Ian Paradies strikes one as a practical man. He exhibits the joy that naturally comes with pursuing a traditionally enthusiast enterprise like making craft beers, but he also gives off the sense that he’s looking to do more than just have fun. The passion for the product is tempered with the pragmatism of a seasoned business professional.
He has big plans for Engkanto Brewery, the craft beer brand that he and his team have just recently officially launched. They are currently working out of a small brewing space in Makati that pumps out kegs of their product for restaurants and special events. But they are already in the process of building a much larger factory in Carmona that will pump out bottles of their five flagship beers, which they hope will become as ubiquitous as any of the big beer brands in the country.
We are currently undergoing a craft beer boom in the Philippines, with dozens of new breweries all around the country producing over a hundred varieties of beer. But the average Filipino might not even be aware that there is such a thing as craft. There is an existing context to beer drinking in the Philippines, and loyalties to current brands that haven’t quite been overcome. And price has proven to be a major barrier of entry for the curious consumer.
“For me I saw a niche in pricing,” says Paradies. “How would I fit in between craft and big beer? And I felt a lot of young Filipinos were looking for a product that was both high quality and affordable. I feel like a lot young Filipinos have a high interest in craft beer, but are having trouble paying a high price for it. So that’s why I decided to go for more of a volume play instead of a margin play. I think that’s where we can fit in.”
At the launch, Paradies reveals that the wholesale price for all the flagship beer varieties that Engkanto is producing all hover around fifty pesos a glass. “This is the same price that we’re going to have when we scale up to bottling,” he says. “We can offer that price now, even while working on a smaller scale.”
“This place really shouldn’t really,” Paradies says about the facility in Makati. At most, the place was supposed to serve as a testing facility where his brewmaster Josh Karten could work out the recipes. But with the equipment for the larger facility still under construction, they decided they could just brew out of the Makati office and start market testing their beers while building some brand equity.
Reaction has been good so far. Most notable among their current slate products is their lager. It is the beer that embodies their commitment to serving the needs of the market. Lagers are somewhat unusual in the craft beer community, which tends to favor more complex styles. Karten, a veteran of the craft beer industry from Rhode Island, admits to his reluctance when Paradies first asked him to formulate a lager. But after spending some time in the country, the necessity of the beer style became clear to him.
The resulting beer is nothing less than a wonder. It is crisp and refreshing and perfectly suited for our tropical weather. But it offers much more depth of flavor than your average mass market beer. There is just a hint of citrus, and a fullness that leaves a satisfying bite. It seems destined to be the kind of beer that people will end up drinking all night.
It is an astounding synthesis of craft ideals and business thinking. Paradies isn’t just making beers for him and his buddies, though he does love his own product. He has analyzed the local market, and has created something that reacts to current trends. “What attracted me most to the market is two things. First is demographics. Our average age is 23, which is very young. Since the drinking age of the Philippines is 18, you have a pretty big market.And secondly, there is a change in culture. In the past, typically after college the concern was starting a family, or getting your first house and your first car. Now people are getting married much later.”
“So rather than buying a house or a condo, they’re renting. Rather than buying a car, there’s Uber or Grab. So now a lot of the disposable income is going towards lifestyle: travel, food, drink, fashion. If you see these all these new restaurant concepts, you’ll notice that they’re all full. It’s full of young Filipinos enjoying food or drink with their friends or colleagues. I saw an opportunity there.”
And in pursuing this opportunity, Engkanto is positioned to make the first real substantial dent in the Filipino beer market in decades.
Engkanto is currently being served at The Smoking Joint, Belle & Dragon, Boiler Room, Cu Chi, Hooch, Batala Bar, The Bottle Shop (both Magallanes and BGC) and Donosti