Food & Drink

A Golden Age, bottled: Santa Ana gin recalls the gilded glamour of pre-WWII Manila

I’ve long been a lover of gin, and not even the dire warning contained in William Hogarth’s 1751 ‘Gin Lane’ stopped me from having that first calming measure a tad earlier each day during the first lockdown.

Thankfully, those days are behind us and, with Spring in full swing, we can enjoy a drink the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed – with a sense of celebration, rather than desperation.

And oh my – just looking at a bottle of Santa Ana gin is a celebration in itself: gorgeously art deco in design and labelled with a riot of jungle colours, I found myself wondering how I could upcycle it into a lamp before even opening the bottle. This, for me, is saying something.

And yet it’s not that surprising, given that the gin is named after the Santa Ana Cabaret, which was the highlight of Manila’s 1920s dancehall days. Think opulence and glamour. Think the exact opposite of Hogarth – because the now-legendary Santa Ana Cabaret was, by all accounts, something of an Art-Deco–era Studio 54 for rich and fabulous Manileños, as well as American visitors, who were, perhaps, also drawn by the fact that the Cabaret had been opened by a US soldier, with the help of local backers.

Known as the ‘largest cabaret in the world with the best dance music in the Orient,’ the Santa Ana didn’t limit itself to one style of music: guests were treated to everything from waltzes and the Charleston to blues, jazz and swing. The ceilings dripped with chandeliers and tables were swathed in white linen. And the guests, naturally, enjoyed the decadence of their surroundings even more with a carefully crafted cocktail in hand.

It’s not uncommon to wish that you could ‘bottle’ a time, a place, a sensation. I can’t lay claim to having been present in the Philippine’s wanton heyday, but from its first sip, Santa Ana gin is like no other I’ve ever tasted before. As I’ve been taught in various tasting sessions, one should taste the spirit unadulterated at first, just to get a genuine sense of its composition and flavours. I must admit, I’ve never much enjoyed doing this, but Santa Ana is a different proposition altogether – which the aroma alone, when I uncapped the bottle, assured me was to be the case.

Four botanicals native to the Philippines are present in Santa Ana gin: Ylang Ylang, Calamansi, Dalandan and Alpinia. I’m familiar with Ylang Ylang from various perfumes – it’s delicious on the nose, in and of itself – and while the others aren’t known to me yet, they soon distinguish themselves as wonderfully exotic additions to a gin’s usual suspects, such as juniper, roots (both Angelica and Orris, in this case) plus bitter orange for that refreshing, citrusy, sweet-sour tang. The result? A smooth, silky, delicately perfumed drink that combines hints of elegant floral notes with zesty tropical ones.

Naturally, Santa Ana Gin is glorious with the simple addition of quality tonic water, but to usher in the warmer months with something a little more special, try a Santa Ana Peach Sour.


45ml Santa Ana Gin

25ml Lemon Juice

20ml Simple Syrup

20ml Crème de Peche

20ml Egg White

3 Drops Peychauds Bitters (for garnish)


Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without ice for 10 seconds to emulsify. Fill shaker with ice and hard shake for another 10 seconds. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe, and zest with a lemon peel (discarded). Garnish with bitters drops.

Sarah Rodrigues

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