer, what made him create Craftpoint as a brand with his partners was, “I wanted to start my own business. I wanted to put up my own bar. I thought, what would make it stand out from the other bars out there? Lightbulb moment – I thought, my own beer.”
Kiyo Miura, one of the four co-founders of Katipunan Craft, said that he started in the apartment kitchen of their master brewer before moving to his garage. The idea to market Katipunan Craft came a few years after they graduated college. “About two or three years after our worklife began, we started brainstorming things we wanted to do. It was an obvious choice on what we could do as a business instead of our jobs. Beer sounded like a really good idea.”
Like Miura, Stuart turned his love for beer into the craft beer known as Fat Pauly’s. After a new year’s resolution to stop drinking beer, his love for beer reignited upon his discovery of Beer Paradise in Makati. “I was pretty obssessed, I started collecting bottles. I thought, what’s next?”
When asked how he learned to brew, “Youtube!” He exclaims, loudly and proudly. “I studied homebrewing, bought some stuff online, and the rest is history.”
While the desire to market and cultivate finer tastes are factors in the crafting of beers, for others it’s also about putting their region and culture forward. Stuart is based in Iligan, and is one of the few craft brewers in his region. “I was really hoping that I could represent Mindanao through a local following, but I really had to bring my beers to Manila for me to be recognized. The craft beer scene has not really gone through the mindsets of people in Mindanao.” He has also had some trouble trying to up distribution in Visayas and Mindanao, as brewing and running the business is mostly on Stuart.
“Visayas area is growing, there’s one person carrying my beers there but I’m not sure if he’s doing the distribution right because it’s not doing really well. There was a following of Fat Pauly’s before in Davao before, but for some reason it stopped. I don’t know. I’m not really based there so I wouldn’t really know.” These few upsets haven’t daunted Stuart, “It’s growing, I see it growing day by day, but it’s relatively small until now.”
Xavierbier is the newest entry to the craft scene, and while the marketing arm comes from Manila, the flavors and beers are very much inspired by the co-owners roots in Baguio. They even have a line of beers that are inspired by Ifugao mythology, as well as fruit beers such as passion fruit and of course, strawberry beer. “It’s making waves in Baguio,” Garcia reports. “People are very interested over there. But of course, when we say how much the price is, they get shocked.” As of press time, Xavierbier plans to sell a bottle for around P180, which is the average price for a craft beer.
Drink Up Philippines was the first event to celebrate the local beer craft scene last May 2014. Aside from Craftpoint, Xavierbier, Fat Pauly’s, and Katipunan Craft, other craft breweries such as Palaweño Brewery from Palawan, Bogs Brew from Bacolod, and more were featured at the event. In the infancy stage of the craft brew scene, the pioneering efforts of Drink Up were evidence of a growing market for craft beer. At the stage it’s in now, it’s no threat to the big beer companies that dominate the industry, but based on the interviews, that’s the least of their concerns. There is also talk in the scene to finally create a group for themselves to further develop the craft brewing scene as a whole. According to rough estimates, there seems to be one or two new craft breweries every month.
“It’s very exciting,” says Chip Vega of Craftpoint. “We’re looking at an even more lively craft beer industry in the coming year.
Says Garcia, “We see that there is an increasing interest in variety. I mean, in the food sector you see that people are willing to pay thousands on a steak these days. Even coffee, people are willing to spend hundreds of pesos, back then you can only buy it for five pesos. The same principle, I believe, applies with beer, but it’s a little complicated because it’s dominated by a very formidable company – San Miguel.”
“What we’re here to do is to provide more choices for the people, not really about taking shares from San Miguel. It’s a totally different market. San Miguel is there to provide beer for everyone. We’re here to provide a beer for those looking for a different experience, something more adventurous.”