Barely two years after producing the country’s first small batch craft gin, Crows Gin, its maker Crows Craft Brewing and Distilling Co. just marked another historic milestone in the Philippine beverage industry. Last March 13, Crows Craft launched its first small batch Crows Craft Whiskey during an intimate party at Elbert’s Upstairs Bar in Bonifacio Global City.
The story behind this historic Philippine whisky starts in the most unlikely of places. Crows Craft founder Josemari Cuervo is the former lead vocalist of legendary rock band Razorback whose current day job happens to involve running one of the country’s top real estate service companies. But Cuervo’s random purchase of a “How to Brew Your Own Beer” kit while on vacation in the United States in 2010 led him down a different path, from craft beer to gin to whisky.
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Cuervo’s love for craft beer was honed in the company of like-minded craft beer-loving friends who used to meet up every “Thirstday” night at the Bottle Shop in Magallanes. The Bottle Shop was founded by Jim Araneta who is regarded by many craft beer hopheads as the incubator of many local craft beer brands. Thanks to this love for craft beer, Cuervo took the leap and opened Crows Brewery in 2013 during the height of the craft beer revolution in the country. His first release was Crow’s flagship double IPA called De Puta Madre.
From craft beer, Cuervo moved to gin, launching Crows Gin in February 2017. Touted as the first Philippine craft gin, Crows Gin features 23 botanicals from around the world, including Philippine citrus flora and fauna. This was soon followed by a Barrel Reserve edition, which is what is produced when Crows Gin is allowed to rest in a medium-charred American oak barrel.
According to Cuervo, it was inevitable for him to make whisky. He explains that whisky is basically the process of fusing beer-making with the distilling of spirits and aging. “It was really just a natural progression,” he adds. To be called single malt, a whisky has to be made from one single distillery and using only one type of malted grain, usually barley.
Cuervo started the road to making his own single malt by first researching about the different kinds. Eventually, he invited friends to various taste testing sessions, presenting them with different styles to sample and comment on. These sessions eventually made him realize that there is really no one style that everyone will like.
Cuervo decided to focus on a single malt variant, using a New Zealand malt with a high diastatic power or sugar conversion rate. He created a distillate which he rested in a first-filled American oak barrel to produce his first batch of NAS or No Age Statement whisky. The NAS style has recently become popular as a way for producers to release whiskies without being compelled to list the age on the bottle, as well as to address the global shortage of single malts, especially of older stocks.
While whisky is typically diluted with water to about 40% ABV or alcohol by volume, Crows Craft Whiskey is made at cask or barrel strength, not diluted, which gives it a higher ABV of 65% or 130 proof. Cuervo decided against diluting his first whisky, precisely to let the drinker decide how he or she may want to enjoy the drink, whether neat, with a few drops of water, or on the rocks. As he believes, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy a drink.
Upon tasting the country’s first single malt, I can say that it is a very good first attempt. With notes of caramel, ripe bananas, sourdough bread, and a little citrus, it reminds me of biting into banana cake with a hint of orange, but not sweet. Despite its high ABV, it’s a very pleasant sip and something you can enjoy drinking at the end of the day.
Like the other craft drinks of Crows, this whisky is produced in small batches, with the first batch yielding just 20 one-liter bottles (from a 200-liter still)—now all sold out. The second batch is scheduled to be released this May.
Follow @crowscraftbrewing on Instagram to get first dibs on the next release. #CrowsCraft #NotForEveryone #PhilippineWhisky
Photos by Cyrene de la Rosa
Follow the author on Instagram and Twitter @cyrenedelarosa