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Writers and rum

imageOf course the first association would involve Ernest Hemingway and Cuban rum that he swigged standing up, maybe even before the typewriter on that tall table he romanced macho-like, while on his toes. Or okay, maybe at a bar in Havana, cigar end dipped into 140-proof golden liquid, licked and bit off, then lit at the other end. Then the swig, swigs – rough elbows dipping into dark mahogany, as fellow bar aficionados stood back to respect the space between Ernest’s drink and his writer-ly, fisherman-ly aura.


For a local counterpart, there’s Juaniyo Arcellana, sleepless in Siaton an hour’s ride south of Dumaguete, his better half’s hometown, and where conceivably he betroths himself nightly to Tanduay dark or pale in the merry not morose month of May. Why, he’s just being Visayan.


Come to think of it, we never see Juaning pale after his ritual summer break in Negros. He comes back tanned, maybe even by moonlight. And like a werewolf beholding the black thing at midnight, he howls, wilder than Allen Ginsberg or Iverson: "I have seen the best point guards of my generation!" Etc. Etc.


Well, Juaning has a professional assignment other than lamenting his Mandaluyong digs’ cable TV system’s lack of Solar Sports and much of the NBA playoffs. Nights back home when he can’t indulge even in replays, other than at a free TV channel, he must be writing about Tanduay Rum and the drink’s association with music.


Huh? Yes, you’d be surprised. Just as you would be over the fact that film director and all-around genius Peque Gallaga, whose provenance is the other end of Negros, is writing, has written, about "Tanduay Spotting in the Movies."


Make that Philippine movies, such as one he helmed years ago with Alma Moreno as an Aswang, and where he had cheapo friends like Mario Taguiwalo and myself figuring in the film’s opening scene, a barkadahan-inuman session with principal barkadista Joey Marquez, and the bottles we laid out at a papag, al fresco in the moonlight, were all Tanduay.


As Peque explained it then, that rural scene was supposed to be in Luzon, but his Visayan mindset prevailed, and in the Visayas and Mindanao, as he averred, Tanduay Rum is king.


What Juaniyo and Peque have in common, besides being my compadres, is that they’ve been asked to write a topical piece on Tanduay Rum. And they have to accomplish it this month, or, the book production team and yours truly as editor permitting, within the next fortnight, hopefully before all our godsons resume schooling.


Tanduay Distillers celebrated its 150th year in 2004. In fitting commemoration, it has commissioned a spirited crew of writers to toast a century-and-a-half of distinctive spirits.


Tanduay president and coffee-table book project director Wilson Young wants the commemorative volume to be nothing less than "a tribute to the Filipino people, who have been continuously patronizing the products under Tanduay."


Imagine: In the mid-1850s Jose Mercado thence Rizal wasn’t even a gleam in a Calamba couple’s eyes. Why, this rum antedates any martyr’s execution, and, well, maybe not all revolts, but certainly the revolution.


The company’s history will be chronicled, of course. And what a colorful history it has been. When the Philippine Postal Corporation issued commemorative stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of Tanduay Distillers Inc., a "Philatelic Bulletin" was issued, with a brief history of the Filipino company it was honoring.


Here’s an excerpt:


"Tanduay traces its corporate origin to 1854 as a distillery in Hagonoy, Bulacan that was originally owned by Elias Menchatorre y Cia. In 1860, the distillery was acquired by Ynchausti y Cia, a partnership owned by Joaquin Elizalde, Juan Bautista Yrissary and Joaquin Ynchausti, that was later renamed Elizalde & Company, Inc. in 1935 when the Elizaldes bought the shares of Ynchausti. This small distillery was transformed by four successive generations of Elizaldes into the modern Tanduay Distillery…(,) the largest producer of rhum in the Philippines.


"In 1988, Tanduay was acquired from the Elizaldes by the Lucio Tan Group of Companies. Apart from being the Philippines’ number one rhum product, Tanduay is now the second largest rhum seller in the world, and it is included among the Philippines’ top 500 corporations in terms of revenues.


"Over the years, Tanduay Rhum products have won over a hundred awards for product excellence in various international wines and spirits competitions that include the prestigious Monde selection. Twenty-one of these awards were gold medals, the latest of which was during the 1996 Monde Selection in Portugal. Tanduay’s long history and world-renowned quality is undoubtedly one of the Philippines’ treasures and a showcase of Filipinos’ resilience, skill and creativity."


As glitteringly golden as Tanduay’s best rum, the recently released 15-year-old Premium that comes in a special translucent box, is the list of Filipino writers conscripted for this special literary affair.


Even as I write this, out there in some lovely if isolated villa 60 kilometers from Rome, with a view of mountains and a rose garden up front (as he dutifully texted us), is our confrere Butch Dalisay, writing about "El Kapitan" Lucio Tan’s acquisition of Tanduay.


Another aspect of corporate history will be the subject of yet another fellow columnist in these pages, the taipan expert (and occasional consiglieri) Wilson Lee Flores.


NCCA chair Ambeth Ocampo delves farther back into history, perchance to uncover that a hero or two had spiked their breakfast with Tanduay. With a drink at hand, can Edilberto Alegre be far behind?


Poets, journalists and bon vivants Pete Lacaba and Marra PL Lanot are contributing as well. So will poet-rocker Lourd de Veyra and poet-performer Vim Carmelo Nadera. (Backs)topping the list, among others, are Antonio S. Lopez, Micaela Fenix, Tessa Jasminez, Dinah Ventura, Jake Santos, Christian Esguerra, Olmin Leyba, Carlo Leo Manuel and Sid Gomez Hildawa.


Coordinating the book project is the concept team Eggshell Design and Communication. Its director, Charmaine Pidal, who is serving as the book’s managing editor, says that it should feature Tanduay’s beginnings with the Elizaldes, the Lucio Tan Group takeover, the company’s international expansion, the Tanduay basketball team, recipes that use rum, and the upcoming Tanduay Museum.


"We want to share our success with all Filipinos with the making of a book dedicated to them," Wilson Young told us at our first gathering, where we had our first taste of the fine and mellow 15-year-old.


A few weeks later, it was an audience and photo-op with El Kapitan at the Century Park Hotel where Tanduay Distillers Inc. just happened to have a stockholders’ meeting, which assembled some of us anew.


An extra take-home bottle we immediately shared with Juaniyo and Igan D’Bayan right at the parking lot of this equally spirited newspaper’s office. Both were adept in their appreciation and praise.


In Dumaguete over a week ago, we found the Tanduay Premium at a sari-sari store on the road leading out of South Sea Resort. We were on our way to "Mom" Edith Tiempo’s Montemar residence for a party with the national and international fellows to the 44th National Writers Workshop and First International Creative Non-Fiction Seminar. We picked up a couple of bottles, and these went very well with the Visayan lechon indeed, especially among the dozen or so visitors from the University of Iowa. Maybe one of them can still be included in the book, for a non-Filipino’s non-fiction appraisal.


And maybe Juaniyo ought to consult soon with Sawi Aquino, Visayan historian, who lectured us on how Tanduay has a special place in Southerners’ hearts because the company name and label can also mean consensual approval between lovers.


He recalls that this has been so since he was a young boy in the mid-’50s. (Non-fiction, ey wot?) "Tandu" means "to nod" in Visayan, per Dr. Aquino. Colloquially, "ning-tandu na" would be equivalent to "sumagot na ng oo" or "having given her assent." "Tanduay" would then mean "nagkaintindihan" or "having understood one another."


As an Iowan writer said, after a toast and a swig of writers’ rum, "Tanduay! Beautiful!" Comprende? Ah, but such is multi-lingual history.

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