‘Beeroness’ Toni Marie Despojo raises a mug for craft beer culture
By Fiona Patricia S. Escandor
TONI Marie Despojo insists there’s more to beer than getting drunk, but in a drinking culture lorded over by macro-breweries and pale lagers, such full-bodied insight is somehow hard to ingest. While that itself isn’t exactly a bad thing, there are certainly more reasons to enjoy the famous beverage, the centuries-old craft and tradition of beer-brewing notwithstanding — and this Toni tries to instill in Cebuanos with her craft beer micro-brewery stamped with the catchiest of names, The Cebruery.
A renowned photographer in the local media and creative circuit, the 27-year-old craft beer advocate and now brewer had her first pint of the beverage in a pub in Singapore. She found its taste distinctive, and since then she has been, for the lack of a better term, a convert.
“I remember it being very malty and clocking in at 10.5 percent alcohol by volume — the strongest beer I’ve ever had then. It’s tasting notes are akin to chocolate-covered caramel and coffee. It basically paved the way for my love for craft beer,” she said. “I already knew about different beer styles then, but never really had the chance to experience them in the Philippines, so when I had that, it piqued my interest and definitely got me hooked.”
Toni and her husband toyed with the idea of starting their own brewery early last year. She said, “At that time, we were abroad and thinking of coming back home and starting a business here. The initial idea was a deli shop and that we’d import craft beer from Europe and the US — but there was something missing in that equation.”
And so they decided to make their own. They brought in equipment and ingredients, importing malted barley and hops, and at an empty space at the back of their house, they brewed a batch. Her husband, who has over a decade’s worth of experience in beer brewing in the US, handles production, while Toni does the marketing — though admittedly she said responsibilities overlap, and often they find themselves hands-on with the entire operations, from conceptualizing the recipes to building the kegs. “It’s different when you pay someone to do it,” Toni said. “We make sure we’re involved in everything, ensuring the quality in every single step, every detail.”
It’s no easy feat — brewing alone takes up to 12 to 16 hours, followed with another 12 hours or so cleaning the kegs and equipment. “On a normal day, we’d finish at 2 or 3 a.m. even on weekends. It’s literally seven days a week,” but hardly complaining she added, “I guess what keeps us going is the love for what we do, the passion. (My husband) is a beer advocate. He started brewing when he was 20 years old and as for me, I love drinking craft beer.”
Toni shared that what initially sets craft beer apart is its adherence to using traditional ingredients — that is, no extracts, sugar substitutes or artificial flavoring — and brewing procedures. “We’re very big now on knowing what you eat, but I think that also goes with knowing what you drink,” Toni said.
“What people don’t know is that there are hundreds of different beer styles out there,” she said. With Cebruery, Toni has designed some of the recipes to cater to the Cebuano palate, like its People Power Pale Ale that has a citrus and mango infusions, or the Chocolate Hills Porter that has a roasty and chocolatey taste. Then there’s the Boracay Blonde Pale Ale that Toni said is for craft beer neophytes. “We call it the gateway beers. But we have tons of styles that we can do,” she said, pointing out that The Cebruery currently has a line-up of 21 variants, including its seasonal beers, brew master’s series and IPAs, or India pale ales.
The making of a ‘beeroness’
The Cebruery had its official launch last April 21 — an exciting start for the young owner who just came home from Pnom Penh where she had a career stint handling public relations and marketing for television stations under the Cambodian Broadcasting Service. There she had a taste of a new culture, away from a sheltered life at home, and experienced the bustling yet laid-back Cambodian lifestyle. “That was fun,” Toni recalled. “It was also an eye-opener. Going abroad and coming back — I learned a lot of things.”
In earlier years, Toni was part of the media industry, writing and taking photos for a local daily. Creative pursuits have always been her forte, and she is regarded particularly for her works in fashion and portrait photography. Nowadays, she said that although she still finds time to steal a couple of shots here and there, most of her energy has been poured out towards the brewery.
True enough, there’s more to beer than what it is notorious for — and by founding The Cebruery, Toni has more than just made a point. The self-professed “beeroness” has made the local dining and recreational scene much more exciting with the entry of its artisan beverages.
“We want to make good quality beer, and of course, in styles that we think Filipinos will like,” Toni said, and with the brewery’s name itself as indication, she added: “We want to support the local community and we want to put products that Cebu can be proud of out there.”
Photos: Alfred Gregory E. Bartolome | Make-up Artist: Carlo Damolo | Hair Stylist: Jerwin Bastatas
Wardrobe Stylist: Alexa Martin | Clothing: Topshop – Ayala Center Cebu| Locale: Irie Gastropubliko