For generations, nectar of coconut flowers have been used in the Philippines to create a brand of “moonshine.” Redondo Beach’s David Osmena and two friends started Papo J’s Lambanog Vodka to bring that tradition to the United States.
Osmena, who grew up in Palos Verdes, was born on the island, but moved to the states when he was around 5 years old. From his early memories, he recalled men climbing trees to harvest the coconuts, which “grow like weeds” in the Philippines. Legend has it that centuries ago, a Spanish priest learned the process of fermenting coconuts and brought it to Mexico, giving birth to tequila.
The nectar from the flowers of the coconut tree ferments naturally.
“They don’t boil it, or add yeast, there’s no big process to it,” said Osmena, who started the company with Jota Shohtoku and Mike Borja.
When first harvested, the nectar can be used as a sweet children’s drink. If set aside for a few days, it ferments into something like strong wine or beer, with 10 to 15 percent alcohol. Once it passes a certain point, it’s distilled in copper stills and fired by coconut shell husks. Eventually it will become an 80-proof spirit. If it’s not distilled, it becomes a vinegar that sells at local markets.
“It’s a versatile piece of the economy,” Osmena said of the coconut.
Because it ferments naturally, Papo J’s is processed and bottled in the Philippines with a company that has been in business for more than 50 years. It took a couple of years to go through the regulatory process, but they received their first shipment in April and its available at three liquor stores including Adam’s Bottle Boutique in Redondo Beach. Local restaurants Chez Melange and Ragin’ Cajun Cafe created cocktails using the spirit. Bottles retail for $25.
Osmena said the finished “clear” product does not have a coconut flavor, and is “clean and smooth straight up or on the rocks,” or in cocktail mixes.
“There’s no bite ... you can drop a big ice cube and enjoy,,” Osmena said. “If you drink a typical vodka in the US, you’ll make a face, but this has none of that.”
For more information, visit papojs.com.