The Bureau chief Matt Cowan and Mel Casul, The Bureau’s Chief Content Manager, recently attended the biggest craft beer festival ever held in Vietnam.
The Hoa Bia Festival is possibly even more significant than the Oktoberfest held in the Philippines, even though it’s only held over one day and two evenings, while the Philippines’ Oktoberfest is held during the whole month of October!
Even more impressive, the Hoa Bia Festival was a gathering of craft brewers in Vietnam, which means they’ve got so many of them that it warranted a whole festival just for craft beer and cider.
Not wanting to be left out, I tried to organise my own mini-craft beer festival in Cebu recently, but sadly, only one craft brewer replied to my inquiries.
But as things went, it didn’t turn out quite so sad after all.
Michael Nikkel, the chief brewer of Turning Wheels Craft Brewery, answered my email at the last minute and invited me over to the brewery for a few “short glasses”.
It turned out that the so-described “short glasses” became a couple of litres as Mike kept pulling me glass after glass of his finely crafted beverages.
Turning Wheels Craft Brewery isn’t located in the popular districts in Cebu City, but it isn’t so far off the beaten track that you’d have trouble finding it.
It’s not some hole-in-the-wall either, because it’s not in a hole and there are no actual walls in Turning Wheels. Converted containers make up the main structure, with a wooden deck, wood furniture, and wood fixtures to round up a sort of ‘old shed in the backyard’ ambiance.
And as it turns out, Turning Wheels is the pioneer craft brewer in Cebu, starting sometime in the middle of 2014.
I was able to taste six brews.
The first one I had was the Woodwork Wit, which at Turning Wheels would be kind of like the trainer bike of craft beers – something for newcomers to start off with.
It’s made mostly from wheat, and unlike most commercial beers, it’s not bitter at all. In fact, the flavor leans a lot toward citrus, and I agree that Woodwork Wit would be a good introduction to craft beers.
It’s also got less alcohol content than San Mig Light, the Philippines’ most popular light beer, at 4.7% alcohol by volume (SML has 5.0% ABV)
Next on the tasting tray was Watermelon Wit, which at 5% ABV is a bit stronger than the Woodwork Wit.
With a name like that, you’d expect it to taste like watermelon, and yes, it does.
In case you’re wondering, wit is German for wheat, which pretty much makes sense as you’re bound to lose your wits when you drink a lot of these.
Training Wheels Golden Ale, the third craft beer I tasted, also had an ABV of 5%, followed by the Little Big Brother, with an ABV of 6.3%.
People come to enjoy the beer, and getting plastered is the benefit! – Michael Nikkel, Turning Wheels chief brewer
As you may have noticed, the alcohol content started to increase as we went along, and chief brewer Michael said he felt it was best that we do it that way so I wouldn’t get smashed after the first couple of glasses.
Turning Wheel’s Mountain King IPA (India Pale Ale) clocks in at 7% ABV, but even with that kind of kick, it’s actually the brewery’s bestseller.
It has a fruity fragrance and tastes a tad more bitter than some of Turning Wheels’ other offerings, and feels a little heavy on the tummy.
Which brings us to the last, and certainly my favourite of the six, I tasted.
It’s called Busted Up Brown and while people may recommend you start with Woodwork Wit, I would say go straight to this one.
Coffee lovers would definitely get a kick out of Busted Up Brown as it not only smells like a cup of Java, it also tastes like coffee too!
With an ABV of 8.7%, it’s certainly stronger than the Red Horse Beer most hardcore Cebuano beer drinkers prefer, but I have to say, you really must taste it. Think of it as a cold coffee that can get you drunk.
Local craft beer may not be as popular as Philippine brands like San Miguel, foreign brands like Budweiser or Stella Artois, or the more “craft-ish” foreign brands like Samuel Adams or Chimay, but it seems that craft beer is here to stay, in the Philippines.
There is a market for craft beer, both in Manila and in Cebu, and much like the appreciation among Filipinos for wine has grown over the past couple of decades, more and more people are becoming aware of craft beer, and are learning to enjoy the pleasure and its benefits.
Turning Wheels Craft Brewery is at 24 P. Almendras St., Mabolo, Cebu City, Philippines
For more information on Turning Wheels Craft Brewery, go to http://turningwheelsbeer.com/
Words & Photos by Jigs Arquiza
Jigs Arquiza is a journalist-turned-mechanic who lives on the island of Cebu, Philippines. He’s been cooking since he was 12 years old, but refuses to go professional because he doesn’t want to get into arguments about how authentic his food is. You can follow him on Instagram at @eatssogood