By Michael Karlo Lim
THE Liquido Maestro Kalel Demetrio’s pop-up bar at Fatwave Surf Resort in Elyu earlier this year was a titillating teaser for two full sleeves of tricks in a more permanent, shall we call it, albularium, in Agimat Foraging Bar and Kitchen. The outcome of his vision was everything he said it would be and more.
Weaving through the labyrinthine streets of “Pobla”, we found rather nondescript entrance marked only by an aluminum plate cut in their amulet-inspired logo. The theatrics begin as you turn left into a flight of stairs lit by several candles melting one onto an older other. Pinoy folkloric kitsch are distributed artfully throughout the space. Where glassware at most bar shelves serve more decorative functions, those at this one hold various of Demetrio’s ferments and other concoctions that figure into his actual drinks. Behind the bar, a balete tree stands as an imposing focal point complete with hanging vines and “fireflies.”
One big plus to Kalel’s meticulously crafted cocktails are his tales behind these that are only shy of being full history, science and economics lessons combined. Another is how he loves what is local to a fault and how he seeks to highlight endemic ingredient availabilities to bring elements of locale and culture together in each cup. Veritably a cocktail Noma, the menu is updated every so often to feature a particular province of interest that his team explores and forages in. Their Filipino Craft Cocktails are categorized according to the elements with each drink featuring a representative ingredient for apoy (fire), tubig (water), lupa (earth), hangin (air) and buhay (life). When confronted by choices, my standard operating procedure is to ask the man of the house to case me and he, well, pulled the first one out of [the] air.
Miguel Malvar y Carpio was a Filipino general who served during the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War. His battle prowess was attributed to an amulet that was said to render him bulletproof. He stood as de facto POTP at one point but was never recognized as such by the Philippine government. Demetrio pays homage to this unsung hero and the Southern Tagalog region with the strong and intensely flavorful “Anting-anting ni Malvar.”
The aroma and flavor of rosemary complement the bittersweet botanical base of gin. To this, the citrusy sweetness of Dalandan liqueur intermingles as accentuated by citrus bitters and fruity-floral Batangas honey. Turmeric extends the orange note in its pungency along with that of ginger – sharp to the nose with a pleasant zing in the mouth. An herbed saline solution binds all these complexities in this cocktail served in a stemless martini glass over a bowl of vaporizing dry ice.
Executive Chef, Nino Laus, is not to be outdone with his three-course a la carte menu. Of the solid lineup, we first tucked into the Balut at Chicharon – extra rich and smooth duck egg custard and, the unmistakably, balut puree in a half-shell with house chicharron the size hand towels. Our second dish, Manok, was the closest I got, so far, to my wet dream of eating Ortolan. A confit of day-old chick is stuffed with Vigan longanisa and nestled on crispy miswa along with roasted dalandan, microgreens and Ilocos black garlic all drizzled with Penoy sauce.
We were not to call it a night without experiencing the bar’s signature special. As pegged under apoy, Ritual ng Agimat was a flaming drink prepared and presented in a literal shamanic ritual of masked bartenders, wanton drumming and unbridled warbling. The rite itself would already have awakened one’s spirit and the potency of the resulting potion seals the pact with whatever god of drink one subscribes to.
The intense zest of fruit in the warming, astringent vodka base of Calamansi Liquor is chased by the deceptively sweet and potent kick of Lambanog. The citrus spectrum plays out in the sour-sweetness of tamarind, the slightly bitter acidity of lime and the tart from a drinking vinegar of their own making, a melon-tomato-mint shrub, then playing up to the nose with rose-citrus aromatics. The savory flavor of tomato puree was rendered somewhat indistinct in its purpose to hold down the more aggressive characteristics of the drink.
I’ve spoken previously of the palpable, dizzying energy from this effusive and effervescent Demetrio. I’m now wary that all his utterances are spells and his preparations lumay to make one fall in love with the art of the drink. If you aren’t a believer in local lore, superstition, and Pinoy Magik, Demetrio will surely make you one.