Making Lambanog Cool Again

Barik is trying to bring our native past to the future via the dangerous-looking bottle of liquor now populating local bars.

by Philbert Dy, photo by Andrea Beldua
Most young Filipinos in the city probably aren’t drinking lambanog. The native liquor is perceived as a rough, unrefined drink, and has largely made it into the market overwhelmed with artificial flavors like bubblegum.

But Barik intends to change things. Launched in August of last year, the artisinally produced spirit is finding its way into Metro Manila’s hippest drinking spots, and is proving to be a real drink of choice in a crowded market. Inside every bottle of Barik is a startlingly refined liquor with mild sweet notes and a remarkably clean finish. This lambanog isn't a drink that you just try to get through, downing it in one big gulp as an informal test of one's fortitude; it is meant to be savored, the spirit good for stimulating the appetite and bringing new dimensions to your drinking experience. Here, we speak with one of the owners, Nica Mandilag, about the product.

 

Can you talk about the founding of Barik? What made you guys want to get into distilling lambanog?

 

What first encouraged us to build Barik, was the actual encounter of tasting lambanog that was unlike any other that we’ve tried before – subtle, smooth, and not intimidating. I used to work at an isolated part of Aurora province, where this type of lambanog was regularly enjoyed by the locals. My interests of marketing the liquor was pushed further when Malaya Pasion also got to experience it in the area, and was inspired to create and design the brand, Barik. We soon partnered up with beverage genius, Kalel Demetrio aka Liquido Maestro, who became the brains of our libations.

Our team then started searching for the very source of this memorable flavor – the nipa palm. We had frequent trips to Quezon province, where we learned more about nipa, and the heritage and process of lambanog-making. There, we gained good friends and partners; whose passion and traditions revolved around this native spirit, and were passed on to several generations.

After a few tweaks by our liquid chef, we came up with Barik Puro and Barik Ginger Sour. We first released our product on August 2016, in time for the soft opening of 20:20 bar, Makati.

 

What would you say makes lambanog unique when held up against other distilled liquors from around the world? Do you run up against the perception that lambanog is a low-class drink? If yes, how do you respond?

 

Contrary to the common perception, our team believes that lambanog could be marketed at a premium level. The problem is that we all grew up familiar of the type of lambanog that we couldn’t enjoy drinking – they’re either artificially/ badly flavored or simply harsh tasting. Hence, the negative impression stuck to us.

 

We want to raise the image of the Philippines’ very own liquor. If Mexico has tequila, and Japan, sake, we have lambanog. The very art of lambanog-making has long been engraved in our country’s history; way before any significant foreign influence. This was probably the most prominent type of liquor during our ancestors’ time; what our heroes drank while fighting for our country’s independence.

 

The Philippine lambanog is a product whose rich culture and heritage exemplifies our being Filipino; it is only proper that we, the younger generation, respect, patronize and push this product. Our team believes that although we should brand lambanog contemporaneously to cater to this generation of consumers, we must also remain loyal to its traditional distilling process and its original flavor. As a result, we came up with Barik Supremo Moonshine.

 

 

What separates Barik from the regular lambanog you can pick up in the supermarket? And what separates it from the kind you can pick up in giant Wilkins bottles in the provinces?

 

Barik offers the unique experience of a strong but not jarring swig a generation of heroes have relished. Its primary ingredient comes from the sap of a nipa flower, unlike most which comes from coconut. Sustainably produced and artisanally brewed, nipa can yield a promising native spirit of a clean-tasting punch, laced with a subtle sweetness at the tip of every sip. Moreover, since nipa only grows in brackish waters, our brand encourages the preservation of mangroves.

 

What was the main thrust in distilling your lambanog? What character were you hoping to express in your drink?

 

The Barik team is an eccentric combination of minds, that has an unstoppable drive for its passion to bring change to the mindset of the Philippines’ present-day liquor drinkers. Our outputs are driven by our vision to raise the image of the country’s very own spirit. We made Barik retrofitted to the modern drinker, yet we remained loyal to its art whose heritage traces back to the pre-Spanish era.

 

Our goal is to change the typical impression that people have on lambanog. We believe that this spirit can be classy and can remain powerful but without the expected intimidating taste. This way, people can start appreciating the taste of lambanog, like how whiskey or rhum is enjoyed simply on its own. We want to preserve the rich heritage of lambanog, and Barik to be a preferred drink option of the current generation.

 

A lot of thought seems to have gone into the branding of Barik. Can you talk a bit about what you wanted to convey with the design elements on your bottle?

 

We believe that branding changes the game of any product; hence, Malaya came up with a design (from the logo to the packaging) that is apt for this day and age.  We want the current market to want to drink lambanog!

 

How do like taking your lambanog? Is it better straight? With a mixer? In a cocktail?

 

Barik Ginger Sour is best enjoyed chilled. For Barik Puro, we prefer serving it like whiskey – over ice or even neat. It’s also a very good base so it is also great for cocktails.

 

Do you guys see a future for other Filipino alcoholic drinks?

 

Yes. This is in fact the perfect time to push Filipino products to both local and international markets. We have so many highly marketable products, we just need to learn to patronize our own and trust that with proper branding and product placement, we can actually build our very own competitive brands.

 

What’s the next step for Barik? Where does it go from here?

 

We will continue expanding Barik and hopefully be able to distribute internationally this year.