INDIA. GOA: Goa, a tropical paradise in western India is famous for beaches, charming houses, old churches, unique cuisine, and most importantly Feni, the spirit of Goa. Goa’s famous Kaju (cashew) Feni is the specialty alcoholic beverage of the state and is now acclaimed as a “Heritage brew”. Feni has been described as “part of Goan culture.”
Feni is derived from the Sanskrit word phena (“froth”) because of the bubbles that form a light froth when the liquor is shaken in a bottle or poured into a glass.
Two types of Feni are normally available – cashew and toddy palm. Feni is small-batch distillation liquor and has delicate aromatics, congeners, and flavour elements of the fruit juice from which it was produced.
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Introduction of cashew to Goa
Who knew that the cashew trees which were once planted to stop the erosion of topsoil caused by the strong Goan monsoons by the Portuguese in the early 16th century will turn out to one of the greatest introductions for Goa? Today India is one of the world’s largest cashew producers today as cashew plants gradually became a major fruit crop in Goa.
The abundance of cashew nuts allowed ingenious locals to use it to create a local alcoholic drink or fermented brew; the Feni. The first Feni is reported to date back to 1740 CE.
Feni is only made from cashew apples that have ripened and fallen off the tree. The juice from the cashew apple goes through three stages of distillation — from Urrack to Cazulo and then, finally the Feni.
During Feni distillation process, the cashew apple picker or the Cazkar is one of the most important people involved in the long and complicated process. They pick up the fruits and also deseed the ripe fruits. The fruits are then transferred to the stomping area called a Colmbi. This is usually a rock-cut into a basin shape. The cashew apples are stomped to release the juice. Today stomping is replaced by the use of a press called a Pingre (cage).
The pulp of the fruit is extracted after hours of powerful stomping/pressing. The extract is gathered into a mound, which is left overnight under a heavy stone. This squeezes the juice out of the pulp which is called Neero, a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.
The Neero then goes into a large earthen pot, called a Kodem which is buried halfway in the ground and left while the juice ferments for several days. Delicate earthen kodem has now been replaced by plastic drums for the sake of practicality. No artificial yeast or nutrients are added to hasten the process. When the bubbling in the pot stops after about three days, the Neero is ready for distillation.
Cashew Feni is distilled employing the traditional earthen pot called a Bhann. Feni is traditionally distilled in a Bhatti. The use of an earthen pot as the boiling pot has now been replaced with copper pots. The distillate is collected in an earthen pot called Launni. The tradition of cold water being continuously poured on the Launni to condense the distillate has now been replaced by immersing a coil in cold water.
Cashew feni is a triple distilled spirit. The first distillate of the fermented Neero is Urrack which has about 15% alcohol (30 proof). It takes 50 liters of fermented juice to make 35 liters of Urrack. Urrack is then mixed with Neero in a ratio of 1:2 and redistilled to give a spirit called Cazulo or Cajulo (40-42% abv). Cazulo or Cajulo is again distilled with Urrack to give a high strength spirit called Feni (45% abv). To get a liter of Urrack, 12 kg to 15 kg cashew apple, and for a liter of Feni, 30 to 35 kg cashew apple are required.
It is worth mentioning here that normally Cazulo is sold as Feni, as the real Feni is too strong as an alcoholic beverage for consumption. Today all Cashew Feni available is double distilled.
Feni can be enjoyed neat over ice, or can be mixed in classic cocktails or with juices. It is generally served with a slice of lime, and mixed with sugar syrup. It is also mixed with cola, tonic water and lemonade at times in most of the pubs.
Cashew feni distillation is also a big Nature tourism attraction plan with Goa Tourism which will allow tourists to see cashew harvesting and follow the process of the drink’s manufacture.