The beers of our lives
by Manuel L. Quezon III
As American soldiers reached the outskirts of Manila in 1945, they came across the Balintawak Brewery, now the San Miguel brewery near Malabon. They promptly liberated the building -and it’s contents. Thirsty G.I.’s swarmed in and emerged, beaming, holding helemts filled to the brim with ice-cold Balintawak Beer.
Thus was liberation heralded by boozy G.I.’s, and thus was born that singular manfiestation of the Liberation Era, representing America’s last colonial gift: the transformation of Filipinos into a beer-guzzling and beer-loving nation which drank to celebrate freedom in the heady days when we felt genuine bonhomie towards those corn-fed G.I.’s and which we got inebriated in order to forget the traumas of the recent past, never mind the frustrating tendency of the future to look like more of the present. Filipinos may not have had homes, and not much by way of independence, thanks to their Liberators, but by golly they had their beer -thanks again, if the apocryphal story is true, to our ally America, who’s symbol inarnate, MacArthur, it was said, did his friend Don Andres Soriano a favor by commandeering C-47′s to ferry bottlecaps from the American mainland to satisfy the needs of San Miguel…
Of course before the war Filipinos already drank beer, but not in the Pantagruelian manner that they do today, in which the success of a night’s drinking session is displayed in the ranks of empty bottles marshaled on tables. Beer was drunk, in the Spanish manner, with lunch; and in those more decorous times, when one could be arrested for appearing in public shirtless, the occassional tale of the amok run wild because of too much bibbling was often blamed on gin.
But with the destruction of Manila, which marked the demise of the cultivated ways of our elders, a younger, brasher generation came into its own. A generation which had reached an early maturity in the buy-and-sell atmosphere of the Occupation, and which held nothing sacred in a land where it had been proven -from the Fall of Bataan to the Last Stand of Yamashita- that nice people who held things sacred finished last. This was the generation which gave up their parent’s white linen suits for the gaudy guayaberas and hawaiin shirts (not to mention Ray-bans) sported by brash leaders like Arsenio Lacson.
Consumed in the city, drunk in the barrios, probably even guzzled down during the anti-Huk campaigns, beer, glorious beer was -is- the drink of choice. I remember the uncles of my cousins sighing, as they drank their Pale Pilsen, even as they fondly spoke of the beers of their lives: “Hijo,” one of them said, pointing to the bottle beside his mug, “I’ve been drinking this stuff for fifty years. Even the bottle hasn’t changed.”
Like the recent San Miguel ad, which purports to tell the story of our society’s love affair with beer through a medley of songs, the hustling of the Liberation Era, which gave way to Mambo Era when the hoi polloi -baptized the bakya- ruled the roost, and thence to the Yeba years which collided in a flurry of placards with the First Quarter Storm -was accompanied with a golden, bubbling, flowing river of beer. Then it came to pass, during the apotheosis of the Filipino people, that they were asked for love of country to give up their beer.
Many a beer-drinker who lived through the days of Edsa will tell you they did just that. Give up their brew, even as their children gave up their Magnolia ice cream and other products targeted as the products of crony-owned corporations. Then came Freedom, accompanied by blessed liberation from abstaining from beer.
We are the only nation which loves its beer to the extent that we are willing to dilute our beer with ice -yet another manfiestation of our Liberation hertage, in which we have adopted the American yen for chilled beer without, alas, the resources needed to guarantee a fridge in every place where beer is drunk; we love beer so much that women, not too long ago restricted to drinks of ill repute like Sangria, have finally taken to drinking beer in public, never mind that doubtful creation Lagerlite, thank you: and do forget the old wive’s tale about cerveza negra being prescribed for lactating mothers. Why even Imelda Marcos, it was said, was fond of a drink called a shandy -equal parts of beer and 7-Up (and this was long before the debut of that beer b-product, Cali).
Our beers, how we love them. Beer -which build friendships and causes laughs; which triggers feats that defy description, such as being able to belch the national anthem; beer, which fosters the solidarity that can only come from helping your barkada puke its brains out; which has built character by making generations of teennagers cover up for each other to explain curfews broken and clothes soiled by youthful beer-related excess; that amber liquid which has shaped the national physigionomy as exhibited in the tummies of our men folk, proudly displayed for all to marvel at on our streets.
Beer drinking is, for us, an educational experience. Gastronomical adventurism benefits from it. Science, too! Everyone has a theory about the effects of beer on the metabolism -from how bdraft beer affects your stools to outlandish chemistry theories which speculate on the formaldehyde content of the beers means for the masses.
With our homey but staggering consumption of beer comes new developments, reflecting our parvenu pretentions to that mythical status called world-class -designer beer, the moonshine mentality as interpreted by Beverly Hills; and generational beer, too. Beer imported from Mexico and consumed with a twist of lime; beer in exotic bottles with fancy names; beer, baptized Texas, for the land of promise, Mindanao; beer, Blue Ice, for that demographic creation of the advertising companies, Generation X, which invaded the hearts of the youth by its being imported from Hong Kong, qualifying it as “imported” worthy of tippling to the extent that when it got to be produced locally, people were too hooked to care. Beer for the yuppies (Dry), and for their elders, Premium; and just so no one feels left out there’s beer for the dipsomaniac equivelent of body builders: Red Horse, for those truly gifted with iron bellies.
Beer, too, to offer you a choice, courtesy of Asia Brewery which fights San Miguel, Labatt for Blue Ice, Beer na Beer for every Pilsen.
The white races used to believe that our tropical climate bred indolence, or at least made us an aneamic race. An odd belief beleived in even by the local breweries at the turn of the century, when they advertised the grandaddy of Cerveza Negra as an antidote to the debilitating effects of the climate. But you only have to look at your countrymen on any night, anywhere, to see that we are a people consumed with a zest for life, particuarly when beer flows down our throats and the alcohol mixes with the blood in our veins. Then we are vibrant; garrolous, funny, charming, witholding no secrets from our friends.
When we drink beer we drink in the stuff of our souls -now if only we could remember this the next morning.