With the Philippines having been a Spanish colony for more than three centuries, it left a huge influence on the local population. Let’s not forget about the 48 years spent under the Americans rule. Aside from the usual imprints like food and religion, it’s pretty safe to say that being a colony for so long, left Filipinos with a mentality that anything foreign will be better than anything local.
It’s this kind of mentality has left the local artisanal producers struggling. Our everyday local products cater mostly to the masses and thus are usually of low quality. Questions like “why should I spend more for a local artisanal product, when this imported brand is cheaper and more well known?” are the usual commentaries. This has left many local producers and artisans struggling for years just to survive.
Yes, we have famous international brands like Jollibee, San Miguel Beer and Tanduay. Are they considered to be luxury brands, which represent their country in terms of quality? Frankly, being a top-selling brand does not count. I’m not saying to be a luxury brand means to be of great quality. For instance, Don Papa displays a premium exterior, but the contents belong in the toilet.
There is a silver lining to looking outward though, as many of the Philippine’s trends tend to copy trends in America. Eventually, the waves of craft brewing, craft distilling and the interest in gin and whisky, crossed over.
The local craft booze scene in the Philippines is very young. Generally, local craft beer brands have not been around for more than 10 years. The local craft spirits scene only started with Crow’s craft gin in 2016. Crow’s gin is the Philippine’s first craft gin. Unless you consider the starting days of the Ginebra San Miguel gin as craft, but in reality, their gin these days is more like molasses based neutral spirits with added juniper essence.
I am not here to discuss Crow’s gin – I could but Jason might kill me? Ed. he wouldn’t. Instead, the focus is on their single malt whisky, which is the Philippine’s first single malt whisky. Yes, we now have a single malt whisky. I am going, to be honest, as I am friends with the owner, Josemari Cuervo, who is no relation to Cuervo Tequila. We met a couple of years ago when I was invited to one of his aged gin R&D sessions. Since I know Mari and he knows me as a spirits geek, he is happy to get geeky with me. I’ve visited his distillery and he is all for being transparent, so I decided to ask him some questions regarding his single malt.
Malt: What can you tell me about the barley you used?
Crows: Gladfield Distillers Malt is a premium malt exclusively from distilling barley with the right nitrogen content. The Barley has been gently kilned to preserve enzyme content and the resulting malt has both high extract and diastatic power. This malt will add malty sweet flavors to the finished whiskey. This barley choice is made from non-glycosidic nitrile barley. Grain for distilling should be below 1.65% nitrogen. Only Non-glycosidic Nitrile Barley has this characteristic. All Gladfield Malts are from the South Island of New Zealand.
Malt: How long was fermentation?
Crows: Five to seven days
Malt: What kind of yeast was used?
Crows: DADY (Distillers Active Dry Yeast) is a specially selected strain of Saccharomyces Cerevisae designed for distillers use in grain mash fermentations for ethanol. DADY will produce maximum alcohol yields under controlled temperatures (less than 90F/32C). It has been the choice of many producers in North America for over 20 years. DADY has been used in the manufacture of light spirit and whiskies. It is also used on corn mash and syrup fermentations. DADY is recommended for ABV productions lower than 15 per cent.
Malt: What kind of casks did you use?
Crows: 10-liter medium-charred American oak
Malt: How long was the whisky aged for?
Crows: 90 days.
To add to the other facts, Crows uses a 200L hybrid still with 8 plates. There is only one still… for now. It is used to distill the whisky, gin and a new mango eau de vie. The single malt is distilled twice. A mash of 200L results in 20L of single malt.
I know what some of you might be thinking. 10L oak casks? 90-day aging? These specs are nothing compared to the minimum requirements for producing Scotch. How is a whisky with specs like these allowed to be called single malt?
I agree. The use of small casks and thus quick aging does seem hasty and arguably improper when compared to global standards. But the Philippines does not have a strong history or culture of distilling. While the British and the French were distilling rum as a result of their sugar rush, the Spanish did not allow their colonies to distill until the late 1800s. Tanduay and Ginebra gin are more like efficient manufacturers than distillers. Unlike in America, Scotland or the Caribbean, there is no wise old man to guide Josemari or our other new distillers. Someone had to and has to start somewhere. It also would be too shortsighted (as a community) and arrogant (as a non-distiller) to immediately dismiss his labor of love. Remember that Masataka Taketsuru had to resort to selling ersatz whisky during the early days of Japanese whisky. He has a day job that affords him many pleasures. Instead of using more of that money for himself and his family, he decided to start Crows.
A lot of people don’t know this but spirits do not have global rules. Everyone may have a basic understanding of what whisky and brandy should be. But that doesn’t compel countries like India and the Philippines with lax rules on alcohol to follow those understandings. India and the Philippines sell molasses-based “whisky” in their respective local markets. Even Japan does not have a Geographical Indication in place for Japanese whisky. Nikka and Suntory standards have mostly followed Scotch. They have had to follow the whisky regulations of America and the EU to be able to export their whisky as whisky and single malt there.
This Crow’s single malt was bottled at 65%. This 750ml bottle cost P5000 ($95 to $100). I acquired bottle #4 out of 10 from barrel #1.
Crow’s Single Malt – review
On the nose: A very hot greeting of banana bread, ripe bananas and cloves. Another whiff gave off green tea, hay, barley husk, brownies and a bit of a moldy scent.
In the mouth: A very hot welcome like on the nose. I feel the heat all the way. I get hints of chocolate banana, brownies, caramel, dark cacao nibs and honey. Everything drops off after that.
I think the staves in the 10L cask did not go through proper seasoning. It may have just gone through kiln drying vs the years-long process of air drying. That mixed with the 90-day aging makes me think the major contribution of the cask was the color. The whisky tastes like it’s 90% distillate. The flavors are masked by the ethanol heat. The cask did not lend it much complexity. I can make this assumption because longer fermentation means more esters. Esters make their presence felt via banana notes. The distillate isn’t bad, rather the lack of cask influence just leaves this lacking.
Hopefully, Crows will be able to source an ex-bourbon cask in the near future, so we can see what this single malt can really do with proper aging.