Visit the Destileria Limtuaco Museum, the house that the red bikini built
MANILA, Philippines – Intramuros has no shortage of historical sites, while being a historic site in itself. But for almost 40 years, the Destileria Limtuaco museum, the longest-running distillery in the Philippines, was one of the most interesting places in Intramuros you couldn’t visit. The museum, which chronicles the company’s 166-year history, was originally meant as a private collection, open mostly to friends and family. All that changed recently when the Destileria Limtuaco Museum finally opened its doors to the public.
The Destileria Limtuaco is renowned for its White Castle whisky, Napoleon VSOP brandy, and the original Sioktong herbal wine (formally called See Hoc Tong). CEO Olivia Limpe-Aw, business development manager Aaron Limpe-Aw, and curator Marika Constantino have worked to preserve and tell the company’s history. Aaron refers to the project as “almost 40 years in the making.”
“This building is a typical Bahay na Bato,” Aaron says. “Our family acquired it in 1979 with the intention of making it into a museum.” To make the musuem a worthwhile destination for the public, the family had to reorganize over a century’s worth of company artifacts and family heirlooms. Most families already have trouble fixing just a few years’ worth of stuff – imagine what it must have been like for the Limtuacos. They enlisted the help of Marika, a professional curator and visual artist, to improve the flow and presentation of the old museum.
The Destileria Limtuaco Museum’s displays can be split into several broad groups: a mini distillery that shows the process of creating whisky and other liquors; a collection of bottle products and ephemera dating back to the Spanish colonial period; a collection of personal items from the founders; a bar for drink-tasting (tastings are an additional option to the tour); and of course, a gift shop. Pro tip: you can get the Sioktong shirt soon. Aaron said people were all over these shirts during the recently-held media launch.
The museum isn’t just a dusty collection of relics: there are multimedia displays that show old advertisements. Fans of White Castle whisky and its iconic red bikini will definitely enjoy the interactive section of the museum. The section has a digital archive of their calendars going back decades.
Speaking of red bikinis, the museum isn’t without a bit of mystery. One of the iconic swimsuits is on display, but nobody could quite remember who wore it. (Our expert hunch: Cristina Gonzalez.)
Waiting for the latest White Castle calendar is almost an adolescent rite of passage, but Aaron points out that sex doesn’t sell as well as it used to, noting that women are now also interested in their hard liquors. It was fascinating listening to Aaron talk about the play between company tradition and its future.
The result of all their efforts is a museum that goes beyond being a collection of physical objects. Each piece tells a story, and it’s a story that intertwines company history with that of our country’s.
One of the more memorable stories is that of James Limpe, the 3rd-generation master blender who headed the company during World War II, and was later incarcerated by the Japanese occupying forces. Upon the arrival of the Japanese in Manila, General Douglas MacArthur ordered local distilleries to dump their inventory to prevent the invaders from getting their booze on. Most distilleries ignored this order, hoping to use their product to gain favor. James wasn’t one of those people. He promptly dumped his valuable product, and was punished by the Japanese for it. He was incarcerated in Fort Santiago along with other wartime patriots.
Even with its deep history, the Destileria Limtuaco Museum is committed to the present, and that includes working with the community. “Our tour guides are interns from Lyceum. We want to give some experience to their students,” Aaron says. “And we want to make the community partners in this museum." – Rappler.com
The Destileria Limtuaco Museum is located at 482 San Juan de Letran Street, Intramuros, Manila. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am to 6 pm.
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