Making coconut wine is a cool experience. I love watching tuba turn into bahalina after a few years.
What Is Coconut Wine?
Some coconut farmers in the Philippines use coconuts not only for making copra (dried coconuts) but also for making coconut wine. The process is easy—climbing the coconut trees is the most difficult part.
In the Visayas Islands, coconut wine is also called tuba, bahal, or bahalina. In Luzon, it is usually called lambanog. The difference between the two is their mixture and color. The variety that comes from Luzon is made from the pure sap, resulting in an almost colorless or milky white liquid sometimes referred to as coconut vodka. In the Visayas Islands, particularly in Leyte, tuba is the product of mixing barok (the reddish bark of the mangrove tree) with the coconut sap, making the tuba red in color. This is sometimes called coconut red wine.
In Luzon, tuba is produced without colorant and is usually consumed right after it is collected from the tree because it can sour quickly. They allow some of it to undergo fermentation and distillation to form a harder drink known as lambanog. In Leyte, it is often called the poor man's drink because of the inexpensive nature of the distillation process, and the local farmers enjoy it after a hard day's work. Lambanog is also popular amongst the local people during festive occasions.
In the Visayas Islands, particularly in Leyte, coconut wine is referred to as tuba. After it has been fermented and distilled for a few months, it is called bahal. If it's distilled for a year or more, it becomes bahalina. It is a more accessible alcoholic drink that the local people enjoy. This doesn't mean that bahalina is poor quality, however. For me, it is a high-quality, organic alcoholic drink that has no added chemicals—just barok (the reddish bark of the mangrove tree).
Terms Used in Coconut Wine-Making
- Sap: The nectar that comes out when you cut an unopened coconut flower or inflorescence.
- Barok: In Leyte, barok is the bark of a tree that is reddish-tan in color. According to Wikipedia, it comes from a lauan tanbark tree, a kind of red mangrove tree. In other parts of Visayas, they called it a tungog tree, which means that it is a mangrove believed to have the best bark. It can also come from a bakhaw, another kind of mangrove tree. Barok is used as a colorant and preservative, as it offsets fermentation.
- Mananguete or Manananggot: This is a tuba gatherer, a person who climbs the coconut tree to collect the sap.
- Sanggot: This is the knife used by a mananguete to cut the coconut flower.
How Coconut Wine Is Made
Making coconut wine is not very difficult, but it is a long process that requires lots of work.
The Preparation and Collection of Coconut Sap
- The tuba gatherer cuts and prepares bamboo, turning it into a container for the coconut sap. It should be about a foot or longer to accommodate about 1 liter of liquid. Then he cuts a bigger piece of bamboo, double the length, to make another container for the sap to be transferred to. He will carry this bigger bamboo container on his shoulder when he climbs up the tree.
- Barok is prepared by chopping the bark into small pieces and putting it into a small container attached to his waist,
- With his knife—also known as a sanggot—attached to his waist, the tuba gatherer climbs the coconut tree with the large bamboo container, looking for an unopened flower. He cuts the tip of the flower to release the sap. Then he holds the bamboo container, filled with a handful of barok, up to the flower to catch the juice. He secures the container properly so that it won't fall down.
Note: The quality of tuba largely depends on the tuba gatherer. If he knows how to mix the right amount of barok with the coconut sap, he will produce a very good coconut wine. Each tree produces a different amount of liquid—if the tuba gatherer can master the right mixture, then he is excellent.
Every morning, carrying the big bamboo container on his shoulder, he will go up the tree to collect the juice and clean the bamboo container. One tree can produce a liter of tuba per day, if not more. In the afternoon, the mananguete will climb up the tree and cut the tip of the flower again, put some barok into the bamboo container, and attach it to the flower.
The Fermentation and Distillation Process
In coconut wine-making, there is no actual distillation. The term distillation is often used to refer to the sedimentation, decantation, and filtration processes. The morning after all the coconut sap is collected, fermentation begins.
- First, the tuba is transferred into a plastic or glass container, though glass is preferable. A long time ago, gallon-sized bottles made of glass were abundant so that you can see the sediments through the glass.
- The tuba will release some bubbles. Leave it in the container until the bubbles subside while the sediments form, or about 3 to 4 days. Note: You can drink tuba in this stage or fresh from the tree. It has a kind of rough sweetness to it, also known as mapakla.
- After 3 or 4 days, when the bubbles have subsided, the filtration process begins. You will notice that the container has a 1-inch thick layer of sediment on the bottom. Carefully transfer the tuba to another container using a small hose, making sure not to move the container. You want the sediment to stay where it is. After the tuba is separated from the sediment, you can throw the sediment away.
- Wait another 4 to 5 days before doing the next decanting. After transferring the mixture from one container to another, the sediment will have almost disappeared. At this point, you can cover the container very tightly, making sure that it's full to the brim. Set the container aside, tightly covered, for a few weeks. If sediment still remains, you may separate the liquid again. Tuba that undergoes a long sedimentation process will become more potent and have a higher alcohol content. This is called bahalina. If you still see a little sediment, set the container aside for a month before repeating the process.
Note: After each process of decantation and filtration process, the amount of liquid left will decrease. It is necessary to have a reserve supply of tuba in another glass bottle in order to refill the main container after the sediment is removed. Make sure the new container is full to the brim so that the tuba will not turn sour; then, cover it tightly.
It's a Fun Process
The longer the sedimentation process, the darker the wine will become. If you tap the glass container and it makes a high-pitched echoing sound, that means it is now bahalina. One-year-old coconut wine is already good, but those that are aged three to five years or more have a much smoother taste.
Making coconut wine is a cool experience. I love watching tuba turn into bahalina after a few years. It has left me wondering how good bahalina aged for five years or more would be.