India’s richest and smallest Indian state, Goa, is the party capital of the country and hosts a lot of foreign tourists who visit the beaches of the western Indian state and revel in the parties and music festivals. The relaxing and partying here is linked by a fluid, the traditional, hand-crafted drink, feni (also spelled as “fenny”), created from the distillation of the native Goan cashew apples. Feni is to India what champagne is to France and it is now to become a ‘heritage spirit’ and not be limited to the title ‘country liquor’.
The Goa government has introduced a bill which will give the state’s traditional liquor the tag of ‘heritage spirit’. This is being concluded considering its use in cultural traditions, cuisines, medicines, and its historic relation to the state.
Feni is also India’s first liquor to obtain a Geographical Indication (GI), and the Goan drink, in 2015, made its way to stores in the US where it is now available.
The action will further enable trade in world markets and position the drink on an equal footing with other liquors like whiskey and tequila.
Cashew feni and coconut feni
Created from the distillation of the native Goan cashew apples, feni can only be produced in Goa. The ripe cashew apples, which fall from their trees, have the cashew seed capping the apple which is plucked to extract juice from the fruit. These fallen apples have the right amount of sugar and astringent sap that make for a flavourful feni.
Once the juice is taken out, it is fermented for three days in pots which are buried half inside a ground. The next step is to take the juice for distillation. Cashew feni is a triple distilled spirit; urrack, cazulo and feni are the three distilled forms. Because the drink is made without dilution, it is stronger than most other alcohols. The spirit is also available double disttled.
Another variant of it, the coconut feni, is made from fermented toddy from the coconut palm which too is collected in an earthen pot for distillation. It is majorly consumed in South Goa and is generally a double distilled spirit.
A must for mixologists
It was the warm and humid climate of Goa, which allowed the Portuguese to introduce the cashew plants in the region. Feni gets its Geographical Indication mark because the cashew apples, of which the Goan firewater is made, do not grow anywhere else. On the coast, they are found in abundance and besides their commercial use, they add to the greenery of many private gardens. It is because of its ready availability that feni has also been used as a medicine. The locals apply it on their body or massage it to their head during fever.
Talking of its evolution as a drink, the beverage branched out with flavours such as ginger, garlic, pineapple and lemongrass. The taste of the craft liquor is unlike any other spirit in the world and it is considered to be one of the headiest Indian drinks. Versatile and flexible, it is a clear spirit used in mixed cocktails and a major component for any mixologist in the area. Mehk Chakraborty, an aspiring writer from Calcutta, tired the drink in Goa out of curiosity and on the recommendation of a waiter in Goa. “It is served in shots at almost every shack or restaurant and is popular with both tourists and locals; tourists because of the novelty of this drink from Goa but also because it’s very cheaply priced,” she told us.