It’s getting hot in the Philippines.
Living in a tropical archipelago (with 7,107 or 7,108 islands depending on the tide, as one of our Miss Universe candidates once said) such as ours allows me to associate the heat with a couple of things: Our famous beaches (we’ve got the legendary Boracay, Palawan, and Surigao just to name a few), and coconuts (which one can also enjoy in one of our beaches).
Naturally, having such an abundance of coconuts in our country lets us go wild in thinking up many ways to consume them. Non-alcoholics can enjoy them as fruit juice, of course… But nothing beats turning them into lambanog (our once upon a time “moonshine”), or my recent discovery, the kahal.
The key difference (as far as I understand it, and I welcome other opinions as well) is that kahal is made from the water of young coconuts (as opposed to lambanog, which is made by distilling the sap of an unopened coconut flower).
What I also found fascinating with kahal is, similar to how winemaking methods in the EU are regulated by the appellation the wine falls under, that it cannot be called kahal if it’s not packaged in handcrafted coconut shells from the “mystical” Mount Banahaw (a three-peaked active “holy” volcano located in Luzon). Also, to add a bit more European influence, its vinification process was prescribed by the Institut Oenologique de Champagne in Épernay, France.
One shouldn’t think it’s a European beverage, however. It’s such a Filipino drink that, during the centennial of our liberation from the Spanish regime in 1998, it was commissioned by Malacañang (the official workplace and residence of the Philippine president) to use for toasting.
In terms of taste, if one happens upon a nicely crafted kahal, it’s sweet, floral, light, with pronounced flavors of coconut. Personally, I prefer it chilled, served in a shot glass, and/or diluted with a splash of water. It can easily be paired with any Filipino dish, but I find it perfect with kinilaw (our raw seafood dish that uses vinegar).
Preferably by the beach, especially in this heat.
On that note, let me grab a coconut shell full of kahal and get some sand on my toes. Cheers!