The many ways we drink beer

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From Manila to Pampanga to GenSan, beer is an essential glue that holds Filipino families and friendships together. Illustration by MIA TOGLE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Drinking beer is a quintessential part of Filipino food culture, an indispensable presence in life’s important occasions. Nothing quite beats the appeal of an inuman to celebrate a milestone, to mark a turning point, or to revel for no reason at all.

Manila is no stranger to this vibrant drinking culture, made more apparent by the burgeoning number of bars around the capital, whose patrons come together for the month-long San Miguel Oktoberfest, the longest beer and music festival in the country, now on its 35th year. Elsewhere, outside Manila, beer enthusiasts abound and keep an exciting drinking culture alive.

Pampanga celebrates its own version of San Miguel Oktoberfest through the Tigtigan Terakan Keng Dalan, one of the biggest beer, food, music, and street parties in Central Luzon. The festivities commemorate Angeles City’s triumph over the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo as the streets fill up with all sorts of partygoers. Here, overflowing beer does not only keep the party going, but lubricates that sense of community that has helped keep Pampanga resilient despite natural disasters and tragedies.

Tigtigan Terakan reminds Carlo Sanchez, a Kapampangan educated in Manila, of the pleasures of home. “A typical coming-of-age story for every Kapampangan is to find himself or herself in the world and return home, especially for the holidays,” he says. Holidays, such as Tigtigan Terakan, meant coming home to his titos, titas, and cousins based in Manila, bringing home Kapampangan dishes for lunch. “I’d always wonder when would I be able to join my father and titos as they share stories over sisig and the classic tito drink: San Miguel Pale Pilsen,” he recalls.

But life comes at you fast, says Sanchez, now a lawyer in Makati. “Now I find myself sitting at the tito table and preserving the tradition of my father and forefathers! Home is truly in the small things.”

A short flight away from Pampanga, Nathan Oducado in General Santos City, South Cotabato is an enterprising businessman who is always up for a round of San Mig Light or Pale Pilsen. He remembers a particular San Miguel Oktoberfest celebrated in Central Food Yard, a popular dining space in GenSan where Oducado keeps a wings-and-shrimp stall called Flip & Pop.

Oktoberfest Nathan Oducado.jpg Nathan Oducado (right) in a 'business inuman' with fellow entrepreneurs in General Santos City, South Cotabato. Photo courtesy of NATHAN ODUCADO

"We would normally start small, like two or three, and each of us taking turns buying one round of drinks,” he says. “Each time someone joins the group that night, he or she buys another round. The group would reach up to 20 after a few hours. The round of drinks? We forgot.”

Drinking is a “cultural thing” in the province, says Oducado. “A get-together or celebration, and even one-on-one talks aren’t as solemn or complete without beer.” Drinking entails getting into the differences of each beer and how each variant is suited for a particular mood. “We drink different types of beer depending on what mood we want at the end of the night. So if chill lang, San Mig Light,” he explains. “Pag medyo cold and maalat ang pulutan, Pale Pilsen night. If medyo cheesy ‘yung pulutan, Cervesa Negra.” He adds: “For rounds, normally San Mig Lights, pero usually ubos so Super Dry or Pale,” he laughs.

All around the Philippines, beer is not only a social elixir that helps people connect. It’s also a formidable ingredient in many dishes. There are quite a few chefs who add a dash of San Miguel beer either to a tasty adobo (as Ilonggo-based JP Anglo does) or to an upgraded oatmeal breakfast (like what Boracay-born Josh Boutwood used to do), or even by way of a Cerveza Negra chocolate cake (from Laguna-based Hiraya Bakery) or a Cerveza Negra gelato (ala Asia’s 2016 Best Female Chef Margarita Forés).

Beer enthusiast Francis Panuncialman knows why he likes his beer. “I like beer for its versatility. It has the sweetness from the malt, bitterness from the hops and the refreshing carbonation that goes well with almost anything,” he says. “I remember making friends when I went to Beer Fest Asia in Singapore where I went solo and suddenly had a group of friends by the end of the night.”

LIFE - Oktoberfest (rooftop) (2).jpg Beer is an essential social elixir, says Francis Panuncialman. “I remember making friends when I went to Beer Fest Asia in Singapore where I went solo and suddenly had a group of friends by the end of the night.” Illustration by MIA TOGLE

But it is back home where some of his best memories linger. “A friend of mine had a shoot in Antipolo and we had the view Manila that was divine … The nice view plus the cool breeze was perfect while I was spending quality time with friends,” he recalls. “We spent the night there but before that, we went to the nearest grocery to get some beers. Good thing there was Cervesa Negra!”

Evidently, there’s more to our beer culture than the relentless street partying or occasional inuman. If there is a glue that holds relationships together, most of them will probably be made of San Mig Lights or Pale Pilsens, forged in late nights turned to new mornings.

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San Miguel Oktoberfest continues through November. For more information on this year’s San Miguel Oktoberfest, visit the San Miguel Oktoberfest Facebook page.