It is the greatest art of the devil to convince us he does not exist. – Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867
Here in the Philippines, the brewery is called San Miguel. Founded in 1890, the company employs 26,000 people and holds 90% of the Philippine market. The largest brewery in the country is right here in Bacolod, so there is a lot of San Miguel pride. There are three main brands – the San Mig Light, the Pale Pilsen, and the Red Horse. The first two are perfectly acceptable choices in any situation, particularly for the health-conscious traveler that wants to mitigate the fried pork’s feet. In fact, as long as a food is small enough to fit in the pan, Filipinos will fry it. If it is too big, they will cut it into two pieces and fry both. But this is besides the point. The third beer, Red Horse, is affectionately known as the Water of the Devil. It is truly a horse of a different color – a poisonous, deadly color. It is the color of blood and fire. Brewed deep in the pits of hell by the lost souls cast down after being bucked from the stallion, the Horse boasts a beastly 7% alcohol content. Few among the living have entered the ring with the horse and left with their dignity intact.
The chosen beer of the rice-field worker and loan officer alike, the Horse waters the salt of the earth. Red Horse is brewed for the beer drinker. The equestrian drinks to get drunk – there is no other reason. The casual-drinking foreigner spending time in the company of locals might choose to do as the Romans do and order himself a 330-ml bottle (the most common, also known as “The Stallion“). Big mistake. Once the Trojan Horse gets within the walls of the city, that is when the real bloodbath begins. The next morning he wakes up in a dumpster behind McDonald’s, covered in mustard. His shirt is gone, replaced by a trash bag with holes cut out for arms. All his money is gone, though he is a richer man in terms of STDs. He has a tattoo the size of a frisbee on his chest of a bearded lady in an American flag bikini holding two mugs of beer. He lifts the lid to re-enter the world, but the light of the sun is blinding. He struggles to understand what happened to him, but the neurons fail to fire, still in shock from the night before. This man has a wife and two kids at home. He has his CPA license and drives a Miata. “How did it come to this,” he asks himself. He climbs out of the dumpster and looks down at his feet, and sees a brown bottle. The latest victim knowingly looks into the eyes of the horse. He begins the long walk home, in the words of Johnny Cash, a wiser, weaker man.
Here is what one expert has to say about the Horse. He is one of the foremost Red Horse scholars who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. He is a highly-respected authority on the matter:
“Over the course of two years I have downed over 2,000 Red Horse and now can conclusively confirm that it is extremely poisonous to foreigners and should be treated with suspicion and care. My advice, to the foreigner, is to treat this devil-water with the respect it deserves – get complacent, and just like a real horse, you could receive a swift and nasty kick – and if you are doubly unlucky, direct to your doodahs!”
Well said. This is Red Horse, and this is what it does to the unprepared. Yet if you don’t take part, you will lose face – a fate worse than death. You are representing your country on the world stage, and your performance will speak for the nation. So if you plan on coming to the Philippines, my advice is to prepare yourself. If you aren’t already drinking by yourself, you are behind the 8-ball. If you are, switch to gin. I’ll bet some of you are saying, “I have a glass of wine with dinner every night – I’ll be fine.” Think again. That’s like preparing for Everest by climbing the stairs. Once you are finally ready, come here, but ease your way onto the horse. Never challenge a Filipino in a Red Horse-drinking contest. Once you’ve picked up the bottle, you’ve already begun your journey down the spiral staircase of shame. There is no reason to accelerate the process. If it is a matter of pride, match your opponent and draft behind the leader. Horse-riding is like a demolition derby, figuratively and literally. The last car with a working engine is the winner.
You might notice that Baudelaire, the French poet quoted above, died at the young age of 46. The history books will tell you he succumbed to his illnesses and lifelong addiction to laudanum, a popular opiate at the time. This is, of course, a falsehood. At the tender age of 45, Mr. Baudelaire first discovered the stallion and took a proverbial ride on the Horse. One year later, he was dead. You won’t find any of this information in countless biographies of the poet. Experience has taught me to always question conventional wisdom, which is how I came the conclusion that Baudelaire’s untimely death is due to his time on the Horse. In the biography of the poet, the truth reveals itself in the description of Baudelaire’s lifestyle during his younger years. Here we see the root cause:
Baudelaire began to frequent prostitutes and may have contracted gonorrhea and syphilis during this period. He went to a pharmacist known for venereal disease treatments, on recommendation of his older brother Alphonse, a magistrate. For a while, he took on a prostitute named Sara as his mistress and lived with his brother when his funds were low.
This is the classic profile of the Red Horse drinker . We can debate whether nature or nurture led the poet to first try the drink that would eventually kill him. In one of the great ironies of mid-19th century French poetry, Baudelaire proved that the devil does indeed exist.
What can we here on earth learn from Mr. Baudelaire? It is this: respect the Horse. It cannot be tamed, it cannot be reasoned with. Treat it with care, and it will be good to you. Abuse it, and you, like so many before you, will spend the rest of eternity tending the devil’s brew in the infernal regions of the Underworld. I will close with another quote from Baudelaire, which is what led me to figure out his true cause of death:
“Personally, I think that the unique and supreme delight lies in the certainty of doing ‘evil’ — and men and women know from birth that all pleasure lies in evil.”
Words to live by. In the end, we all return to dust. Keep sending up the bottles, Chuck.