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Philippines. Beer connoisseurship

Raj sadhwani has been in the beer import business for 16 years now with his successful trading company, Booze. He was responsible for bringing in the biggest European imported beer brands to our beer-loving country long monopolized by local giant San Miguel Corp.

Booze brings in some of the most renowned European beers, including German biggies Beck’s, Warsteiner and Paulaner; Belgian beers Stella Artois, Chimay, Leffe, Delirium Tremens and Hoegaarden, Murphy’s Irish Stout, among several others. Many of these brands are also sold in the draft format.

When I found out Raj was the man behind the latest talk-of-the-town destination, The Brewery at the Palace in Uptown Bonifacio Global City, I was not a bit surprised. After all, Raj and his alcohol and food loving cohorts are also behind other successful resto-bars like Draft, The Distillery and Imperial Ice Bar. I was able to catch up recently with Raj and his German brew master Oliver at The Brewery for a lively discussion on beers.

NATURAL UPGRADE

Raj professes that the idea of a brewery has always been a dream, especially for a guy who has been a successful beer importer and distributor for over a decade and a half. His company, Booze, was the first to import beers in the draft format, with bigger size kegs. His Euro gastro-pub themed Draft serves several beer brands in draft. Prior to this, the imported beer scene just featured typical bottles and cans.

Raj admits that the issue with beer is always about freshness. While his company brings in the beers at the best conditions possible, they still have to deal with the 60 to 90 days lead time from order, the state of the cargo, and other factors. The resultant beer that arrives, while close to the best beer you can possibly get given its circumstance, will sadly still never be as fresh as those drunk in Germany or Belgium, or wherever that brew comes from. Raj explains that beers that are exported -- whether in bottles, cans or even in metal kegs -- are still conditioned for traveling. Some of the freshness and quality, while not really noticed by uninitiated beer drinkers, will be lost.

So, when his business partner and friend from other ventures, nightclub king Erik Cua, offered him a piece of bare land in the yet-to-be-developed Fort uptown area two-and-a-half years ago (an area that was to be christened The Palace), he seized the opportunity. The Brewery was build from scratch. All technical specifications required for a micro-brewery -- from the all-important water-filtration, boiler room, chimney provision, correct cooling system, to the strategic location for their five hectoliter brewery machine and storage tanks -- were all painstakingly developed from literally undeveloped grassy land.

For the brewery equipment, Raj went with the company Salm, one of Europe’s oldest manufacturers of brewery machines. Only the best ingredients too -- malts, hops and yeasts -- are used for their brewing. As Raj rightfully declares, after offering draft format beers, the next natural progression is to brew your own fresh beers and serve drinkers the freshest beers possible. And this is what The Brewery has been doing since opening in July of last year.

FOUR REGULARS AND TWO SEASONALS

Brew master Oliver (yes... only first name basis he insists) took me on a quick short tour of the beers being offered at The Brewery. There are four different beers offered on a regular basis, and two, or sometimes three, seasonal beers depending on availability. The four regulars are smartly chosen from four different types of beers: 1.) Weissbier, a wheat beer, 2.) Pilsner, a lager, 3.) IPA or India Pale Ale, an ale, and 4.) Stout, a stout. Each tastes distinct from the others. A sampler beer flight of P280 gives you a chance to try all four regulars, before choosing a bigger 300ml or 500ml size glass.

Admittedly, I never ever thought that beer could also be this complicated and versatile. The Weissbier (which means white beer in German) was really fresh, light, more foamy, and very crisp. The Pilsner has a light, yet more pronounced bitter taste. The IPA is really luscious, from its flavors to its amber color. While the stout -- my preferred beer type -- is really well-textured and oozing with roasted coffee flavors. I now understand what Raj means when he says freshness makes a difference, as I compare The Brewery’s Stout with my recollection of drinking Guiness stout beers.

The Brewery also runs two seasonal beers which are brewed in the 50 HL brewery machine for normally one run of 500 liters. This is a one-time run and therefore, once the brew is consumed, the beer is taken out of the menu and replaced with another new brew. Raj wants the seasonal brews to be really special, and in the past they have done some pretty unique beers, ranging from a ginger beer and a honey beer to even thematic beers for the Octoberfest and a Christmas brew.

At present, there are three seasonals being offered: 1.) Sampaloka -- a wheat beer infused with tamarind (sampalok) and lemongrass, 2.) Jasmine Citra Lager -- a lager brewed with 25% Jasmine rice and Citra hops, and, 3.) Brewmaster’s Gold -- this is brew master Oliver’s gold medal beer, a Munich-style dark lager awarded by the prestigious Monde Selection in 2014. These beers really got me more interested. The first two seasonals -- the Sampaloka and Jasmine Citra -- both have more wine-like qualities on the nose. The Sampaloka has a nice tangy nose, while the Jasmine Citra has almost a Chardonnay-like characteristic to its aroma. The Brewmaster’s Gold is a bit more serious, with its dark mahogany color and fuller texture. Overall, I got schooled on beers, and it might be really hard to go back to drinking regular canned beers after.

FOOD AND GROWLERS

To say that The Brewery is merely a beer drinking place is a big understatement. The Brewery has a food menu that can match any restaurant in the area. Raj tells me that in their over half a year of operations, the food revenue is actually 50% of their total business. Beer closely followed at 40%, and the rest of the beverages from other forms of alcohol, contribute the remaining 10%. The place is actually packed for dinner and onwards. The beer percentage may however change in the near future as The Brewery will be adding take-out beers soon. The company is currently waiting for a 1-Liter glass beer growler, sourced from Germany to arrive. I was shown a picture of the growler by Raj, which is a beer container made of glass with a hinged gasket cap that meant to prevent oxidation and maintain freshness of the beer for a week or more. This will be a reusable and refillable bottle, with a best-before freshness date stickered to the cap. Right now, The Brewery does not allow their freshly brewed beers to be brought out.

I used to look at beer as merely an inebriating beverage with no wine-like or single malt whisky-like sophistication -- I was definitely badly mistaken. There is so much to learn about beers, over mere combinations of malts, hops and yeasts. We should all be grateful that we have The Brewery here to educate us Filipino consumers on exploring the different types, flavors, and styles of beers. The Brewery is even planning beer classes and beer brewing demonstrations for beer aficionados to attend, with no less than brew master Oliver presiding. Hopefully, next time I can relate to German beer terms like Kellerbier, Hefeweizen and Doppelbock, like I understand my French Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone.

The Brewery at the Palace is located at the 10th Ave. corner 38th St., Uptown Parade, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City. Business hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. You can reach them too at +63-917 638-3339, 813-9429.

19 Feb. 2016

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