DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 September) – For non-drinkers, this beverage would often be mistaken as vinegar because of its sour smell as well as its color.
For others, they would inaccurately describe it as tuba or coconut wine. But the longer it is aged, the more it tastes better.
This is called bahalina. Like tuba or coconut wine, bahalina is also derived from coconut saps.
But bahalina undergoes a natural distillation process for at least a month.
Known to have originated in Leyte, bahalina is one of the most popular local wines in some parts of Samar and Bohol provinces.
In the coastal Barangay San Juan in Agdao district this city, a native of Bohol has been making bahalina for almost 30 years now.
Hedo Arcay, a native of Alicia town in Bohol, used to be a sales agent of a giant soft drinks company in the early 1980s.
Arcay told MindaNews that when he arrived in Davao in the late 1970s, he worked as a vendor for a sidewalk store owned by his aunt.
Later, he learned that a soft drinks company was looking for sales agent to go around the different parts of Mindanao.
“I applied and I was eventually hired as a sales agent of Pepsi [Cola Products Philippines, Inc.],” recalled Arcay.
But due to the risk of being a sales agent, he considered quitting his job. “Robbery hold-up was so rampant during those days, I was scared.”
While he was still employed at the soft drinks company, Arcay started processing tuba that he sourced from the local farmers.
At first, he just wanted to give it a try if the people in Davao will like the bahalina.
“It went well, the people liked it. So I continued this business until I decided to quit my job because I’m earning well from bahalina,” said the 61-year old winemaker.
Origins in Bohol
Arcay attributed his bahalina making skills from his father and grandfather.
He recalled that bahalina making has been a part of his childhood back in his hometown.
Bahalina is popular in Panglao Island, where it is also served in some beach resorts along with other popular beverages, Arcay said.
Processing bahalina, Arcay explained, requires a lot of patience because he has to ensure that each gallon-size bottle is always clean.
“Everyday, I make sure that the empty bottles are cleaned. And I also strain the newly delivered tuba almost all day long. For every 16 gallons of tuba that I strain, a gallon is lost,” he said.
Straining is part of the bahalina-making process to purify the newly-harvested tuba, said Arcay, adding that this will separate the sediments.
After transferring the bahalina from the bottle to the customer’s container, he immediately washes the bottle with soap and water. Arcay has a regular tuba supplier from Toril district, which is around 20 kilometers from Barangay San Juan.
The tuba must be at its best quality, otherwise it will not produce a good quality bahalina. “My supplier ensures that it is the best tuba. One hundred percent tuba,” he said.
Arcay has no especially built facility to process his bahalina. Instead, he utilizes the basement of his house, where he stores around 2,000 one-gallon size bottles. The size of the basement is about 360 square feet. Many of his bottles today are still the same bottles that he used when he was starting the business.
Arcay has devised his own system of piling the bottles according to age. “It is important to organize these bottles very well given the number. For now, only me can identify which one is a month old or the eight-month old.”
At the basement, the bottles are piled in three layers and each layer is divided by a plywood sheet.
Arcay said the bahalina should be stored in a cool place and away from direct sunlight; otherwise it will become sour and eventually become vinegar.
“When storing, the bottles should be filled up to its mouth. Then it should be airtight, otherwise molds will develop and it will become vinegar,” he explained.
Some prefers to drink the pure bahalina. Others would like to drink it with a combination of a cola drink or a grape juice.
Arcay recommends a liter of Pepsi or Pop Cola for every gallon of bahalina. It holds the same for the grape juice.
He stressed that the longer the bahalina is aged, the better it gets.
The Boholano sells his bahalina for P60 per gallon, adding that it is best paired with grilled fish or meat.
“What is good about bahalina is that you would not experience any hangover the following day even if you would have a drinking spree,” he stressed.
Source of living
For years, Arcay said he was able to send his children to school because of the bahalina business. One of them has already graduated from college and now works as the finance officer of a soft drinks retailer. One quit schooling due to speech problems.
Currently, his youngest son is taking up a computer course at the Ateneo de Davao University, one of the premier schools in Mindanao.
“With my income from bahalina, I was able to provide all our needs at home [and of the children],” concluded the long self-paying Social Security System member. (Keith Bacongco/ Mindanews)