VIGAN -- Vigan is a treasure trove of sensory treats. Walking down the heritage district, there are picturesque nooks and crannies everywhere you go.
At one end of Calle Crisologo, follow your nose to the wafting scent of smoked meats to Vigan’s latest culinary attraction, Calle Brewery.
Set inside a two-story house that was built in 1875, Calle Brewery oozes with personality. The collaborators built around the house, careful not to disturb the historic vibe of the space. The bar itself has a steampunk-industrial flair as the beer taps are made with polished brass pipes. The adjoining room near the entrance has a colorful beer brewing mural that adorns the entire inner wall.
Another room is brightly lit with old style lamps that is reminiscent of a high-end tapas bar for the genteel. This feel is carried on the second floor by its sister restaurant, Casa Lourdes.
“Every great city needs a microbrewery. The boring ones, they don’t have a microbrewery,” quipped chef Robby Goco, whose cuisine powers the menu of Calle Brewery.
Upon exiting the house at the back, you come across a small courtyard and the microbrewery. This space packed with gleaming spit polished pipes and tanks is where Vigan’s adopted sons, Marco and Joe Viray, brew their beer.
It was a feat to build an 800-liter brew system in a small space. At maximum capacity, they can brew 6,400 liters of beer per batch owing to the four fermenting and four conditioning tanks they have on the site.
The brothers, known for the Poblacion craft beer haunt Joe’s Brew, have been in the craft beer business since 2013.
“We’re a bit more original here at Calle Brewery compared to Joe’s Brew. The most important ingredient in beer is water and the water in Ilocos Sur has a distinct taste," said Marco when asked about what makes Calle Brewery's beers different.
They still use imported barley and hops as these are not available locally. And thanks to the Department of Science and Technology and the University of the Philippines-Los Banos, they have been able to locally propagate the yeast they use for their beers.
So far, Calle Brewery has five beers that are available on tap, all of which are named after personalities from Philippine history.
The Salakot Ni Diego Blonde Ale and the Espada ni Lapu Lapu Wheat Ale are refreshingly light beers. The sure-to-be crowd favorite is the Kanyon Ni Panday American Pale Ale which is a remarkably smooth version of the ubiquitous brown bottled beer. For the more adventurous beer drinker, the dark Kabayo ni Gabriela Stout, and the Bigote ni Antonio IPA (Indian Pale Ale) are strong and bitter beers that pack quite a punch.
Many of Calle Brewery’s customers are tourists who know their brews, and Calle Brewery has slowly been educating the locals about craft beers since they opened.
“My staff don’t touch the usual bottled beers anymore,” joked Goco.
Calle Brewery’s bartender and waitstaff joined in talking about alcohol content and flavor notes. At P120 a pint, the beers are definitely cheaper than Manila and can go a long way.
Calle Brewery was originally going to be a shrimp restaurant that would highlight Ilocos Sur seafood. The Singsons brought over a “mother” Vannamei shrimp from Hawaii to lay eggs at their own shrimp farm in Ilocos Sur. The farm now supplies some of the sweetest and juiciest locally grown shrimp. Besides this, they also have a lobster-growing facility, also in Ilocos Sur.
The menu is representative of the collaborators behind Calle Brewery and each of them had their own contributions to the Calle Brewery table.
Perhaps as a tribute to the location, there is a Spanish tapas section in the menu. The restaurant already served wine from Titania Wine Cellars in Manila. Tapas were a logical addition as these went very well with wine.
While the tapas section is made up of tradition favorites like chorizo and salpicao, Goco has some special items in the tapas menu like these Salmon and Cream Cheese bites.
The Roasted Bell Pepper with Balsamic Vinegar tapas looks relatively simple but packs striking flavors.
Calle Brewery has its own versions of the Seafood Boil called the Calle Mix and the Fiesta Mix, which has bits of salted egg liberally mixed in.
Even the bar chow is upscaled with an Ilocano twist. Who knew mixing truffle popcorn and chichacorn were perfect munchies with beer?
Do not miss Goco’s gumbo. This heavy stew from the American south is heavily spice by paprika and thickened with rice and okra. Goco claims to want a gumbo-themed restaurant one day highlighting recipes from his time in the US.
Goco’s obsession with smoked meats added the barbecue section to the menu. Having spent a year in middle America, Goco knows the discipline and what it took to make great barbecue.
Before Calle Brewery, he was antsy about opening a barbecue joint because, unlike the US, there was no proper wood to smoke with.
“When I was in Kansas, I had applewood, hickory, and pecan. Those aren’t available here. I was resigned to the fact that barbecue can never be as good as the ones I made in the States,” he said.
08 - But Goco eventually discovered a technique of spraying apple cider on pork, and using coffee grounds along with his secret spices in his rub to produce barbecue that rivals his Stateside versions.
True to the vision to use the best Ilocos Sur ingredients, Calle Brewery uses santol wood for smoking, Ilocos Sur pork and world-class coffee beans from nearby Sigay for his rub.
After 12 hours in his steampunk-ish smoker just outside the restaurants, Goco’s brisket, baby backs and pulled pork are tender, juicy and has that smoky flavor barbecue fans crave.
Having a large smoker enabled Calle Brewery to smoke large pieces of meat. Eating smoked meat off the bone in this tomahawk cut can bring out the caveman in you.
Instead of traditional corn muffins, Calle Brewery has bibingka muffins that go very well with his assortment of baby back ribs, and brisket. Dirty Rice and coleslaw are available as well.
Calle Brewery is located at Casa Lourdes, 11 Calle Encarnacion, Vigan, Ilocos Sur.