Long restricted to Goan shores with an unfair rep on the odour front, here’s some of the best artisanal feni that’s going a long way in changing minds.
Where once people saw something bitter and strong, a few bar owners and enthusiasts saw potential. We’re talking about Goa’s favourite feni, of course.
The spirit was once relegated to simply being something to explore when in town, or a souvenir to bring back. It’s too strong to have by itself, and too hard to incorporate into a balanced cocktail. Now, however, feni enthusiasts are trying to give it an artisanal makeover, even brewing infusions in their own backyard. The hope here is that this subtler variation will be more palatable than the raw spirit.
More importantly, the attempt stems from both an interest in feni coupled with the intention of popularising it. While the drink may have been a polarising topic at one point, Goans are increasingly looking to liberate it from the stereotypes surrounded.
A concrete step taken in this direction was in 2009, when feni was assigned a GI (geographical indication) tag. Like Champagne in France and Tequila in Mexico, the tag dictates that this classified “country liquor” can be called feni only if produced in Goa.
So where did it all began? Any basic guide to great feni will tell you of the Portuguese’ 16th-century expeditions. Here, the first cashew apple crossed choppy oceans to reach Goa from Brazil. The false fruit, which holds the cashew nut, is pulped into wine in South American and African countries, but it’s the village folk of North Goa who are credited with going a step further, triple distilling the ferment.
The fermented fruit is put through three stages of distilling in earthen or copper pots, yielding three different drinks at each stage. First comes urrack, next cazulo, and finally, when mixed with fermented juice, you get feni.
So what are some great artisanal feni options to try?
From the makers of Cabo comes Tinto – Heritage Cashew Feni named after a market place in Portuguese. A symbolic product from Adinco, Aleixo Diniz founded the company by distilling feni at his Quepem home in the state with Alleluia Diniz setting up a production unit in 2000.
Distilled from the finest quality of botanicals, Tinto consists of herbs, fruits and spices along with some other ingredients. Priced at around 500 rupees, it’s produced in small batches at the Diniz house. Packing the rich culture of Goa in every sip, Tinto feni boasts a fruity flavour profile and an intense but delicate aroma!
Aani Ek Feni Infusions
Now here’s a bunch truly trying to make feni a massy option. For architect-turned-feni aficionado, Clement DeSylva, along with Jill D’souza, Karlyle Gomes and Pritesh Desai, it was all about making feni more tourist-friendly. And that’s precisely what they’ve managed to do with their brand Aani Ek, or one more!
According to DeSylva, the three infusions of honey, lemon, chilli and cinnamon tone down the strong cashew aroma that turns many drinkers away from feni. In fact, the honey cinnamon infusion is a bit like Christmas in a drink, a surprising feeling to attribute to feni. The tall rounded bottles are perfect for bartenders to hold and twirl in their hands while fixing feni cocktails. In keeping with making feni a go-to drink, the bottles come with a cocktail recipe booklet to encourage experimentation.
The family behind Cazulo was the first to work towards doing over feni’s image. With a first time ever feni-tasting tour at their distillery, they’ve worked tirelessly to capture the heritage of Goa in the drink, without compromising on the aroma. Although locals tend to have their favourites, the brand is loved even across state borders.
The premium fenis are distilled in small-batch pot stills and aged for a year in glass carboy-garrafãoes. Today, the brand bottles both coconut and cashew feni, boasting the finest quality ingredients from the heart of Goa. Talk about making a sophisticated drink!
One of the oldest in Goa, there’s no compromise on quality or innovation here. Their three major feni products are the Fidalgo Premium Cashew Feni, Rhea Heritage Reserve Cashew Feni, and Rhea’s Harmony.
For Fidalgo, they’ve used a slow & meticulous process requiring a huge degree of precision and constant control. Having some several awards, this is one high-quality feni, smooth and good to have on the rocks with a slice of lime.
Another example of their attention to detail and patience is the Rhea Heritage Reserve Cashew Feni. The natural flavors are captured by skilled distillation and ageing for a minimum of 4 years in wooden casks. And of course, there’s Rhea’s Harmony, by far the simplest and sweetest with a hint of spice.
Ocean King Distillers
Established in 2003, Ocean King Distillers is a boutique distillery located in Goa. They’re majorly known for premium brews crafted by a very passionate second generation master blender, Craig Henriques.
In terms of feni, the distillers offer up to eight different varieties, including the Arabella cashew feni with lemon, Jack Carlosey – Premium Cashew Fenny, and many others. From pineapple to coconut and more, there’s all kinds of palatable infusions up for grabs here!
For Shirodkar, a design engineer initially, the first thing written on the menu was feni. At Escobar, Assagao, it’s been nearly three years of attempting to make this spirit a crowd favourite. Having spent a substantial part of his college years in Verna at a nearby bhatti savouring the seasonal urrak, his association with the drink runs deep and intimate.
The feni you’ll find here is meticulously infused in-house. So it makes sense that he’s sold more of it than all other alcohol put together. Typically, you’re encourages to start with the jeera or ginger-infused feni, with soda, lime, Limca, salt and chilli.