Monday, September 21, 2015

Integrated Production of Basi and Sukang Iloko (In celebration of the 208th Anniversary of the Basi Revolt (September 29, 1807- September 29, 2015)

Dr Abe V Rotor
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Article edited and enlarged from earlier post in celebration of the  208th Anniversary of the Basi Revolt (September 29, 1807- September 29, 2015) 
Basi in small and long neck bottles (2 to 5 years aged) available.  Contact or 930-6331 land line

 18th Century Baroque church of San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, the town where Bantaoay River runs through. The historic river is the site of the 1807 Basi Revolt led by illustrious local wine brewers against the imposition of Wine Monopoly by the Spanish government. 
Historic Vigan, UNESCO Heritage city, a main tourists' attraction 400 kilometers north of Manila, northern seaport of the Galleon Trade which carried basi among the local products exported to Europe via Acapulco in Mexico.   
Basi in earthen jars hermetically capped with clay for the duration of aging which lasts one to five years, or  more.  The earthen jars, called burnay, are made of special earth mined at the hilly outskirt of Vigan.  It is glazed to last for many years, in fact generations.  The centuries-old process has not changed. Pagburnayan, the seat of jar making, is a main tourists' attracion.
  Burnay making, centuries-old process
Basi and Sukang Iloko are displayed in tourists shops in Vigan. The labels of Rotor Basi carry the synopsis of the Basi Revolt of 1807. The front label of every bottle depicts a historical place and event of the Ilocos Region. There are dozens of such historic labels, that make a fine collection of the product. 

Part 1 - Historical Background

The manufacture of Ilocos wine (Basi) and vinegar (Sukang Iloko) is traced long before Spain colonized the Philippines. Although the two products were already part of a flourishing trade between the Philippines and its neighboring countries, basi in particular reached prominence when it became an export via the Galleon Trade to Europe by way of Acapulco, which lasted for nearly two centuries. (4)

The significance of the industry during the Spanish period can be attested by the fact that the Spanish government declared monopoly on the industry in the same way the Tobacco Monopoly was imposed. This move stirred an uprising by the brewers and natives in the Ilocos region which became known as the Basi Revolt of 1807. (1) See the synopsis of the Basi Revolt.

The Commonwealth era further saw the decline in the production of basi and sukang Iloko displaced by imported products. This was exacerbated by the outbreak of the World War II. The industry has never recovered since then. Today’s generation has a vague idea of this fine, traditional industry, which was once the pride of our ancestors, particularly the Ilocanos.

The idea of reviving this sunset industry holds potentials in creating livelihood opportunities, and in integrating agriculture and industry in the classical concept of agribusiness that is rural- and people-based. The industry offers natural products that protect people’s health, and are friendly to the environment. Lastly it revives the spirit of nationalism, culture and tradition.(3))

The Products

Basi is table wine made from upland sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum), glutinous rice (Oryza sativa), and local botanical ingredients: duhat (Syzygium cumini), kamachile (Pithecolobium dulce) and samat (Macaranga tenarius) kariskis (Albizzia lebbecoides), and kupkupyies (Desmodium gangiticum). Bubud, a yeast complex preparation is used as the fermenting agent. It is locally prepared using simple techniques developed at the St. Paul University QC biological laboratory with the assistance of Dr. Anselmo S. Cabigan. (6,7,9 & 13)

Basically basi is a product of ethanol fermentation, with 12 proof which is equivalent to 6 % alcohol (Ref: DOST-ITDI Report of Analysis 01-00-0CL-0017). The bio-chemical equation in basi fermentation is shown in this general formula:

C6 H 12 O6 ------------- 2 C2H5OH + 2CO2
Sugarcane Yeast complex Basi

This equation shows that basi is the direct product of anaerobic fermentation by a variety of yeast, principally by the genus Saccharomyces of which two species are involved: ellipsoides and cerevisiae. Two other genera make up the locally produced bubud or yeast complex, namely Brettanomyces and Debaryomyces. (11, 12)

Sukang Iloko, on the other hand is basi “gone sour”. Vin egar means sour wine. This means that basi, like any wine, spontaneously turns into vinegar when oxidized with the aid of microorganism-fermenters. A single continuing process then produces both products –wine and vinegar. Thus, the following equation shows oxidation or acetification (vinegar formation).

                         Acetobacter aceti
C2H5OH + O2 -------------- CH3COOH + 2H2O
Basi (Ethanol) to Sukang Iloko (Acetic acid)

As shown by the two equations, the two products – wine and vinegar - are integrated. The dual process can be extended to the production of Nata de Coco, and various kinds of fruit wine and fruit vinegar. This means that the formula is applicable in the production of other products, a key to increased productivity of an enterprise. In this paper however, only basi and vinegar production is described. Nata de coco making may be treated as a separate enterprise. (12)

                       Part 2 -  General Features of a Basi-Vinegar Industry

1. It revives a once flourishing industry, making use of indigenous tools and materials. Thus, it also relives a rich history of a people and culture.

2. As a cottage- and rural-based family business, it is dependent on family and local manpower, but nonetheless requires innovations in both technology and management.

3. Its products are made from natural materials and by a natural process, hence safe to health and environment-friendly.

4. It makes use of local researches and indigenous skills, thus it is important to both research institutions and industry. It therefore, links the research system and enterprise system on one hand, and the field with the laboratory on the other.

5. It is viable as a short- or medium-scale enterprise, and can be expanded on long-term basis, which makes it compatible with business organizations, especially family enterprises and cooperatives.

6. It supports the philosophy on which NACIDA and KALAKALAN 20 were founded. It is in line with the government’s program on small and medium enterprises, led by DTI, UP Institute of Small and Medium Enterprises, and Small and Medium Enterprise Development Council, and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

7. As a dollar earner (and saver), it takes pride in a modest sense in propagating an indigenous and truly Filipino product that meets international standard for European table wines, in the likes of sherry and mass wine. (Ref: PFDCS 2498 and 9429, Food Development Center, National Food Authority)

8. The universal formula in the production of the two products lends to expansion of product lines within the same framework of technology and business organization. Table wine can be produced from local fruits such as chico (Achras sapota), pineapple (Ananas comosus), mango (Mangifera indica), guava (Psidium guajava), cashew (Anacardium occidentale) and the like, using the same production formula. This is true in making vinegar out of these fruits particularly during their peak season.

The Process

1. Cleaning and Sterilization of Jar Containers
The jars are thoroughly cleaned. This takes three weeks, with the water changed three times, once every week. The author introduced a technique of improving and hastening the cleaning process by culturing the tiny kataba fish in the jar (Poecilia) feeding on mosquito wrigglers, algae, other plankton organisms, and decomposing matter. With this innovation, cleaning is more thorough and the time required is reduced to a period of one week instead of two. Sterilization of the jars after they are clean is by direct sunlight exposure for at least 6 hours.

2. Brewing
Cooked sugarcane juice is poured into the sterilized jars. The botanical ingredients, bubud (yeast complex) and glutinous rice are then added and the jars are loosely capped with banana leaves and cheesecloth cloth. Fermentation soon takes place and increases in rate until the twentieth day. Thereafter brewing declines. The sediments are removed and the jars are closed, and are ready for ageing.

3. Ageing
The jars are hermetically sealed with termite earth, another innovation by the entrepreneur. Termite earth is dug from a anthill or punso. There are two advantages of using this sealing material: it is clay-hard, and it is termite-proof – because it is waste of the termites. The jars are kept in a dark cool place away from the elements of nature, insects and other forms of disturbance. The idea of ageing is to allow the wine to mellow in order to attain a desired aroma, bouquet or body, color, taste, and other qualities. The wine matures in 10 to 12 months. There is a saying that prolonged ageing improves a “good” wine, but not a “poor” wine. The author can attest to the exceptional quality of basi aged for two up to five years. Other than capital being tied up in long storage, shrinkage is also a problem due to jar leaching and seepage.

4. Bottling and Packaging
Long-necked glass bottles with 750 ml content are obtained from suppliers of new or recycled bottles. The bottles are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. The bottles are directly filled up with the harvested wine after passing laboratory test (percent alcohol and acidity) and organoleptic test (taste, color, bouquet, etc.). They are capped, sealed, and labeled. They are covered with yellow to orange cellophane to reduce ultraviolet radiation, and placed in individual brown bags and in carton boxes of 12 bottles per box.


1. Sugarcane – Saccharum officinarum Linn, or unas in Iloko, provides the main ingredient, the source of sucrose extracted by wooden cane crusher or dadapilan. The extracted juice is cooked and evaporated in large kettle until 10 percent sucrose is attained.

2. Kamachili – Pithecolobium dulce (Roxb) Benth. The bark is used for its tannin and crimson red dye.

3. Samat - Macaranga tanarius (Linn) Muell-Arg. Its leaves and fruits are concocted and added to the must during fermentation. Its tannin and dye impart body and bouquet to the wine.

4. Rice – Oryza zativa Linn. Rice increases supply of sugar. Hydrolysis converts polysaccharide into simple sugar, which is ultimately acted upon by yeast. Rice is the main substrate of bubud.

5. Peanut – Archis hypogea Linn. It contains arachis oil and albuminoids, impart special taste and aroma preferred by women drinkers.

6. Kariskis – Albizzia lebbekoides (DC) Benth. Its leaves and pods impart acrid and bitter taste. Moderate amounts enhance body and bouquet of the wine.

7. Cacao – Theobroma cacao Linn. Basi makers add cacao for its chocolaty aroma.

8. Kupkupies – Desmodium gangiticum (Linn) DC. The whole plant is used as filter while the sugarcane juice is being cooked. It imparts a pleasant aroma to the cooked juice.

9. Ginger – Zingiber officinale Rosc. Antibacterial, it is used as an ingredient in the preparation of bubud

10. Duhat – Syzygium cumini (Linn) Skeels. Bark and ripe fruits impart dark color, acrid and bitter taste that contribute to the body and bouquet of the wine.

Quality Control

The ground floor of an old brick house in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, serves as cellar, office and working area. It houses a small office and laboratory. It is readily accessible to the sources of raw materials, buyers and transport facilities. Burnay or earthen jars (15-liter capacity) are made in Vigan. The net content of each jar can fill up 50 long necked bottles of 750 ml, the standard packaging of both products. The principal tools are light microscope, sugar meter, pH meter, and accessories such as weighing scale, beakers and test tubes. Analyses and experiments involving sophisticated equipment like chromatograph and distilling apparatus are conducted in cooperation with research institutions like DOST and FDC.

The main ingredient is cooked pure sugarcane juice. Hydrometer reading is around 10 degrees Baume depending on the sucrose content and variety of the cane. Glutinous rice increases concentration since starch is a polysaccharide. Through hydrolysis, starch it is broken into simple sugars. Bubod is a yeast complex prepared from pure culture in the laboratory consisting of several strains of yeast. Four of the strains were isolated at the SPCQ botanical Garden by the faculty and students in biology led by Dr. Anselmo S. Cabigan and the entrepreneur. Results of the discovery was confirmed by FDC and DOST and published in the St. Paul University Faculty Journal. Five local plants are used in making basi and vinegar. These are kamachile, duhat, samat, kariskis and kupkupyes. Distilled water is ideal to prevent contamination.

Quality control starts with the choice of sugarcane variety, its cultivation, stage of maturity and crop stand. Too much nitrogen fertilizer is not advisable. Upland crop is preferred over lowland crop. The cultivation of the cane follows local practices with innovations recommended by PCARRD (Philippines Recommends for Sugarcane.) Only premium canes are assigned for basi while inferior canes, such as those affected by drought or typhoons are used for vinegar making.

The key to product quality is in the three stages of manufacture: formulation, brewing and ageing. The skill is acquired through training and experience augmented with basic knowledge in chemistry and microbiology. It is in this stage that laboratory analysis is regularly conducted to monitor percent sugar, acidity of must (fermenting material), cell count of the yeast complex, and fermentation rate.

The last phase of quality control is in bottling, capping and sealing, labeling and packing. Consistency of product quality is of utmost consideration, not only for the whole shipment, but also in all sales, bearing in mind market demand and international standards. Food Development Center, which is authorized by the United States Food and Drug Administration and USDA, determines the quality of products exported to the US and its territories. Basi has been determined by the Food Development Center of the National Food Authority for having passed the standard for Sherry, Port and Champagne. (Ref: PFDCS 2498/9429)

Organoleptic Analysis

A taste test was conducted on two occasions among basi drinkers in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur in 1999. Using the Likert scale of 1 to 5, the average rating was 4.05, which proved that the product is of high quality. Earlier a similar test was conducted among the participants of ASEAN-New Zealand Symposium on ethnobotany. Basi was presented as an indigenous product using native herbals. The overall rating obtained was Very Good (4.21).

The criteria of a good wine were defined in another organoloeptic test in a seminar sponsored by the Biotechnology Society of UST and the Graduate School in 1999. These are aroma, color, clarity, strength, sweetness, general taste, aftertaste, acrid taste, and body or fullness. Actual taste test revealed that basi topped the overall rating with 3.26, closely followed by Local Brand S (3.17). The imported brands garnered the following scores: SanIs (2.54), PerG (2.26), RosSi (1.74), and FlorLon (1.72) NOTE: Brands mentioned are not their true names.

Part 3 - Technology Innovation and Industry Development

These are innovations in reviving basi and vinegar making as a viable enterprise.

1. Standardization of quality refers to both the attainment of high quality wine compared with local and foreign brands, and the consistency in product quality that through time becomes associated with a distinct brand. The key is in the standardization of formula, from brewing to ageing period.

2. Yeast Complex preparation holds the key to quality. Of the yeast isolates, Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces and Debaryomyces contribute greatly to the improvement of quality.

3. The earthen jar is imprimatur of the product. The use of bigger vats specially designed for large-scale production is in its pilot stage. Product development has succeeded in reducing wastage, increased brewing success, and improvement of color and clarity using indigenous technology.

4. Control of the “brewing disease” which plagued the industry in the fifties and sixties. A bacterial contamination caused scouring of the jars in the first days of fermentation. The must or substrate becomes sticky and frothy, spilling all over, and attracting flies and other vermin. The disease can cause total loss in a brewing season. Strict sanitation is important in wine making, and quarantine at the source of the cane juice of possible contamination is likewise necessary. (11)

5. Product presentation is linked with history and culture. The labels speak highly of the tradition and heritage of the Ilocos Region. The regional and nationalistic fervor became an important factor in developing the market. There are around sixty different photograph labels of important scenes and events about the Ilocos region, each on every bottle.

6. Organization and management of an enterprise in making basi-vinegar making as a viable cottage industry. Under the Rotor Enterprise, the Return on Investment is comparable with other businesses of the same category.


How a fledgling industry survives and rises from the ashes of a colonial past is beyond imagination of a scientist-businessman to be able to see any bright prospect. But research and business have many challenges, beyond time, money and perhaps opportunities to become rich. (5)

Would not a business venture consider values beyond economic parameters, such as reviving a rich culture, reliving history, touching fervors of faith and pride in a people? To be practical however, one should first consider the viability of a business before aiming at any higher consideration or “cause.” (3 & 10)

With the current research and business climate in the Philippines there are many risks a scientist-entrepreneur faces, from the crunching effect of currency devaluation to open competition brought about by the world's order on trade liberalization as a result of the passage of GATT and the inequitable workings of WTO which is often to the disadvantage of Third World countries. On the part of science and technology capitalism has taken over many of the indigenous technologies. Fortunately basi and sukang Iloko have been spared so far from such capitalistic techno-piracyBy putting back into the path of trade and commerce, how humble it may be, the first to benefit from the Basi-Sukang Iloko industry is thousands of farmers and hundreds of households by way of crop diversification and cottage processing, the prototype of agro-industrialization and agribusiness.

The second advantage is based on the fact that the products derived from the industry are natural, and therefore favorable to the health of the consumer and the conservation of the environment.

Thirdly, the indigenous nature of the technology involved and materials used puts to maximum advantage the utilization local resources thus lessening if not eliminating our dependence of imported raw materials – and imported wine.

Lastly, the technology can be transferred and replicated on the cottage level, a social component to spur rural development and advance cooperativism. I believe in the future of the industry as a heritage of the Ilocanos and the Filipino people as a whole.


1. Azurin, AM (1991) Beddeng, UP Diliman QC
2. Brown, WH (1937)- Useful Plants of the Philippines 3 volumes, Bureau of Printing, Manila
3. Conti RM and Malicsi AS (1990) - Decision Making Tools for Small Business. Small Economic Enterprises Development Incorporated (SEED), 119 pp
4. Gironiere, P (1935) Twenty Years in the Philippines
5. Jocano, F.L. (1990) Management by Culture (Fine-Tuning Management to Filipino Culture, 100 pp
6. Lacap, DC (1995) – Alcohol Fermentation of Yeast Isolates from Flowers and Leaves of Syzygium cumini BS Biology theis SPCQ
7. Muega N (1994) Isolation of Wild Yeasts from Flowers of Ocimum basillicum, Justicia genderussa, and Murraya paniculata (BS Biology thesis, St. Paul College QC)
8. Narvas-Quiason, SD and J.O. And (1994) Indigenous Fermentation; Theory and Practice Phoenix Publishing QC 278 pp.
9. Ngo, ML (1998) Yeast Screening in Flowers of Cocos nucifera BS Biology thesis. SPCQ
10. Roque, RS (1990) - Management Advisory Services, Manila 709 pp.
11. Rotor AV (1984) - Ethnic Practices in Basi Wine Making in the Ilocos Region, Proceedings ASEAN-NZ Conference.
12. Rotor AV (1986) – Basi Wine Making in the Ilocos Region: Ethnic Practices and Innovations St. Paul College QC Journal of Research , ppl-15
13. Valdez, MJM (1994) – Isolation of Wild Yeasts from Flowers of Psidium guajava, Calliandra cergenila, and Muntingia calabura BS Biology thesis SPCQ.

Author’s Note: Integrated Production of Basi and Sukang Iloko was adjudged a recipient of the 2002 Business Incentive Development and Achievement Award (BIDA Awards). The award was sponsored by CHED, DTI, DOST, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Council and Planters Bank). The integrated enterprise was featured Business of the Month in Agribusiness Magazine of the Department of Agriculture, The Women’s Journal (Revival of Basi, 2000), Bannaoag Magazine (2002) and Greenfields (2002). A scientific paper on the manufacture of the two indigenous products was read by the author at the ASEAN-New Zealand Conference on Ethnobotany in 1995. Basi is a distinct product of the Ilocos region consistently exhibited in agro-industrial fairs here and abroad, which include agro-industrial fairs at SM Mega Mall and the Philippine International Trade Center, and the Basi Revolt exhibit at the National Museum (2008).

 Basi for shipment to tourists shops and wine shops.

 Harvesting two-year old basi. 

Finished product for labeling

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