We Speak To Ian Paradies, Engkanto's Founder: On Creating Enchanting Brews And Magical Community Spaces
We recently tried a flight of your beers (having been so strongly recommended by our friends in Manila) and wanted to pick your thoughts on being a beer pioneer in the Philippines.
Your adventures in getting Engkanto up and running has certainly added lots of enchantment to the lives of many, who love Engkanto’s brews (your Lager was our favourite, and honestly one of the best we’ve tried!). But what’s more is you’ve gone on to venture into creating F&B concepts such as Polilya and Sampiro that have beautifully captured the community of Poblacion and Salcedo.
Our readers from the region would love to learn more about the story behind your endeavours, the pivotal moments of your journey, and of course more about you!
88B: You’ve been in the port management business, and then pivoted to starting your own brewery and now have several F&B concepts to your name. How would you characterise your life journey and have you always had a plan as to what you wanted to do, or is there a certain trajectory that you’ve followed?
That would probably be the most appropriate word to describe my career path.
Growing up, I always wanted to work in the family business, and I loved and learned a lot from my 9 years with ICTSI. I realized, however, that the specific business/industry was not really for me. I loved the marketing side of business and the idea of building a brand I could be proud of from scratch.
In late 2015, I felt the timing was right to start my own business and said to myself “If you aren’t going to do it now, you will probably never do it again.” There was no clear career trajectory that followed, and I have no regrets about that.
“If you aren’t going to do it now, you will probably never do it again.”
Engkanto's range of beers hopes to bring Filipino beer fans enchantment, joy and be a source of pride.
88B: You’ve once mentioned that when you first told your wife, Sandra, that you wanted to leave the port management business to start a brewery, she almost felt out of her chair – this was obviously a big decision, looking back at it now and how it has played our successfully, what advice would you have given your younger self?
Also, what was that moment where you knew you were willing to launch yourself into this endeavour? What clicked for you?
Ian: Hahahaha! Yes, and I believe that was an extremely normal reaction considering our situation at the time. We had a young family and I had a very good, stable job. All of a sudden I decided to put up my own business and there are a lot of unknowns when doing that. You know that it is always a risk, but I went with my gut. It hasn’t always been a smooth journey since I started Engkanto, but I have loved every day of it in spite of that. You need to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them in order to succeed.
So I think I would do it all over the same way again.
You know that it is always a risk, but I went with my gut. It hasn’t always been a smooth journey since I started Engkanto, but I have loved every day of it in spite of that.
Growing up, I have always loved beer. Before studying and working in the US my perception of beers was commercial lagers. Then the craft breweries in the US opened my eyes to what beer could be.
In 2015, I felt there was a market in the Philippines looking for higher-quality experiences. A younger market that was open to trying and experimenting with new things. Coming from ICTSI, it always bothered me that people from abroad held Filipinos in such a high regard, while back home, we don’t look at ourselves in the same way. We assume something has to be imported to be premium, that we can’t do things as well as the US, Europe or Japan.
But that is the furthest thing from the truth. We can do things just as well as everyone else, and in my case I wanted to prove that within the beer market.
The brewery's Mango Nation makes use of local Filipino mangoes - a produce that the country is famous for.
88B: Could you share with us one of your most memorable moments behind closed doors where you felt happiest during your journey of raising Engkanto?
What does Engkanto brewery mean to you?
Ian: I think one of the most memorable moments we have had as a Company, and which people outside the organization don’t see, is when there is real interest in your product. A potential account wanting to carry your products because they truly love it and believe in what you do. For me, I think when we started to get interest from other markets wanting to carry our beers that was one of the most proud moments I've had.
Engkanto is truly like a fourth child to me. It is never easy nurturing a child but the highs always far make up for the lows. We as a Company have so much hope for the brand and where it is going.
"... it always bothered me that people from abroad held Filipinos in such a high regard, while back home, we don’t look at ourselves in the same way. We assume something has to be imported to be premium...
But that is the furthest thing from the truth. We can do things just as well as everyone else, and in my case I wanted to prove that within the beer market."
88B: The Asian beer scene has always been a tale of David versus Goliath, where there’s the age old dynamic of several major giants who tend to stick with conventional commercial lagers, and then there’s the brave independent brewers who look to add so much more flavour and colour to the scene.
Yet, in the US and Europe, it couldn’t be more different – the US has a bustling craft beer scene, while in Europe there’s a constant reinvention of hundred-year-old recipes.
What are the increasingly popular beer styles that’s happening in the US (Hazy, Cryo, Fruited, Use Of Different Hop Varieties, etc) or Europe (Pastry, Fruits Sours, Smoked, Old World Styles, etc) that most excites you? Would we be seeing any of these come out from Engkanto?
Ian: I think it is fair to say that almost every market (with the exception of a few European markets) at one point or another were dominated by macro-breweries. Even in the US, the big three of Budweiser, Coors and Miller dominated the market up until the last decade or two. Even now, those three breweries control 80+% of the market while the 8,000+ craft breweries control only around 18% of the market. And it has taken those craft breweries 30 years or more to capture less than 20%.
This is our hope for the Philippines, that the craft beer industry continues to grow and craft breweries create their own identities.
The Philippines is actually the country with the most dominant beer company in the world, San Miguel. They control around 98% of their home market. No other brewery in the world has that kind of dominance in their home market. Europe, however, has had craft breweries for centuries. Countries like Germany, Belgium and Czech have always had a very widespread beer industry, with regions specializing in their own beer variants.
This is our hope for the Philippines, that the craft beer industry continues to grow and craft breweries create their own identities.
It is funny that for the longest time in the US, the craze was IPAs (and Hazy IPAs), Sours, etc but they are now going back to making simple but great brews.
Engkanto's very popular seasonal Ube Lager.
88B: Engkanto has continuously brought out local Filipino-beloved ingredients and flavours, most recently your Ube Lager, you’ve also mentioned ingredients such as Dalandan, Calamansi, Coconut. These seem to be a hit with locals as they really resonate with the local palate. Are there any other local flavours that you’re working on incorporating?
Our readers (who are big fans of Engkanto) have asked us to propose on behalf of them local flavours such as Buko Pie, Polvoron, Banana-cue, Taho and Kutchinta. What do you think of these suggestions?
Ian: We will continue to incorporate local ingredients and flavors into our beers as that is part of our DNA. We are proud of the local ingredients we produce, so why not use them in our beers. I don’t want to spoil the surprises we have in store for our customers, but skies the limit on what ingredients you can use: from fruits to coffee to chocolate. We are just scratching the surface.
Moving forward, we will continue to focus on incorporating local ingredients in our new beers, particularly the seasonal and specialty beers. We would also like to do more beer styles we personally like: Hazy NEIPAs, Lagers and Pilsners, Sours, Kolsche, Red Ales, Porters and Stouts.
88B: Could you take us through your creative process behind how you come up with a new beer for Engkanto?
Ian: The process generally starts with a brainstorming session between the Brewing/Ops Team, Marketing, Sales and Management.
Although the Brewing team oversees the R&D aspect of the process, it is Marketing and Sales that have their ears on the ground and get a better pulse of what the market is looking for.
We all share our ideas and it generally takes several brews of a specific recipe before we get to a final product. It is a fun process as some beers will be received by the market very well, while others may not. We learn from that.
Fans enjoying Engkanto's beer.
88B: Engkanto has mostly recently won big at the World Beer Awards, it’s been a long journey thus far to such great success. What is that feeling you get when you see someone order an Engkanto beer at a bar?
Ian: It’s the best feeling in the world, seeing first hand someone enjoy the hard work you put into making these products that you are super proud of. It would be an understatement to say how proud I am of the whole Team in what they have accomplished and also all the awards Engkanto has won over the last few years.
Having Polilya and Sampiro has literally given me a front row seat to experiencing our customers drink and love our beers.
88B: Onto your other ventures such as Polilya and Sampiro, the first of which you reopened in 2022, and the second you established more recently, what is your thought process behind these bar concepts? How do you decide what the next concept is going to be?
Because we know you enjoy pairing food with beer, could you give us your best pairing suggestion for a dish at Polilya and the Engkanto beer to go with it, and also a pairing suggestion for a dish at Sampiro and the Engkanto beer you would pair with it?
Ian: When we first started Dark Wing, the mother Company of both concepts, we kind of told ourselves that we wanted every concept we created to be original. We felt bars feel more special if they are one-of-a-kind.
Expect some spectacular beer and food pairings at locally-themed Polilya and Sampiro.
That mentality, however, has changed a bit as we are now getting into not just bar operations but restaurant operations with Sampiro. For now we are focused on fully building up the potential of these spaces before moving onto a new concept. What is extremely important to us, though, is that whenever we put up a new concept it has to fit into the neighbourhood we have chosen.
Plus, Engkanto plays a big role within the inception stage of all our concepts as Dark Wing and Napa Gapa are sister companies. We try to incorporate our beers into as many of the food dishes we can, and our beers have to pair well with the food we serve.
That is a non-negotiable. Here are some suggested pairings:
- Shrimp & Corn Lumpia & Hop Coolture Pale Ale
- Guava Ribs & High Hive Honey Ale
- Burger & Green Lava DIPA
- Salmon Ceviche & Live It Up Lager
- Sisig & Hop Coolture Pale Ale
- Polilya BBQ & Mango Nation Hazy IPA
- Corned Beef Fries & Live It Up Lager
- Chipotle Corn & High Hive Honey Ale
88B: A common theme that is constantly mentioned with both Polilya and Sampiro is the idea that they should reflect the community that they are situated in, community is obviously a big aspect for you that your respect greatly, what is that?
What is a small or subtle detail that most would miss or go unnoticed that is in fact a tribute from you to the community around these F&B concepts?
Ian: Yes, the communities and neighbourhoods we choose to be part of is one of the most critical decisions we make when considering a new concept. It is the community that gives a concept an edge or vibe and not the other way around. We as Partners need to love that community. We never expect the neighbourhood to adjust to us but in fact make it a point that a concept’s theme or feel fits that neighbourhood’s overall vibe.
Poblacion, for example, has a gritty feel and is very vibrant so for Polilya we went with a concept that fit into that experience. Simple, no frills bar.
With Sampiro, on the other hand, which is in Salcedo Village, you have a more urban and sophisticated feel. Immediately we knew we wanted to do a bistro/brasserie concept and we found a perfect spot for that theme right in front of the park.
"We as Partners need to love that community.
We never expect the neighbourhood to adjust to us but in fact make it a point that a concept’s theme or feel fits that neighbourhood’s overall vibe."
I think one constant focus we have in all our concepts is the quality of service we provide to our guests. No matter where you are in the Philippines, hospitality and kindness are embedded in every community so our focus on service is an ode to the Filipino culture. We want our customers, whether in Polilya or Sampiro, to feel like they are at home and well taken care of.
Cebu, a place of unbelievable natural beauty but also home to an array of wonderful homegrown eateries.
88B: Your hometown is Cebu, and you’ve said you wish to serve Engkanto’s beers in Cebu. As a place that means so much to you, could you share with us some recommendations if we were to be in Cebu for a weekend, what are the most underrated places or things to do, and some of the best places to visit?
Ian: Cebu holds a special place in my heart and I still consider it my original home, even though I have now been living in Manila longer than I have in Cebu. And we do have our beers in many hotels, restaurants, bars and retailers there. What is amazing, however, is that Cebu actually has two incredible local breweries: Bauhinia Brewery and Turning Wheels. There are so many good places and hidden gems in Cebu, I don’t know where to start. Here are some ideas off the top of my head (all homegrown local groups):
For Food: Sal’s Cucina, any concept from the Abaca Group, Café Laguna, Nonki, Ginza, Tymad Bistro, Pig & Palm, Beehive, No. 9, Gorliz, Olio, La Marea, Café George, Kanyoen, Soba Kamakura, Anzani, Café Sarree
For Bars/Cafes: Fiddler’s, Bauhinia Brewery, Turning Wheels, Drip & Draft, Llula, Asmara Urban Resort, Draft Punk, The Weekend, Complex, Trademark
88B: Thank you once again Ian for doing this interview with us! We’re privileged to share our conversation with our readers across Southeast Asia.
Images courtesy of Engkanto, Polilya and Sampiro.