Full Circle Craft Distillers Co. and its multi-awarded Archipelago gin is making the country proud
Drinking alcohol. It’s more fun in the Philippines.
For Filipinos, an inuman (drinking session) is a prerequisite in every occasion, from traditional rituals to fiestas to special celebrations like binyag (christening), kasal (weddings), even birthdays. Ours is a rich drinking culture. Considering the various indigenous alcoholic beverages like the lambanog, a vodka-like coconut liquor made in Quezon Province, the tapey, sweet rice wine brewed in the Mountain Province region, the basi, sweet-and-sour fermented-sugarcane hooch from the northern region of Ilocos, and the laksoy, bitter nipa palm booze originating in the southern city of Butuan in Mindanao—one cannot deny that Pinoys know how to appreciate and enjoy a good tipple.
Consuming 22 million cases of gin per year, Filipinos are also regarded as the biggest consumer of the British spirit in the world. First introduced in Manila during the brief occupation by the British in the 1700s, the gin became one of the most sought-after commodities. It has since been deeply embedded in our culture.
Recently, I learned of a new gin brand, which I could say is worth keeping in our liquor cabinets and hearts—one which we not only can be proud of but love.
I got the pleasure to attend an online mixology session called The Craft Gin Masterclass. The event introduced the master distiller of Full Circle Craft Distillers, Matthew Westfall, who presented the award-winning, locally handcrafted Archipelago (ARC) Gins to participants.
Situated on the foothills of Mount Makiling in the lush, province of Laguna, Full Circle Craft Distillers Co. was established to promote the best of what our tropical country had to offer. “The goal is to place the Philippines on the global spirits map, and to be a game changer in the craft spirits industry,” says Matthew, an author and urbanist who moved to the Philippines in the ‘80s.
Co-founded by Matthew and his Filipina wife Laurie Westfall, the inspiration for this entrepreneurial start-up can be traced back to Matthew’s grandfather, a Russified German who first came to Manila in 1918 to work at the famed San Miguel Brewery. The couple’s years in Europe led them to explore some of the many artisanal distilleries across the continent, learning about traditional techniques and processes, and meeting master distillers behind some of the finest brands.
Full Circle is a family legacy that took 100 years in the making. But the most impressive aspect of the distillery is that it is a passion project. Its spirits, especially the flagship expression ARC Botanical Gin, are meant to promote and highlight the beauty of our tropical country, the wondrous array of botanicals, from citrus to mango to exotic flowers.
After its initial launch in 2019, ARC Gin spirits acquired international acclaim. It has received two Gold medals at the prestigious World Gin Awards in London in January last year, two Gold medals at the SIP Awards in March in California, and two Silvers at the highly competitive World Spirits Awards in Austria, making it the first Philippine entrant in the event’s history.
After the history lesson and quick virtual tour of the distillery, we had the chance to taste all the three variants of the esteemed gin, the ARC Lava Rock, Botanical, and Barrel Reserve. Each of these gins is produced in Full Circle’s PEZA-registered 5,000-square-meter distillery complex in Calamba.
We began with the Lava Rock, a very smooth, crisp, and clean spirit that reflects the handcrafted, artisanal distilling process of the custom, fully-automated, state-of-the-art 450-liter CARL copper pot still, considered to be the Rolls Royce of distilling. The vodka distillate comes off at an extremely high level of purity, at 93.5 percent abv, retaining the subtle grainy notes of the wheat. It is triple-filtered, through a bespoke lava rock filtration system, consisting of lava rocks from Taal and Mayon volcanoes. It has a delicate and balanced flavor profile of sweet caramel and warm earthy notes with a round mouth feel.
Drinking alcohol. It’s more fun in the Philippines.
What came next was Matthew’s pride and joy, the ARC Botanical handcrafted from a rare and wonderful blend of 28 exotic botanicals, 22 of which are locally sourced and foraged from across the country. He describes it as a luxurious citrus-forward spirit that is a taste of the islands—a rich, classic gin infused with an array of tropical botanicals, including fresh pomelo, dalandan, calamansi, dayap, mango, Sagada oranges, Benguet pine, sampaguita, ylang-ylang, and kamia flowers. The flagship drink has a luscious mouth feel, an exquisite, citrus-driven nose, and a full flavor. When chilled or diluted, this fragrant potpourri of botanical oils will separate, causing slight cloudiness. It is wild clean on the palate, with a prominent pine juniper spice, a touch of floral dryness from the angelica seeds and chamomile, notes from lemongrass and cinnamon, subtle lavender, with a tinge of black pepper. The finish is clean and balanced with more juniper and citrusy cooling notes.
Last but not the least, is the Barrel Reserve, a fine barrel-aged sipping gin. This spirit tastes similar to the flagship drink but with raw oak flavors. ARC Botanical Gin is made to rest in 225-liter American oak barrels toasted by master coopers in Napa Valley, California. The medium long toast is a key element that mellows the wood’s harsh tannins, and imparts the fresh oak taste, as well as a medley of aromas, and brings out the minerality of the delicate oak.
Over the course of aging, the gin pulls flavors from the oak barrel, including the scents of vanilla bean, caramel, dark chocolate, toasted almond, roasted nut, crème brûlée, hazelnut, and toasted marshmallow.
The flavor profile is well rounded, again, oaky, but balanced with botanicals. Like the other two gins, there is a subtle sweetness and round mouth feel that illuminates the exotic blend of tropical herbs. Of course, the complex juniper and citrus taste also stands out, the signature of all the ARC drinks.
Founder of The Tasting Club Manila, Kévin Charuel, proceeded with the gin and tonic (G&T) mixology class, showing the audience how to make a proper highball cocktail at home using the ARC gins. Kévin’s classic (G&T) is comprised of an ounce each of gin and tonic, Fever Tree tonic water, curated spices dehydrated lemons, cardamom, juniper berries, and anise stars, as well as an orange peel. It was a simple mix yet it was incredibly refreshing. Another drink he made was a Negroni, composed of equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari, and gin, garnished with a citrus fruit’s peel.
The Craft Gin Masterclass was made possible by several organizations namely, the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) Philippines, the Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (ANZCHAM), Spanish Chamber of Commerce (La Cámara), the Nordic Chamber of Commerce, and The Tasting Club.
Full Circle’s artisanal spirits can be purchased at Duty Free Philippines, Tesoro’s, Kultura stores, Real Food, and online via its official store on LazMall, Boozy.ph.,bowtieduck.com, and growcerymnl.ph.
It is also available outside the country, particularly in California at K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood, San Francisco, and Redwood City. Bar Keeper in Silver Lake and licensed retailers, bars, and restaurants through exclusive importer, Park Street’s Marketplace platform, also offer the product.