The Philippines is one of the largest consumers of gin in the world, with Filipinos consuming a whopping 22 million cases every year.
And while a bulk of the gin Filipinos drink is mass-produced, it was only a matter of time that craft distilleries paid attention to our fondness for the spirit.
Enter Full Circle Craft Distillers Co, the Philippines first -authentic craft distillery.
It is co-founded by the husband-and-wife tandem of Matthew and Laurie Westfall, with the objective of placing the country on the global spirits map.
The inspiration for what Laurie calls their “passion project” can be traced back to Matthew’s grandfather, a Russified German who arrived in Manila in 1918 to work at San Miguel Brewery.
In a sense, Full Circle Craft Distillers is a family legacy 100 years in the making and in a sense, it lives up to its name: With Full Circle Craft Distillers, the family has come full circle.
Speaking to the press during Monday's launch of Full Circle’s ARC Spirits, Matthew, who has lived in the Philippines for 36 years, intimately shares, “Filipino ang puso ko talaga,” with a wistful look on his face while pointing to his chest.
“I’ve been here a long time, my kids are from here, and of course Laurie. And that’s from where the impetus for this project is. You’re going to stay in a country that is not your own, your adoptive home country and you have all these wonderful opportunities to connect the dots, to do something unique and innovative — wouldn’t it be great to do something like spirits?”
Full Circle has three spirits, with the ARC Botanical Gin as its flagship product. According to Matthew, “ARC is unlike other gins because of its unique range of Philippine botanicals like pomelo, dalandan, calamansi, dayap- the Benguet kind, and the mango.”
They even worked with Dr. Klaus Hagmann, a German master distiller for almost four years trying to get the taste right. “We did not throw these botanicals together in a mish-mash and hope it would just work out.”
“I can honestly say that ARC Gin is the taste of the Philippines.” He explains, “By that I mean we had tastings with extremely experienced gin enthusiasts. For instance at Gin Foundry in London, German Master distillers with whom we went through a series of tastings for our product and they say it (ARC Gin) tastes completely unique.”
With a huge smile on his face, he emphasizes how ARC Gin is very Filipino. “Part of that is the fresh mangoes, part of that is the heavy citrus-forward contemporary flavor profile. It’s a bit of sunshine in bottle. It’s a bit of a beach gin. It’s an island gin. It’s a piece of the Philippines with those essential oils. If we get to the export market, we share a piece of the Philippines to the world.”
ARC Botanical Gin is best sipped “neat”, “We spend such a painstaking effort to pull out the botanicals. It is sort of a shame sometimes to layer it up in cocktails,” Matthew candidly shares. “But of course it works very, very well with classic gin and tonic, with a nice premium Indian tonic water. I like it naturally light, not too much sugar maybe garnished with a little Juniper berry or a dried piece of citrus.”
So why gin? Why not beer, with which Filipinos famously love? Or wine or even whiskey? “Think of gin like a blank canvas and in each country where gin comes from using the botanicals (from that country), it allows you to create a flavor profile that is specifically unique to that country,” Matthew said.
It's only been a year since it was introduced, but ARC Botanical Gin and its sister spirits have already garnered international accolades, including two gold medals at the prestigious World Gin Awards in London, two gold medals at the SIP Awards in California, and two silvers at the World Spirits Awards in Austria, the first Philippine entrant in the event’s history.
These accolades come hot on the heels of Full Circle being recognized as “Philippine Distillery of the Year” at the Hong Kong International Spirits Competition in 2018 among other prestigious recognitions in Asia.
Full Circle formally launched their spirits on Monday, July 8 where guests were treated to an array of Full Circle’s award-winning spirits:
- ARC Botanical Gin- A delightful, citrus-forward concoction made from 28 botanicals, 22 of which are locally sourced and foraged including sampaguita, kamia, ilang-ilang, kalamansi, Benguet pine, Sagada oranges among other exotic ingredients. Backed with a strong historical narrative with Master Distiller Matthew Westfall, this beloved spirit has a family legacy 100 years in the making. (Php 2,800/ 750ml)
- Lava Rock Vodka is made with French ethanol from the Champagne region of France. It tastes clean, crisp, but surprisingly bright and flavorful for a vodka. The caramel adds a bit of warmth and sweetness. This vodka went through 8-hour distillation and filtered twice over lava rocks (hence, the name) that are foraged from Taal and Mayon volcanoes adding a touch of minerality. It is currently the bestseller in Duty Free! (Php 1800/ 750ml)
- ARC Barrel Reserve Gin is your ARC Botanical Gin aged for three to five months in new American oak barrels by Seguin Moreau of Napa Valley Seguin, a French company which is considered the best barrel cooper on the planet! The barrels give the spirit an oak-amber color while toasted marshmallows, caramel, hazelnut, vanilla, and butterscoth give the spirit a subtle sweetness. It’s a sipping gin that works well with a cocktail, but also delicious on its own.(Php 3,400/ 750ml) — LA, GMA News
ARC Spirits are available at Duty Free Philippines, Tesoro’s, SM Kultura, Boozy.ph,and will be rolled out soon to other venues nationwide. Most five-star hotels in the Philippines have ARC spirits in their bar like the Peninsula, Marco Polo, Marriott, Solaire.