A spirit from Goa, feni, is usually made from cashew or coconut. It won’t be wrong in saying that it is the most favourite drink of the Goans and is equally liked by the tourists. A completely natural and usually hand-made liquor, feni, is mostly consumed domestically.
There are two most important facts you must know about Feni – Cashew Feni received Geographical Indication in 2009 and is protected legally like tequila or champagne. So technically, cashew Feni cannot be made anywhere else, except Goa and according to the Goa Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill introduced by Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar , 2016, Feni holds the status of a heritage spirit.
Here is everything you need to know about feni and how it is becoming famous globally.
History of Feni
Feni is approximately 400 years old drink. The history of feni dates back to the times of Portuguese rule in the Goan state. Introduced in the 16th century, feni is a part of the legacy of the Portuguese, just like bebinca, vindaloo, and sorpotel.
But some claim that the history of feni is much older than the arrival of the Portuguese in the country. At that time, feni was made from coconut. Cashew Feni came into existence with the influence of the Portuguese.
In fact, the word feni comes from the Sanskrit word ‘phena,’ which translates to froth. When the liquor is poured into a glass or shaken in a bottle, light bubbles are formed, hence the name.
What is Feni?
Although it’s hard to say when and who started producing feni, it is well evident that the spirit is much loved by the locals and tourists alike. While coconut feni is made from the coconut palm, cashew feni is made from cashew apples.
In the traditional method of making cashew feni, the cashew apples are crushed and formed into a cake that is tied with string. This is placed in a stone basin with an outlet for the juice, called a coimbi, and a heavy boulder is placed on top. The juice expressed is known as Neero, which is sometimes used medicinally as a laxative. The Neero is collected in a large earthen pot called a Kodem, which is buried in the ground and left to ferment for several days. The resulting alcoholic juice is then distilled up to three times to produce feni which can be up to 45% alcohol (90 proof).
If we talk about the production of coconut feni, it begins with the collection of toddy from the coconut palm. Locally made earthen pots are used to collect the sap of the coconut palm, which is covered and fixed over the spadix.
Cashew feni, on the other hand, is made by crushing the fallen ripened cashew apples. These cashew apples are deseeded and stomped to release the juice. The collected juice is transferred to an earthen pot and left for several days to ferment. The whole process is carried out naturally, as no artificial nutrients or yeast are used in the process.
Coconut feni is available throughout the year, unlike cashew feni, which is distilled only from late February to the mid of May. Hence, the price of cashew feni also depends on the fruiting season. Also, feni produced in South Goa has a higher percentage of alcohol (43-45% abv) in comparison to that produced in North Goa, which has alcohol content- 42.8% abv.
To understand more about Feni, watch the episode on – FENI SPIRIT OF PAST (GOA) by Open Road India.
How to drink Feni
Feni is pure in its form, ice-cold, hot or in cocktails. However, its taste and smell can be unusually strange if trying for the first time. The aroma of the drink is very strong. One can be overwhelmed by the boldness of this drink. It can be smelt from a distance. (Also, Feni can be very intoxicating if taken without water but it won’t give you a hangover)
The natural way to drink Feni is from coconut shells. There are shops on the beaches in Goa that will serve you the drink in this way. Many even add a slice of lemon or sprinkle some salt on their drink. Others drop a slit of green chili.
Some Exciting Feni Cocktails
Now that you’ve known a lot about feni and its history, it is time to get familiar with some exciting feni cocktails.
Fire & Ice
Common at the beachside shacks in Goa, Fire & Ice is a drink made for the ‘bravehearts’. Chili peppers give the drink the right amount of heat. Made with cashew feni and 7 Up, Fire & Ice is a cocktail one should definitely try. Served in a martini glass with a cherry on top makes the drink look more exotic.
If you want to try making Fire & Ice, consider using Cazulo Cashew Feni for a brilliant drinking experience. You can find out more about Cazulo’s Premium Feni here. You can also check out this interesting Instagram post.
The most popular coconut feni drink in Goa, Coco Bongo, is a refreshing cocktail that reminds you of the Goan beaches. Coco Bongo tastes best with Cazulo coconut feni, fresh cream, coconut sap, and of course, fresh coconut water.
Coffee addicts, rejoice! Here’s a feni cocktail you can enjoy with your all-time favorite coffee. Made with espresso, whipped cream, flavored syrup, brown sugar, and cashew feni, Patrao’s coffee is a unique drink one should try. Shaved dark chocolate and cinnamon sticks make the drink even more tempting.
How can Feni be an International Spirit?
Feni is the spirit of Goa, and the locals love it. But the spirit is equally popular among the tourists. This is the reason why every year, tourists gather outside the Goan beach shops to buy the exotic drink.
Due to worthy initiatives by local Feni distillers and sellers, Feni is making its way in the metropolitan cities as well as global market. In 2015, The Spirit of India “Feni” announced today a partnership with Wirtz Beverage Illinois that introduced the award-winning craft distilled Feni to the United States for the first time. Now, various bars in the US, specifically Chicago have started creating concoctions with feni in their cocktail menus.
In 2017, BBC Good Food recognised the spirit as one of the world’s top ten liqueurs among spirits in India. The recognition also served as an ode to the thousands of distilleries that dot the state’s hills.
Supporting local businesses and believing in India’s heritage, bartenders in India have started using Feni for concoctions. You can find Feni concoctions at the famous O Pedro, Mumbai.
Feni is to India just as Tequila is to Mexico and Champagne is to France.
If you haven’t tried this Indian heritage spirit yet, plan a visit to India’s first feni cellar.