Goa is acknowledged as one of the best tourist places in India. The spirit of Goa and the people living there are always bubbly and fun-loving. Indeed, Goans enjoy life to the fullest.
And so is the alcoholic beverage produced exclusively in the state ~ Kaju (Cashew) Feni. The liquor is so much “part of Goan culture” that it was awarded Geographical Indication registration in 2009 as a speciality alcoholic beverage from Goa and is now acclaimed as a “Heritage brew”.
To celebrate the essence of the lively state, Goa Tourism organises various festivals throughout the year. The Spirit of Goa Festival is one of the many festivals.
Itis organised during summer just after the exams are over to let the holiday fun begin. This year (2018) festival is dedicated to Feni, HOHO buses and Goan music.
It is said, “Feni affects a man’s head merely by smelling it”. The name 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.
Who knew that the cashew trees, which were planted by the Portuguese in the early 16th century to stop the erosion of topsoil caused by the strong Goan monsoons, will turn out to one of the greatest introductions for Goa? Cashew plants gradually became a major fruit crop in Goa.
Today India is one of the world’s largest cashew producers today. Abundance of cashew nuts allowed ingenious locals 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 made only 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 Feni.
During Feni distillation process, the cashew apple picker, or 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 extract is gathered into a mound, which is left overnight under a heavy stone. This squeezes the juice out of the pulp and is called Neero, a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.
The Neero then goes into a large earthen pot, called Kodem, which is buried halfway in the ground and left while the juice ferments over several days. The delicate earthen kodem have now been replaced by plastic drums for the sake of practicality.
The juice is then allowed to sit for three days as it ferments. No artificial yeast or nutrients are added to hasten the process. When the bubbling in the pot stops after about three days, the Neero isready for distillation.
Cashew Feni is distilled employing the traditional earthen pot called a Bhann. Feni is traditionally distilled in a Bhatti. The earthen pot has now been replaced with copper pots.
The distillate is collected in another earthen pot called a 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 per cent alcohol (30 proof). It takes 50 litres of fermented juice to make 35 litres 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 per cent abv). This is again distilled with Urrack to give a high strength spirit, Feni (45 per cent abv). To get a litre of Urrack, 12-15 kg cashew apple is required and for a litre of Feni, it’s 30-35 kg cashew apple.
It is worth mentioning here that normally Cazulo is sold as Feni, as the real Feni is too strong an alcoholic beverage. 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.