Destileria Limtuaco: The house that ‘spirits’ built

The heritage district of Intramuros just added the newly opened The Destileria Limtuaco Museum, which chronicles the history of the country’s oldest distillery and the family that owns it. Since 1852, the company has been manufacturing some of the country’s most popular spirits and liquors such as White Castle Whiskey, Maria Clara Sangria and the Vino de Kung Fu.
Housed in a traditional Spanish colonial era bahay-na-bato, visitors can be forgiven for assuming that this was the site of the company’s first distillery. But they would be wrong. The original distillery was set up by the company’s founder, Don Bonifacio Limtuaco, on Gandara St. (now Sabino Padilla St.) in Binondo, Manila.
The bahay-na-bato was bought by Julius Limpe, the company’s fourth president, in 1979, purposely to set up the museum. Current president Olivia Limpe Aw recounted how her father had anticipated the rise of the Walled City as one of the Manila’s top tourist attractions. He thought the museum would be a good way to promote the country as well as the company and its products to both local and foreign visitors.
Limpe hired the architect of Steaktown, his favorite restaurant in Malate, to oversee the repairs and the remodeling of the old house’s interior. The work took three years, during which time Limpe searched for and collected personal items and company equipment for the museum.
The artifact collection went on for years until an industrial strike in 1989 put the museum project on hold. The strike set the company back 10 years before it was able to break even.
In 2004, Limpe Aw assumed the presidency of the company and picked up where her father left off. She found the property in sad disrepair due to years of neglect. She decided to remodel it again and finish what Limpe had started.
Limpe Aw took out the company’s old machineries that have long been in storage for the museum. She also saw to it that there was something to pique everyone’s interest in the small museum.
There are old labels of some of the company’s most famous brands, the old television commercials and memorabilia that the company used in its marketing campaigns, framed newspaper and magazine articles about the company and its owners, including some of the controversies that engulfed the company.
One such controversy was a marketing slogan campaign that backfired as the public deemed the ad distasteful.
Initially, Limpe Aw opened the museum only to friends and family members. The museum received favorable feedback. Her nephews and nieces were very impressed when they realized how far back their lineage went and what the family has contributed. It made them appreciate the family name and the family business more.
After Limpe’s death in 2014, Limpe Aw hired Marika Constantino, of 98 COLLABoratory, to work on the museum. Constantino had formerly curated the small one-room museum dedicated to the Sylianteng family as well as the Bergs Department Store at the First United Building in Escolta.
Constantino worked on the flow of the exhibit to make sure that visitors to the museum will be able to understand the contents of its exhibit.

Clockwise from top left: Passports, ID cards and other personal items that used to belong to James Limpe; A semi-automated labeling machine that the company once used; Original wood barrels used by the company for aging the alcohol.; Julius Limpe and his architect installed the marble counter with the art deco grills. It now serves as the bar space for the museum; Old office equipment used by the company before.

The museum was sub-divided into 13 mini-galleries, not arranged in any particular order, so visitors can start anywhere.
Visitors get to experience the museum through all five senses. One gallery focuses on how alcohol is aged to become liquor. This exhibit features two oak barrels and a metal box that is lined with wood. The guide then explains the problem of aging alcohol in oak barrels and how Limpe Aw designed a rectangular steel barrel lined with wood to slow down the evaporation. When the lid of the steel barrel is lifted, visitors are hit by the strong aroma of the sweet smelling alcohol.
The entrance fee is P100, and for an extra P100, visitors get to try the company’s liquors and spirits, limited to four thimble size shots.
The visit ends at the museum gift shop filled with company products, T-shirts and drinking vessels emblazoned with the company’s most popular products, an exclusive line of sunglasses, drinking flasks and watches.
The museum officially opened to the public on Feb. 6. Limpe Aw has plans to transform it into an events venue that caters to big tour groups. She points out that they stand out from other catering operations with unique dishes using their line of liquors and spirits.
Among such dishes are beef stew flavored with Amadeo coffee liquor and the Paradise mango rum barbecued chicken. And if the museum space is too small for an event, they can set up alfresco dining out on the street in front of the museum, or get permission from the Intramuros Administration to set up at another venue within the Walled City.
When asked which part of the museum is her favorite, Limpe Aw says it is the mini-distillery which shows how rum and whiskey are made. “People don’t really know what the process looks like even if they read about it. It is very seldom that we do plant tours to show them the process. This is the next best thing.”
More than the museum, the one thing Olivia would like to leave behind is a good name. The Chinese name of the distillery, 穎源酒廠, translates to “source of knowledge.” It is something that her father always stressed to her. “I am a beneficiary of the previous generation. If not for them, then I would not be who I am today. I would like to pass this legacy to the next generation of the Limpes.”