If you're a certified beer drinker, you may have noticed that many bars and restaurants now carry craft beer. Craft beer is small batch beer brewing, and this has gained popularity in the US and Europe 15 years back. Yes, it took some time before the fever caught on in Southeast Asia but it's here now and Filipino beer drinkers are loving it.
There are about nine or so craft beer makers in the country right now, and if the trend continues, we can look forward to a few more players in the market. But I believe the market is big enough to absorb this many, more even, considering that we are undoubtedly a beer-drinking country, and the millennials seem to have taken a liking to craft beer. The bar set, or even the restaurant scene, has been progressively getting more demanding, more discriminating, so one can expect this coming of age of craft beer in the Philippines.
We talked to one of the pioneers, Joe's Brew, which has been around for less than three years now. This company's owners, brothers Marco andJoe Viray and close friendRG Gamboa, together with Franco Alido never had it in their plans to go into craft beer as a business. It all started when Joe (or Joey as he is called in the family) went to the US and there took up some courses in beer-making. As Marco said, it all just came from a deep passion for beer, and when Joe came home, he set about perfecting his new-found skill. From a small hobby, it bloomed into a viable business with Joe as the brew master.
The set-up is by no means crude as is typical of a backyard or home business. While they indeed started small, brewing beer in the Viray family kitchen over two years ago, they have set up a modest "plant" in the basement of their office and have taken the hobby/business several notches higher. This area was transformed into a man's cave, replete even with a model airplane hanging from the ceiling but with a set up so complete it looks like a mini brewery indeed.
Joe was kind enough to show my B&L staff how to brew beer. The process seems simple, but I'm sure a layman like me won't dare replicate the process. As Joe explained, the malt is crafted in one big bin, and then it is transferred to the next bin where it is steeped for an hour. Then it is moved to another vat where it is boiled, and hops are added for that bitter flavour and beer aroma. Then off it goes to the cooling system where the "young" beer is cooled. After that it goes straight to the fermenting tank where yeast is added. The brew stays here for a good three weeks to age and allow the yeast to "eat" the sugar and emit CO2 and alcohol. Then, it is good for transfer to the kegs for eventual bottling. A keg, we learned, contains around fifty 330 ml bottles of beer. A bottle of Joe's Brew beer, depending on the variant, costs between P120 - P175/bottle.
That man's cave I mentioned earlier is Joe's Brew's Tasting Room, an innovative idea from this creative group. For the moment, they do not have free-standing stores to sell their beer. The Tasting Room is cozy and can accommodate only about twenty guests at a time. This is where clients or potential distributors can taste the different variants with their tasting glasses. After they have made their choices, they can get the regular glass of 380 ml for around P160, or get the bigger pint glass of 550 ml and enjoy their brew in this man's cave, the Tasting Room. Here is also where one can taste the experimental brews which are not yet available in the market.
Joe's Brew is based in Poblacion (and this is where to go to if you wish to check out their Tasting Room) because theViray family is from here. It is their neighbourhood, Marco said, so it made sense to set up camp here.
For the moment, they only have five variants to choose from. Their top seller is still the original Fish Rider which has caramel malt, is copper-colored and not as light as San Miguel Beer. Then there is theSierra Madre Weak Ale; theSoothsayer Pale Ale; the 34th Pursuit IPA (no wonder they have a model plane there); and the Sun Sweeper Double IPA. They are now going into non-alcoholic beverages like ginger ale since they already have the complete set-up to do so and there is also a demand for it. They are now set to come out with their own root beer or the popular sarsaparilla under the Joe's Brew brand.You can't accuse these young men of "sleeping in the pansitan".
With eight other competitors out there, what sets Joe's Brew apart from the competition?
As Marco said, it is their passion. The owners gave up their 9-5 jobs to work 24/7 on Joe's Brew. They don't scrimp on their ingredients either, importing their quality ingredients directly from the US and Australia. And perhaps their greatest secret is their master brewer, Joe, who clearly has the talent for brewing. All he needed was a few short courses to fire up the accelerator. Their five variants are his original recipes, and he also tries to infuse some local fruits into his beer recipes. Joe's Brew is still a work in progress and he expects to come out with more inspired original recipes.
What's in store for Joe's Brew, the brand? Right now, they are concentrating on getting more distributors (they already have over seventy clients and counting). Their expansion plans lie mostly on making more Tasting Rooms and establishing mini breweries outside of Metro Manila, in the big provincial cities. Right now, they get invited to big events or concerts where they bring their trailer and set up a booth for Joe's Brew. They want to institutionalize this and be a standard part and parcel of this scene.
Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.
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