Friday night is cocktail night!
At least it is in our home. After putting Tala to bed, Marlon and I like to celebrate the weekend by firing up a movie and sharing cocktails on the couch. This helps compensate for all those dates we don’t go on anymore, and is an easy and affordable way to make couples’ night in a bit more special.
Missing the flavors of home, I sought the help of a bartender friend to whip up a Filipino-inspired cocktail. This friend also happens to be the owner of The Curator, a coffee and cocktail bar back home that’s gotten rave reviews for its third wave brews and specialty cocktails. A good friend to have, right?
My sister gave us a bottle of Dona Juliana lambanog for Christmas (don’t you just love the tropical kitsch of that bottle?), so I thought: “What about a lambanog cocktail?”
A few things you should know about lambanog:
- It’s a coconut-based liquor, like vodka or rum, made from the sap of coconut flowers collected before they bloom
- Coconut sap is fermented into tuba, which is itself a potent and popular liquor, then distilled into lambanog
- It’s known as a poor man’s drink—it costs almost nothing to make, and coconut farmers have been drinking it for generations
One last thing. It’s pretty damn strong—we’re talking 80 to 90 proof, or 40-45 percent alcohol.
As the mom of a toddler, that’s exactly what I need at the end of the week. Those coconut farmers know how to roll.
Homemade salabat soda, or ginger ale, makes a perfect mixer for this potent coconut liquor. We tried it with store-bought ginger beer, but the canned stuff just doesn’t have the same kick as fresh ginger. Here’s how to make it at home.
What you’ll need:
Fresh ginger, chopped into chunks
Brown sugar, 200 grams
Lime or calamansi juice, 400ml
Lambanog (vodka or cachaça are good substitutes!)
To make the base for your ginger ale (or salabat soda):
Blend the ginger and water in a blender. No need to peel the ginger; the skin acts as a natural preservative, so you can keep the good stuff later on. Eyeball an equal amount of water—the water should just be enough to get things going in the blender. You can also use a juicer.
Strain the blended ginger pulp, and make sure to squeeze out all that ginger goodness. Aim for about 100 ml of fresh ginger juice.
Make a brown sugar syrup by heating 100 grams of brown sugar and 100 ml of water in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Combine the sugar syrup with the fresh lime or calamansi juice. Add this to the ginger juice, and voila, you have your ginger ale base!
Now to build your lambanog cocktail:
In a tall glass, combine 40ml of the ginger ale base and 20ml of lambanog. (You can also do 30ml of each if it’s been a tough week.) Fill with ice and top off with soda water.
A quick peek behind the scenes. Since we don’t have any bartending equipment at home, I used the only thing we have with ml measurements: Tala’s milk bottle. If I’ve learned anything as a parent, it’s to be resourceful. And drink a lot.
No lambanog? Vodka or cachaça will do (we’ve made this cocktail with both… yes, we make it a lot). For a European twist to this Filipino drink, add 15-20ml of a sweet liqueur such as amaretto or limoncello, our fave. We also love garnishing our lambanog cocktail with a sprig of a fresh herb like basil.
This lambanog cocktail brings me home and takes me back in time. In college, we’d hoard cheap versions that came in gimmicky flavors like mint, four seasons, tutti frutti and bubble gum, and chug them with Sprite during sun-drenched afternoon drinking sessions that stretched late into the night.
Turns out there’s a classier way to enjoy pure lambanog. Our favorite coconut liquor has grown up, and so have we.
Have you tried lambanog? Was it the flavored kind, or were you brave enough to try the real thing? I’d love to hear a good lambanog story—or recipe!