A brewhouse on an island: How two women are shaping the craft beer culture of Palawan

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Along Manalo street in Puerto Princesa sits a small brewhouse claiming to be the first in the ultra-tropical island of Palawan. It’s an unexpected watering hole in a paradise best known for gorgeous beaches and secluded coves, but hey, people always find their way to good beer… even if it’s a boat or plane ride away. 

Palaweño Brewery is the brainchild of Ayah Javier and Malu Lauengco, who used to run Matutina Pensione, also in Puerto Princesa. They had to give up give up the homey seven-room guesthouse to focus on the brewery.  Aya and Malu are known as the first female craft brewers in the Philippines.

The power duo’s Hunter Honey Nut Brown Ale and and Ayahay India Pale Ale have made it to a list of best craft beers in the world. They have four core brews and they release seasonal brews every so often, a huge achievement considering it was started by two people who have no formal training in brewing beer.

“Craft”, “micro”, “artisan” are adjectives often used to describe beers lovingly made in small batches, which are usually marketed for more discerning drinkers. Craft beer recently exploded in different parts of the world, including the country capital, Manila.

After having a taste of the craft beer craze during her 6-year stay in San Diego, Ayah came back to Palawan with a simple homebrewer’s kit in tow sometime in 2012. She might have not known it then, but it was the birth of the craft beer culture in the remote island.

Aya and Malu started experimenting in a makeshift brewery at the kitchen of Matutina Pensione. Every once in while, they met guests who were more than willing to try their their brews.

It took them a year to nail their recipes and they officially opened the Palaweño brewery along Taft street in 2013.

“Brewing in the number 1 island in the world has its perks. We get to mingle and exchange infos with craft beer enthusiasts from all over the world,” said Malu. “We have the opportunity to get first hand assessment from our customers who are mostly foreigners on vacation. This also gives us the chance to showcase Palawan as a tourist destination.”

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Obviously, running a brewery on an island is no easy task. Some of the ingredients have to be shipped or flown it. The bigger challenge, however, is trying to get people to understand, and eventually appreciate craft beer.

It’s no secret that Filipinos have a century-long love affair with San Miguel, so introducing craft beer, which is a bit pricier, to a small town proved to be a challenge.

“Getting people to join our advocacy was quite difficult since craft beer brewing is something that is not familiar to a lot of Palaweños,” Malu said, but slow and steady is the way to go.

“We’re slowly creating a niche in the local scene so people are now informed and are very supportive,” she added.

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Through their efforts and with the help of friends, brewers and other beer enthusiasts, Palaweño beer is now being sold in different bars in the island and also in different craft beer shops and restaurants in Manila.

Being on an island has its upsides, too. Palawan is a place of wonders, and it has a vast fortune of untapped resources, which Ayah and Malu use to give an interesting touch to their beers.

Palawan honey, for example, is highlighted in the Palawán Honey Kölsch and Hunter Honey Nut Brown Ale. Other seasonal fruits inspired special brews like the Mango De Palawan and Paragua.

Palaweño Brewery now enjoys a steady crowd of travelers. Brewers, brewmasters, international craft beer judges, and craft beer enthusiasts from all over the world have visited the small brewery. Really, a Puerto Princesa itinerary is not complete without a trip to the homey brewhouse.

“As brewers, we feel that we’ve grown so much mostly from experience and from the many challenges this business entails, considering that there is no proper school in the Philippines that teaches the intricacies of brewing,” Malu said “Growing pains come with it, but we believe that those are necessary twists of fate for us to grow as brewers.”

Aya and Malu have done an amazing job of giving us a piece of Palawan in the most unexpected way. Palawan in a bottle, why not?

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