Archipelago Gin’s distillery gives off Willie Wonka Factory of Libation feels

At P2,799, the flagship ARC Botanical Gin is clearly not your gin bulag that’s often blamed for brawls and dalliances, living up to its moniker ‘Mother’s ruin.’

Full Circle Craft Distillers co-founders and couple Matthew and Laurie Westfall are not keeping any secrets as they celebrate five glorious years of their family-owned distillery. Full Circle commemorates its anniversary with the launch of its Saturday tour and tasting experience, and the new iconic design of its bottles.

Full Circle Craft Distillers founders
Full Circle co-founders and couple Matthew and Laurie Westfall. Photo by Francine Y. Medina  

Launched in 2018, the distillery was meant to promote the Philippines and its rich flora. And this good intention resulted in the handcrafted flagship spirit called Archipelago or ARC Botanical Gin. When the global pandemic hit and everyone stayed home due to lockdowns, alcohol sales in the country spiked and ARC Gin became among the favored drinks to sip at home while sweet time passed by.

Today, Full Circle is a PEZA-registered distillery and its expansion in five years has been phenomenal. Already, it has collected honors in celebrated global competitions and has entered the markets of the US, UK, EU and Asia. 

ARC logo
ARC logo in “letras y figuras” lettering, with Mt. Makiling in the background. Photo by Francine Y. Medina

Welcome to “Gin-derland”

Refreshing cocktails set the pace of the tour. Bartenders prepare drinks like Turon Negroni, using ARC Barrel Reserve Gin; Gin Pomelo and basic G&T that both include Archipelago Botanical Gin. Finger foods like sisigin tiny taco shells, chicken inasal in mini-skewers, and bite-sized turon are passed around by uniformed waiters.      

Then, the grownup version of the field trip commences. 

ARC Botanical Gin consists of 28 botanicals, with 22 ingredients locally sourced and foraged. The mangoes are from Pangasinan; pomelo from Davao; and Benguet pine from Sagada. Fragrant flowers are picked from San Pedro, Laguna.

“It’s 100 years in the making,” he says, mentioning the story of his grandfather, a Russified German who arrived in Manila in 1918 to work in San Miguel’s iconic Royal Soft Drinks. Matthew has always had that entrepreneurial fire in him.

Archipelago bar gin pomelo
At Archipelago’s bar, classic Gin Pomelo is made with ARC Botanical Gin. Photo by Francine Y. Medina

Juniper berries are the non-negotiable ingredients in gin. The rest lies in the producer’s choice of botanicals, herbs, and spices for that distinctive flavor. ARC Botanical Gin consists of 28 botanicals, with 22 ingredients locally sourced and foraged. The mangoes are from the Westfalls’ private farm in Dasol, Pangasinan; pomelo from Davao; and Benguet pine from Sagada, Mountain Province. Fragrant flowers like sampaguita, ylang-ylang, and camia are picked from San Pedro, Laguna.

Black Bamboo, the latest ARC expression, takes inspiration from Laurie’s mom who has a farm in Tagaytay. Unlike the ARC Botanical Gin, this unique drink only has black bamboo and juniper berries, which makes its taste profile spicy and earthy. Kind of a mysterious but bold drink.  

Full Circle ARC Botanical Gin
ARC Botanical Gin consists of 28 botanical with 22 sourced from various farms across the country. Photo courtesy of Full Circle

Matthew also showed the handsome 225-liter American oak barrels handmade by top cooperage in Napa, California. Here, he revealed, is where ARC Barrel Reserve Gin is aged between four to six months.

sampaguita and camia in ARC Botanical Gin
Native flowers like sampaguita, and camia are among the ingredients used in crafting ARC Botanical Gin. Photo courtesy of Full Circle

Visitors are also introduced to the newly launched bespoke 700ml design featuring its front label inspired from the Spanish colonial art form, Letras y Figuras; the eight-ray Philippine sun from the national flag engraved all over the bottle; and a copper-engraved cork that honors the distillery’s German copper stills.

Meet Maddie

meet maddie copper pot
Meet Maddie, the state-of-the-art copper pot still created by German fabricator CARL. It is fully automated, ensuring consistent quality in the distillation process. Photo by Francine Y. Medina

The bomb in this tour is Maddie, a state-of-the-art 450-liter copper pot still built by CARL Distilleries of Germany. CARL has been fabricating the best copper stills in the world since 1869. Looking like a machine straight from a steampunk movie, the copper pot still is fully automated to ensure distillation is controlled and consistent with the Archipelago standards of creating gin.

Maddie, by the way, is also the name of the family’s fur baby that has passed away.

matthew westfall full circle
Matthew Westfall throws grains inside Maddie as one of the vital ingreidents for distillation. Photo courtesy of Full Circle

The tasting experience is the fitting finale. Visitors get a shot each of the four Archipelago Gin line: the Botanical Gin, Barrel Reserve, Lava Rock, and Black Bamboo.    

At P2,799 for the flagship ARC Botanical Gin, and up for other ARC spirits, it’s clearly not your street-style gin bulag drink—blamed for many brawls and dalliances, living up to its moniker as “Mother’s ruin” as the old English would say.  

ARC Botanical Gin
Drink with a twist, Turon Negroni using ARC Barrel Reserve has a delicious smoky taste, with just a subtle hint of banana flavor. Photo by Francine Y. Medina

Rather, ARC Gin’s level of quality offers blinding love nonetheless and has received international awards. Perhaps the most prized gin and vodka brand from the Philippines, its latest accolade includes three Gold and two coveted Master medals at the Asian Spirits Masters 2023.  

All the good stuff

Full Circle gives back to the community through its Gin for Good program, which is in partnership with Katala Foundation in Palawan. Every bottle sold contributes a percentage of its profits to conserving and preserving endangered Philippine wildlife. 

craft drinks
In celebration of its fifth anniversary, Archipelago launched new bottles inspired from Letras y Figuras, an art form popular during the Spanish colonial era. Photo by Francine Y. Medina

Meanwhile, Matthew who is often asked if there is such a concept as Filipino gin and if Archipelago is one, surmises: “The idea is that Archipelago should be a great gin that happened to be made in the Philippines. We want our brand to be international. And when people turn the bottle over—made in the Philippines—it would surprise them because they didn’t expect it. We’re our own worst enemy with our colonial mentality. It’s local, there’s something wrong with it. Part of our vision is to change the narrative and give people the opportunity to taste a line of Philippine spirits, change the old perception, and start loving local.”

The tasting experience is the fitting finale. Photo courtesy of Full Circle

The future of gin is looking fine, says Matthew: “It’s been said that the market is highly saturated and there’s no more  space for gin. I don’t believe that’s true. My view is that gin is a beautiful experience, sort of like a blank canvas that has so much you can play around with. It mixes with so many wonderful cocktails. Gin will always be a classic.”

To book a tour or for more information text 09171184446 or follow Full Circle Craft Distiller’s Facebook page.

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