Exclusive: A Sneak Peek to the Largest Craft Brewery (Yet) in the Philippines

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Last July 4 was a special day for me. I was invited to check out the facility of Great Islands Craft Brewery and join in for the first brewing session at the new facility. The brewery is the brain child of one, if not the best, brewer in the country, Philippine Brewing God a.k.a. Baldis. For those now in the know, Baldis was the brewer who helped and taught the aspiring brewers several years ago who are now the people behind Katipunan Craft Ales and Craftpoint Brewing Co. With hearing the news of Baldis finally being able to set up the brewery of his dreams, I was ecstatic to see the place and see the man himself play with his new shiny toys.

The brewery is located in Cavite. For most people, that would be a faraway place that no one would dare to visit. Aguinaldo Highway is a place where you will find the worst traffic conditions in the country. With tricycles, jeeps, buses, jaywalkers, trucks and the occasional road kill sharing a six lane road, the ride going there was like doing a pilgrimage to a holy site. That holy site for me is the Church where the Sacrament of Beer Brewing is situated, the Great Islands Craft Brewery.

The day was itself was marred with intense rainfall that made the trip all the more unbearable. The site itself is hidden from plain sight along the Aguinaldo Highway. Nonetheless, I was eager to get to the brewery after an hour and a half of slugging through the traffic. I arrived at my own version of the Willie Wonka Chocolate Factory. All in all, I felt I was a kid in a candy store.

At first sight, I was pleasantry surprised at the size of the whole facility. The rectangular layout of the place is well suited for the plans of the brewery. The high ceiling and long corridor set up a great potential for future expansion if everything goes well. Bottom line, the brewery has enough facilities to produce great beer and more!

I arrived during the first brewing session of the facility. As it was happening I got the see the long and laborious but definitely exciting process of brewing beer. The air was filled with the smell of malts, bread and caramel which definitely added to the allure similar to being in a candy store or candy factory.

Truthfully, the brewing session took around three hours. As we were waiting for the whole process to end, I managed to get around the facility and take pictures for the world to see.

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The first equipment that caught my eye was the brewing kettles. The first on the left is the Hot Water Tank; this facility is used to heat the water to prepare for brewing. The one on the middle is the Boil / Whirlpool Tank. The Mash or Lauter Tun is. The man in the picture is Baldis himself. It is the Sacrament of Brewing in action.

The kettles have a ten hectoliter capacity. To sum it up, the kettles have a thousand liter capacity. Imagine the amount of beer that was being made that night. I can’t wait to try this batch.

While the brewing was happening, Baldis prepared the hops.

I do not remember the hop variety used for this brew. The hops here in pellet form, they are not in their natural form which is a sight to behold. For practical purposes, hop pellets are preferred especially for use here due to the freshness factor. Hop flowers tend to degrade in freshness and having it in pellet form preserves the flavors and oils of the hop.

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While waiting, I went to the milling room and saw the milling machine while it was being fixed by one of the people from the brewery. It’s too bad that I wasn’t able to see the milling process happen since it happened the night before. Nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing this piece of machinery. The machine is used to break the malts (hence, milling) in order for the hot water in the boil kettle to be able to extract the sugars and flavors of the malts. The malts are milled but not ground to a powder. The husks of the malts are necessary as a filter for the mash or lauter tun to prevent any unwanted solid materials reaching the fermenter. Nobody wants to drink a beer with solid particles in it.

After looking at the milling room, I was directly beside the fermenters.

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The last time I saw fermenters of this size was when I was at Anchor Brewing Company (stay tuned for the article that will come out soon!). These fermenters have a twenty hectoliter capacity (two thousand liters). The leftmost tank in the picture is the ice water tank. This is designed to rapidly cool the beer in order for the wort (young beer) to be ready for yeast pitching (adding yeast to the young beer). Yeast needs to be pitched at cool temperatures (please find the right temperature range). If the yeast was pitched while the wort was young, the yeast will die. To add to that, cooling the beer faster means less chances of contamination from wild yeasts and other microorganisms.

The other tanks are the conical fermenters for which the wort that was pitched with the yeast will stay in these containers for at least two weeks. The time for fermenting is critical in making good beer. Yeast does not make beer taste good in a few days. As will all good things, time is needed to make good beer. The yeast will use the sugar in the beer as energy and the byproducts of this process will be carbon dioxide (CO2) and alcohol.

Since two weeks is excruciatingly long for me, we were able to obtain some of the wort from the brew kettle. The wort itself was thick in consistency and quite sweet in its flavor. The bitter notes from the hops were not as prominent due to the high amount of sugar in the wort. Trying out wort again definitely reinforced me to stay patient for the finished product.

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With the wort available for taste testing, the brewing process was over. All is not said and done yet; the malts inside the mash/lauter tun were needed to be extracted from the kettle itself. It was a fascinating view on my part as I got to see Baldis and his assistants collect the spent malts. By the way, I got a bag worth of the spent malts. I will be using it as compost for my garden.

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The equipment that I was surprised to be enamored with was the Bottling Machine.

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I showed this picture to Kiyo of Katipunan Craft Ales and he was envious of this. After noticing his reaction to this picture, I remembered the starter bottler used by starting brewers. This is definitely something to have. Not only is the packaging process faster, there are fewer margins for error (spilled beer, cracked bottles and etc.) and beer contamination (Beer is such a prickly thing when it comes to microorganisms).

On the other side of the milling room is the location of Baldis’ old equipment. The pictures are as follows:

The refrigerator for fermenting beer.

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The brewing kettles

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And the DIY Water Dispenser Plastic Container Turned into Conical Fermenters

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The last time I saw these were about three to four years ago. The first time I remember seeing them was when Baldis held the first ever brewers gathering at his house four years ago. I’m happy to say that they will still be used for research and development for new beers and experimental brews.

Finally, the brewing process was done and we wanted to drink beer.

On a side note, I had drunk a bottle of the Imperial India Pale Ale of the brewery. That was the bottle featured in the first picture. The brew was a beautiful marriage of malts and hops. The starting caramel flavor enlivened my palette with the smooth fruit flavors of slight apricot and mango notes ending in a floral explosion and clinging pine notes. I prefer IIPAs/Double IPAs over IPAs. Surprisingly the style has more balance when it comes to the malt-hop balance. I wanted a good cheese such as manchego or goronzola to pair with the beer.

Mags Villafuerte, the man behind Gilmore Wines and Spirits and partner/co-founder of Great Islands Craft Brewery, brought some beers for our enjoyment after the brewing session was done. Luckily, the American Craft Beers were fresh from delivery and we did blind tastings for fun and for training our palettes.

First, although not an American Craft beer, we had a few bottles of the Weltenburger Kloster Pils.

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The style of this beer is the German Pilsner (Pale Pilsen is derived from this style). It was straightforward in its flavor. A good flavor of malt with notes of pepper and mind with a very refreshing mouth feel, this bottle was definitely a good starter for our tasting session.

The next beer that we had was the Hazelnut Brown Nectar by Rogue. This Brown Ale is brewed with Natural Flavor (as seen on its beer label). For me, this beer is a classic. The brown ale possesses nutty notes and adding hazelnut flavor is a great idea. It’s quite different from other beers since it has a pronounced nutty flavor that could be unusual for most people. For me, serve it at the right temperature with a burger with caramelized onions and I’m in heaven.

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The next beer that we had was the American Amber Ale by Rogue. Amber Ales are some of my favorite ales. They have the right amount of malts with enough sweetness not to overwhelm the palette mixed in with just enough hops to give it a balanced flavor. The texture or mouth feel of the ale is slightly sticky due to its malty characteristic. This is the beer that I can drink anytime, anyday, all day err’day.

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Again, Rogue was part of the tasting session. The Brutal IPA was good and steady. It had the hopiness that you would expect from an IPA and just enough malt so that the palette would not be overwhelmed by the bitterness. As I said earlier, it is good and steady. Even if it’s Brutal in its name, I would recommend as one of the IPAs to try while starting out before moving on the heavier hop bombs.

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Speaking of hop bombs, the other IPA for the night was the Anderson Valley Hop Ottin IPA seen at the right. This is a classic West Coast IPA. Its sharp malt start with hints of biscuit and caramel reminiscent of graham crackers at the bottom of mango float is followed by a steady flow of dry pine flavor slowly cascading into a bitter dry and very clean finish. I’m glad it’s back for regular consumption.

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The middle bottle in the picture is the IIPA from Great Islands Brewery. We had that after the Hop Ottin. I was in Beervana.

As I said earlier, we had a mini blind tasting session for fun and training. Mags and I did well with deciphering the beers. It was quite hard to decipher the IIPA and the Hop Ottin but we got our guesses right. We need to do more blind tastings.

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Baldis and his assistants also partook in the beer drinking festivities but not the blind tasting. It was a great way to establish the standards that the brewery aims for by letting them taste what other breweries have to offer.

The night ended with talking and the general excitement for the brewery. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to see this facility at its infancy.

The future of craft beer in the Philippines is definitely promising.

Beerman out!

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