Almost every country has its own variety of moonshine. In most places it’s commercially sold stuff—no longer under the counter hooch—but its history is a spirit that families have been making in their homes for centuries. Here in the United States, it’s unaged whiskey. Italians have their grappa. And Ireland prides itself on poitin. But it’s lambanog from The Philippines that is the most delicious moonshine of all.
Lambanog is technically an arrack, which is simply defined as a distillate that’s typically produced in India or Southeast Asia. Even so, this Filipino moonshine is commonly described as a coconut vodka or coconut wine. As The Philippines is the world’s second largest coconut producer (Indonesia is the first), it only makes sense that they’d distill their booze from the tropical fruit. Lambanog has been in production since the pre-colonial era when coconut plantation farmers were making the stuff and passing down their hand-written recipes from generation to generation.
To produce the alcoholic beverage, farmers collect sap from the unopened coconut flower, ferment it and then distill it. The resulting liquid is particularly potent at a typical 80 or 90 proof, but the homemade stuff can carry a much higher abv. The finished product is traditionally sweetened with raisins, but flavors like mango, blueberry and pineapple have popped up in recent years to appeal to a wider population of drinkers.
While lambanog can be found all over The Philippines, it’s most commonly produced in Quezon province, which boasts a bounty of coconut plantations. The coconut spirit is easy to find in its native country, but U.S. drinkers will find it more difficult to procure stateside. Brands like Infanta have imported their product to the United States, but you’ll have to go to the source if you want to choose from a variety of bottles. We recently got to try the stuff when a friend brought it back as a gift after a trip to the The Philippines. The taste is crisp and clean with a light sweetness, almost as if a vodka was steeped with dried fruit for a day. It came in a pretty package to boot–a glass bottle wrapped with a basket-like covering that looked as good perched on the kitchen counter as it tasted in the glass.
If you’re looking to try lambanog, ask your local liquor store or favorite Filipino restaurant if they know how to get the stuff. Otherwise, wait until you or a friend can get to The Philippines, and bring back as much as you can carry. And if you could pick us up a bottle while you’re at it, that would be great.