Manila, Philippines

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised citizens to consume only registered, certified Lambanóg from legal licensed distillers. The agency has documented 44 cases of methanol poisoning traced to Lambanóg since May. Among the 44 cases, 21 victims have died from methanol poisoning associated with Lambanóg.

At the urging of licensed distillers, the FDA and police have stepped up investigations to find, arrest and prosecute illicit makers of Lambanóg. Since May the FDA has documented cases throughout many areas including, Capaz, Tarlac, Santa Rosa, Luisiana, Calamba and Calauan in Laguna; Antipolo City in Rizal; and Novaliches in Quezon City.

The FDA has been able to collect and test many samples from affected areas and have found methanol ranging from 6.5 % to 21.8 % in the illicit liquor. The focus for the FDA is to prevent the illicit liquor from sickening and killing people. Along with that they have an obligation to the licensed distillers to control the distribution of Lambanóg by bootleggers and counterfeiters.

Lambanóg flavors
Lambanóg is very high in alcohol and comes in a variety of flavors

The owner of Mallari’s Distillery in Tayabas. Lito Mallari, is calling for, “police to immediately identify, arrest the culprits, and close their shops to save legitimate distillers.” Licensed distillers of Lambanóg have seen a decline in sales of the traditional social and religious distilled spirit since rumors of the poisoning began appearing in local and on social media in June.

Mr. Mallari noted that reports of 8 deaths from Lambanóg originating in Candelaria, Quezon has affected his sales. The fake Lambanóg, Mr. Mallari believes is a mixture of toxic chemicals and not a product of natural fermentation and time-honored distillation processes. “The bogus manufactures just add a portion of highly concentrated methanol which we call “baiting” to produce the distinctive Lambanóg aroma.”

Licensed, approved, Lambanóg has a typical alcohol content of 80-90 proof with a 40-45% Alcohol by Volume (ABV) ratio after its first distillation. Second distillations of Lambanóg often bring it to a proof of 166% or an 83% ABV, which creates a straight alcohol aroma, easily mimicked by methanol.

FDA tests that have documented so many bottles as containing methanol have confirmed his supposition. Police have been on the hunt for the counterfeiters and bootleggers making numerous arrests. The FDA is charged with protecting the health and safety of the citizens, they are also expected to keep the marketplace competitive for licensed producers.

FDA Philippines
The Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines logo

The FDA as well as the licensed Lambanóg producers warn citizens to buy only sealed, branded bottles. Consumers are advised to avoid retailers who sell liquor straight from plastic drums which is obviously bootlegged and may cost your health and life in the process of saving money.

Lambanóg is a traditional potent alcoholic spirit distilled from coconut or nipa palm sap. It is derived from Tubâ, an alcoholic beverage that dates to pre-colonial times. This indigenous drink has been an important part of Filipino social interactions. The Spaniards became very aware of the distillation process as early as the mid-1500s.

Variations of Tubâ are found throughout the islands of the Philippines. These Include Bahal, an aged Tubâ with bark extracts. Kinutil, which is Tubâ mixed with raw egg yolks, chocolate, milk and other regional ingredients. Tuhak mimics Tubâ, it is distilled from the sap of kaong palm. Another variation is Tunggang made from the fishtail palm.

Deaths in the #Philippines from Methanol Alcohol Poisoning in #Lambanog a popular high proof spirit Click to Tweet

The Spaniards shared the distillation process with other countries during their travels giving way to variations in Guam and Mariana Islands, Mexico, as well as the Torres Strait Islands in Australia. The commonality is among these variations of this very potent spirit is that it is easily distilled by following the methods as prescribed by the makers of the early 1500s.

For centuries this traditional drink has been properly distilled and enjoyed without jeopardizing the health of consumers. Today, counterfeiters and bootleggers find it easier and more profitable to forgo the distillation process, instead mixing methanol with flavoring to produce fake Lambanóg.

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