Marco Polo once said that sugarcane wine is “very good and it quickly makes you drunk” but this age-old wine is not very well known which led me to writing a quick guide on sugarcane wine, particularly basi, sugarcane wine produced in the Philippines.
Basi is called sugarcane wine in the Philippines.
- There are various Basi brands. If you are drinking basi right now, it is not an accurate representation of other basi brands. Some of the privately owned basi brands out there are Don Domingo Basi from Bantay, Ilocos Sur, Cormel Basi from Laoag City, Casa Blanca from Bacnotan, La Union, and Basi del Diablo Wines from Batac, Ilocos Norte. There are also cooperatives run by local governments that produce basi. This includes Basi Revolt (Gongogong Basi) from San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur and Naguillian Basi from Naguillian, La Union.
- You will likely come across unbranded Basi. If you go to the Ilocano-speaking provinces, you will likely find basi being sold at the palengke or local market. They are usually transferred in plastic water containers and their patrons buy them by the gallon. Many unbranded basi are okay but again, drinkers must note that they are not a representation of all basi brands.
- There’s good basi, there’s bad basi. In the basi business, like in any other industry, there are winemakers who make amazing basi and there are those who don’t. Drinkers new to basi will encounter basi that they like and basi that they don’t like.
- Basi has been around for centuries. It is believed by various authors the likes of Dampier and PC Sanchez that Filipinos started making basi as early as the 17th century.
- The Basi Monopoly resulted to the Basi Revolt. This is likely one of the most well-known facts about the local wine but what many fail to realise is that Spain wanted the income coming from basi to fund some of its wars during that time. This was in the late 1700s. This means that the wine was quite profitable. If you would like to find out more about the Basi Revolt based on a Spanish account, you can read Sinibaldo de Mas’s 1800s report or wait for Sigrid Salucop’s book on Basi. I hear that it will be published by the UP Press in 2019.
- Basi should always be drank chilled but this is a matter of preference. This has always been the tradition of the people of the Ilocos – to drink basi fresh from its underground storage. Basi that is lukewarm is rarely a treat. However, for Basi del Diablo Wine’s hybrid variants such as Basi Maria, the grape and sugarcane concoction can be drank without popping it in the refrigerator first. It must be noted that the winemaker insists that their red basi must be chilled but according to her, it is more due to tradition than preference. Basically, you can drink Basi Maria at room temperature. As for the other basi brands, it is best to take a look at the label or ask the winemaker.
- Some basi are clear, some are not. Basi del Diablo Wines’ clarity is just amazing. In fact, it is comparable to foreign wines – not that that is a good reference point if you are a patriot but you know what I mean. Others are not as clear so if you are holding a glass of basi that is murky, take a look at which company made it and switch to another brand.