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Memories of perfume and old Manila

Santa Ana Gin combines traditional and Filipino botanicals

PRE-WAR Manila was glamorous. Plans drawn up by urban designer and architect Daniel Burnham saw a city combining neoclassicism and Art Deco, the aggressive modern style that emerged after the First World War. From this milieu emerged the modern Filipino: chic, well-dressed, and dancing away at clubs such as the Santa Ana Cabaret, which was then one of the world’s biggest dance halls.

Cabaret culture of the 1920s is informing a new product by Bleeding Heart Rum Company (the company behind Don Papa), in a new spirit: Santa Ana Gin.

It’s distilled in France, and uses traditional gin botanicals like juniper, coriander, lemon, bitter orange, angelica root, orris root, and fennel. But then, it also uses Filipino ingredients such as ylang-ylang, alpinia, calamansi, and dalandan. This results in a cosmopolitan product that still somehow has a Filpino imprimatur — much like the glamorous Manila of yore.

BusinessWorld had a taste of Santa Ana Gin during a tasting last week. The packaging is certainly beautiful: a velvet-lined leather trunk; while the fluted blue-tinted bottle itself resembles a barrel with a neck. It looks handsome on a bar cart at home, or else on a glass shelf.

The gin itself is very fragrant — you can smell it from an arms length away, a greeting of white florals, then something quite indolic (an animalic scent that’s a note in ylang-ylang; read by some as sexy, hence its presence in Chanel No. 5), ending with a bit of a note of aniseed at the end. It is still a clean, calming and sophisticated scent — say, Elizabeth Arden’s 5th Avenue or Estee Lauder’s White Linen. I spent a good few minutes sniffing it — it smelled that good. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind smelling it on somebody’s neck. I’m amused to note that it’s like Dior Poison without the cream and plum aspects of it.

As for the gin itself — it’s incredibly smooth, with even a bit of a creamy slide in the mouth. The heat is mild really, like a drop of wax from a votive candle on your skin. I use the language of the church in describing it because as soon as the spirit moved around in my mouth, the white floral notes present in its scent made the image of white lilies and sampaguitas in church indelible. It’s a very, very pleasurable sensation, but I couldn’t serve this at a party. My guests would turn too solemn. I suggest serving this to someone you’re trying to woo (either for the first time, or again) to suggest erudition behind your bon vivant ways.

AJ Garcia, Managing Director of The Bleeding Heart, cited the reasons for creating a gin. Of course he mentioned the huge consumption of gin in this country (one of the biggest in the world), but there was more. “It’s a pretty simple, straightforward distillation process, but at the same time, aside from juniper, which is the key botanical, you have such an array of different options to be able to create new flavors and profiles. That makes the category exciting.”

Santa Ana is available at for P1,699. — Joseph L. Garcia

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