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Looking Back

By Ambeth Ocampo
First Posted 00:01:00 08/09/2006

Filed Under: Human Interest

Published on Page A13 of the August 9, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ASK a Filipino to define the word "Tanduay," and he will associate the term first with a professional basketball team and second as a brand name of the oldest brand of rum in the market. As a matter of fact, the word does not exist in any of the early Philippine dictionaries. The closest-sounding word is "tang-uay," which the "Vocabulario de Tagalo," compiled by Francisco de San Antonio and published in 1620, defines as "a point of land on the sea." Juan de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlucar, in the 1860 edition of their "Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala," provides a similar definition: an isthmus or peninsula; a narrow neck of land connecting two larger bodies of land on water.

Historically, detailed maps of old Manila show an Isla de Tanduay in the suburbs of San Miguel, outside the medieval walled city of Intramuros. Tangway also refers to low-lying land, which best describes the San Miguel district that often gets flooded when the nearby Pasig River overflows during the rainy season.

San Miguel is not only the seat of power because it is here where Malacańang, the official residence of the President of the Philippines, is located. It is also the same district where local spirits used to be brewed, hence San Miguel Beer, Ginebra San Miguel and, of course, Tanduay Rhum, whose name is derived from the place where its original distillery was located. If one were to go by a convenient but obscure reference in the Jesuit Francisco Colin's "Labor evangelica," first published in 1663, tanduay was defined as "an alcoholic drink made from sugarcane."

According to its distinctive label, Tanduay Rhum, or at least the distillery that produces it, was established in 1854 when Joaquin Elizalde and Joaquin Ynchausti, two expatriate Basques, started a chandlery on Muelle de Industria in Binondo for the outfitting and provisioning of ships. Through the years, the partnership known as Ynchausti y Cia
expanded and diversified into inter-island shipping, agriculture (particularly sugar, the main ingredient of Tanduay Rhum), rope manufacture, etc.

Tanduay Rhum actually traces its beginnings to Valentin Teus, who joined Ynchausti y Cia in 1856 with a distillery in Hagonoy, Bulacan, acquired from a certain Elias Menchatorre. There are no extant historical records to pinpoint the exact date when the company first started making rum, so following company tradition, Tanduay Rhum and the distillery are assigned the same foundation date as the parent company: 1854.

It is to be noted that the Hagonoy distillery Teus brought into Ynchausti y Cia was already in operation at the time it was acquired from Menchatorre. We have no record of the product name, and we can assume that at the time, all alcoholic products were sold without brand names or distinctive labels and were referred to as generic products: "aguardiente" (the Spanish term for alcohol), "tuba," which is a drink fermented or distilled from palm, nipa or coconut, and of course "ron," which referred to any distilled spirit, the term being a Hispanized version of the English "rum" or "rhum."

Early records of the company products list the rum simply as "Ron de Distileria de Hagonoy y Tanduay," literally, rum from the distillery of Hagonoy and Tanduay. By 1934, this became, simply, Tanduay Distillery.

The rum was originally packaged in large 10-gallon, blown glass bottles with a narrow neck known as demijohns (or in the Philippines, "dama juana"). These were covered with a distinctive wicker basket to provide insulation against breakage and also a gripping surface for handlers and porters.

From the distillery, these bottles were transported on "bancas" [wooden boats] along the Pasig and the network of smaller waterways or "esteros" [creeks] that made tourists describe Manila as a "Little Venice."

Ynchausti y Cia also distributed the rum through its inter-island shipping network. In the 1930s, Tanduay Rhum did not only get its name but it was repackaged from dama juanas to a smaller 750 ml "long neck" bottle and the distinctive glass flask, a flat 375-ml bottle that could fit comfortably in a hip or vest pocket. The latter is now affectionately called "lapad" (flat or broad) for its shape.

Bottles for Tanduay Rhum were originally bought from San Miguel Brewery, but these are now supplied by a sister company, Asia Brewery.

Tanduay Rhum does go back a long way and its present label proudly sports some of the numerous awards presented to it as early as the 1876 Exposicion de Gane Bale in Paris, France. There was the 1887 Exposition in Madrid and the St. Louis Exposition in the United States in 1904. In recent years, Tanduay has reaped more gold medals in the Selection Mondial des Vins Alcools et Liquers, a gold medal given in Luxembourg in 1977, another in Brussels in 1987 and yet another in Lisbon in 1996, making it an outstanding product not only in the Philippines but in the world as well.

From its 19th-century beginnings in a small Hagonoy distillery to the present modernized and expanded operations under Lucio Tan that produces 50,000 barrels of rum a day, we see a long history. From the original generic rum in dama juana to the present diverse line of products -- Tanduay 5 Years, Tanduay Gold, Tanduay Dark, Tanduay White, Tanduay Centennial and Tanduay ESQ -- we see a continuation of the past.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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