With travel restrictions persisting, and all of us missing the excitement of hopping on our next flight, we find ourselves thinking back on destinations past. This edition takes us to the Philippines and exploration into a local favorite.
For much of my adult life, if you’d asked me what’s my alcohol of choice, I’d proudly proclaim I was a gin guy; which is somewhat of an odd choice for an American. To date, I still get flashbacks of lengthy, lively, (and likely drunken) barroom debates whenever I hear the words “flowery” and “vodka” in a sentence together. Yet, despite heckling from well-meaning, whiskey-sipping Westerners, there’s something about gin that I love. Gin has it all, it’s refreshing, nuanced, layered in its flavor notes, and with enough creativity can pair with almost anything.
I would pick up bottles wherever I traveled, doing my best to locate the most “local” or unique bottle of gins I could find with my two-bottle duty-free allowance. Even now I can still remember some of the gins I picked up along the way; in Singapore, Tanglin was my pick, in Japan, the Roku Sakura Edition, but there’s one country I visit often where a gin bottle somehow never gets picked - The Philippines.
Though admittedly less chaotic than my most recent travels, a red-eye flight is generally not my favorite, and as I braved the bitter Beijing winter to head to the airport for my flight to the Philippines, I remember thinking of the phrase “are you traveling for business or pleasure?”. They never offer “or both?” for a reason, I thought, as I blearily waited for my taxi in the whipping winter winds - I was tired, grumpy, and this business trip seemed to clearly preclude any possibility of enjoyment.
Filipino culture isn’t well represented in Western media, and so growing up in America I didn’t have a great idea of what to expect before arriving in Manila for the first time. I’m not quite sure what I imagined the Philippines would be like before I arrived, but I very quickly realized I was wrong.
The first thing that struck me was Christmas, as an American, I thought, ”We knew how to do Christmas”. In the Philippines, they start putting decorations up in September. You can imagine my surprise to see lavish Christmas decorations and see smiling Christmas carolers belting merry tunes when I arrived several months before Christmas. It’s hard to stay grumpy with people in Santa hats singing around you. America, I hope you’re taking notes.
My trip seemed off to a better start than I’d hoped. The Philippine people are renowned for their friendliness, and while I sat in a taxi listening to Africa by Toto playing on the radio, appreciating the weather and taking in my brief interactions with the locals I could start to see how they’d garnered that well-deserved recognition.
When I arrived at the hotel check-in counter I was exhausted. After a sleepless night in transit, and the hustle and bustle of travel, I was counting down the minutes until check-in where a warm shower and comfy bed awaited. I nearly jogged to my room once I got my room key.
When I opened the door of my room, I was met with an unpleasant reality, the room had issues, and while I’ll spare the unpleasant details, needless to say the room condition was bad enough that I couldn’t stay the night there, let alone several weeks as planned. I tried changing rooms, then changing rooms again, no luck. It seemed every room in the hotel had the same issue, and my energy levels were running low.
In a last-minute gamble, I opted to cancel my reservation, grumbling to myself as I plodded over to the hotel lobby bar to sit and begin calls to nearby hotels in the hopes of finding a place to sleep. I remember being grumpy, and I remember wanting to only order a Redbull to stay awake. In what I can only attribute to some form of bar counter hypnosis done via shakers and stirring spoons, I ended up forgetting both of those things, quickly finding myself chatting with the bartender while perusing the cocktail menu. ”Do you have any recommendations?” I asked, “What do you normally like?, “Well I usually drink gin, but this is my first time to the Philippines so hoping to try local flavors” the bartender smiled as she replied knowingly, “Do you want gin or do you want to taste the Philippines?” I laughed, the choice was obvious. “I want to taste the Philippines”. Naturally, she poured a glass of Don Papa rum.
Don Papa rum holds a special place in my heart (and in my home bar), helping fuel celebrations with friends and family, and punctuate life events from best man speeches to professional wins. I look at Don Papa as the spirit of the Philippines (pun absolutely intended), and with every bottle, I think of one of the countries I was privileged to call a home away from home.
Today’s cocktail is the Don Papa Punch, I share it with the hopes that like me, you embrace the drink with the spirit of the Philippines, allowing your frustrations to slip away while you relish in good company and savor living in the moment.