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We proclaim this gin to be Pinoy-forward

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 17, 2021 4:00 pm

There’s something about the purity of gin. Colorless, clean, crisp, yet layered with subtle taste notes, it’s a magic ingredient for many a cocktail.

Local food writer/blogger Cheryl Tiu and her friend, architect Carlo Calma, understand that fascination as well. “We love gin—it’s as simple as that — and we decided we wanted to make something our own,” she says in her YouTube video announcing — proclaiming, really — the arrival of the first all-Filipino gin product: Proclamation.

The first sign that this is a proudly Pinoy? It’s made from fresh sampaguita flower buds grown on farms in Lubao, Pampanga, known as the “Sampaguita Capital of the Philippines.”

The second point in the manifesto? This project specifically benefits women who handpick the flowers on the farms.

Thirdly, 12 botanicals have been introduced to this gin formula, including the very Pinoy-friendly “toasted sticky rice.”

The first sign that this is a proudly Pinoy? It’s made from fresh sampaguita flower buds grown on farms in Lubao, Pampanga, the ‘Sampaguita Capital of the Philippines.’

Here’s the full skinny on this seriously clear and clever gin from Proclamation partners Calma and Tiu.

With Proclamation, you’re taking a stand not only on local products, but on local livelihood. What led you to focus on Lubao and women as your workforce?

CARLO CALMA: We really wanted to have a world-class product that’s export quality and when we were researching about sampaguita, we saw Lubao in Pampanga was the “Sampaguita Capital of the Philippines.”

So we then contacted the local LGU and mayor in that barangay and they introduced us to these farmers that are mainly women. The women farmers handpicked these buds daily and make them as sampaguita necklaces and sell them at churches or in the market. In our case, they don’t need to do that extra work; we just buy the actual fresh buds from them at a premium.

They also have this Sampaguita Festival once a year around May. We started working with them in this area, (but) because of the big quantities of sampaguita we need to make every batch of gin, we also get from other areas in Central Luzon. We can make only small batches a year because of the quantities we need for the fresh buds.

CHERYL TIU: Supporting women and women’s causes is very dear to our hearts, and we wanted to create a product that would help contribute to their livelihoods, even in a small way.

Was this a longtime dream in the making, or a post-lockdown concept?

TIU: We have always been big advocates of the Philippines and Filipino culture and wanted to create something to show the world how truly beautiful and special the Philippines and Filipino products can be. Three years ago, the market didn’t have a premium Filipino gin that could be enjoyed outside of the country, and since we love gin, we decided to create one. Getting FDA approval was a non-negotiable, as we wanted to assure customers of safety. We are just grateful that it’s finally here — and in the middle of a pandemic!

CALMA: We are really gin enthusiasts so this has been actually a three-year project — from just the initial idea of having our own gin, partnering with a good distillery, picking the name and doing a trademark for the Philippines, Asia and Europe; the attention to details and research and development of the formula (we had external blind tastings with top mixologists and chefs); to designing the bottle which is made in France, with labeling that stands out on the shelves of bars and, of course, having FDA approval.

I think all the hard work of the whole Proclamation Team finally paid off once we saw the final product: it’s a delicious blend that can be paired with food or taken as neat. We also want to be inspirational in these times — to not be afraid to start an entrepreneurial business or new and innovative local products because we need to continuously shine on the global market. We have so much culture and heritage that we should share to the whole world. 

We have always been big advocates of the Philippines and Filipino culture and wanted to create something to show the world how truly beautiful and special the Philippines and Filipino products can be.

When will you export Proclamation?

CALMA: Before the pandemic, we were in talks for possible distributorship in Singapore and some parts of Asia and Europe, but since this happened, we’ve decided to focus on the local market first before we export.

The design resembles a large cologne/perfume bottle, with a kind of manifesto font. Did you work together on it?

CALMA: I designed the bottle and it was made in France (since they are one of the biggest glass liquor makers in the world). Although lots of people see it as a big perfume bottle, my design intent was actually making it like a block or a brick so we could reuse the donated bottles and put them into homes at some point. We are really into upcycling and even the wrapper we did is made of recycled paper. We want the bottle to signify simplicity, purity and strength.

 The French-designed bottle not only accentuates the crisp, clean quality of Proclamation Gin, but can easily be upcycled for home use.

TIU: We worked with Inksurge in designing our label and packaging. In the year 1934, “Proclamation 652” was issued to declare the sampaguita as the national flower of the Philippines. The typographical approach was inspired by official declaration papers, which were often bold and direct. The word "Proclamation" stood out as its brand name, while the rest of the information was arranged to balance out the design. The neutral color palette used was suggestive of the sampaguita color, which embodies humility, purity and strength. The intention of the design was to keep it simple, clean, and balanced, just like the profile of the gin.

Also, Proclamation is packaged in eco-friendly paper-wrap, which was in partnership with Inksurge. The idea of the wrap came from having the declaration "announced in a newspaper.” Inksurge deconstructed all the elements from the design of the label so however the bottle is wrapped, it would still look good — and be protected as well. Also, minimal waste!

How do you work with your farmers and pickers? Who does the extraction?

CALMA: We buy the best fresh sampaguita buds from the farmers and our partner distillery does all the quality control and extraction. To create this excellent formula, there are 12 botanicals inside Proclamation Gin: juniper berry, coriander seed, angelica root, orris root, orange peel, lemon peel, licorice root, cassia bark, almond nut, lemongrass, fresh sampaguita flower, toasted sticky rice.

 Women sampaguita pickers in Lubao, Pampanga also benefit from this local venture.

During our R&D, we would do taste tests in the morning — that’s when your taste buds are the most alive and discerning — and we originally wanted just sampaguita but felt the floral notes were imbalanced and we thought of adding that toasted sticky rice surprise ending. I think this is the most perfect blend, and a flavor I really love. I also love that the sampaguita flavor notes have a unique surprise ending that is also very Filipino — we like the burnt part of the rice, or in paella. I can think of lots of ingredients we can pair with toasted sticky rice that can create an explosion and excellent flavors in your mouth.

What, specifically, do you love about gin?

CALMA: Every gin is different and the gin I love the most has those layers of flavor but also clean notes, meaning the gin flavor profile is versatile to play with and easy for mixologists and consumers to experiment and add whatever they have at home  — you can take it neat, put garnishes, citrus fruits, bitters or add to food pairing. I also like gin because it’s low in calories.

TIU:  Everything that Carlo mentioned, and also, it’s a happy, uplifting spirit.

 The Promise Cocktail using Proclamation Gin

Give us your favorite Proclamation Gin serving suggestions.

CALMA: Proclamation Gin is very versatile and well balanced, you can mix it with anything, especially with Asian food. You can experiment with a classic G&T, just adding acidity (lemon/lime/kalamansi), think of cocktail mixes that match toasted sticky rice (mango, coconut water, chocolate, green tea/matcha). Recently, we experimented with the bar mixologist of Gallery by Chele, and they concocted it with infused shitake mushrooms and honey and it brought out these complex umami flavors. Try it with our Filipino comfort food — our humble adobo with monggo soup on the side. 

TIU: I like sipping it neat, or on the rocks. Alternatively with sparkling water so I can savor the toasted sticky rice — while remaining low in calories.

Banner photo: Carlo Calma and Cheryl Tiu, proud parents of Proclamation Gin: “We thought of adding that toasted sticky rice as a surprise ending.