Although lambanog tends to conjure up images of provincial roadside stands selling homemade hooch, Destileria Limtuaco & Co., the oldest distillery in the Philippines, saw potential in this traditional Filipino spirit and with its latest product, San Juan Premium Lambanog, is on a mission to change that.
In business for over 160 years, the family-run Limtuaco & Co. started out producing Chinese medicinal wines, and now boasts a brand portfolio that includes whiskies, brandies, gins, rums, vodkas, and tequilas in addition to their sweet and herbal wines. Today, the company is run by fifth-generation family member Olivia Limpe-Aw. Her interest in cultivating a line of Filipino liqueurs goes back to 2002, after being repeatedly asked by foreign buyers for a product that was special and unique to the Philippines. Thinking mangoes and rum were the obvious place to start, Limpe-Aw developed Paradise Mango Rum. Amadeo Coffee liqueur and Intramuros Chocolate liqueur soon followed, and when then restaurateur Stephanie Zubiri suggested that they use calamansi to develop “a Filipino limoncello,” it all clicked. The exquisitely packaged Manille Liqueur de Calamansi made a huge splash when it hit the shelves and the company recently followed up its success with Manille Liqueur de Dalandan.
For their next product, Limpe-Aw had to look no further than her proverbial backyard. Noticing the worldwide popularity of anything coconut, she set about working on developing lambanog as a premium spirit.
The Big River: 22ml grapefruit juice, 4.5ml San Juan lambanog, 7.5ml lime juice, 7.5ml vanilla syrup, and 15ml simple spiced syrup
With production set in Batangas, the cultivation of the raw material for lambanog is labor-intensive, and starts with the collection of the sap from the heart of the coconut. Workers climb the coconut trees and use a system of bamboo walkways called karitan to go from tree to tree collecting the sap. This sap is then immediately fermented onsite to help keep the spirit clean and free of contamination before being distilled.
Named after the town in Batangas where the product’s main ingredient is cultivated, San Juan is beautifully packaged in an elegantly curved bottle. While traditionally lambanog is not an aged spirit, Destileria Limtuaco & Co. ages San Juan in oak barrels to develop a complexity of flavor, setting its product worlds apart from the local lambanog.
San Juan Premium Lambanog can be enjoyed straight as shots. “It has an earthiness, heat, and complexity similar to tequila,” explains Limpe-Aw. It can also be made into delicious cocktails such as these two delicious recipes developed by her sons Clifford, Aaron, and Brandon—the next generation of Destileria Limtuaco & Co.