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What is Feni? The Goa Alcohol

"THIS IS POISON! IT IS SO STRONG!" were the exact words said by a Nigerian woman when she had a Feni Shot at an exhibition in Goa.

There are a lot of misconceptions and notions about the local alcohol in Goa. Mainly because local alcohol or 'Desi Daaru' is looked down upon in most parts of the country. To add to the whole notion, the best Feni isn't the ones available in the packaged plastic bottles. That stuff is repulsive and tastes horrible. What is Feni? What is Feni made up of? The local Feni sold at little taverns are the most flavorful because they know how to store the alcohol well and they have good sources. Quality is King with respect to Feni at a local tavern. The easiest way to start a bar fight is by telling the bar owner his Feni is crap.

To give you perspective, when a person has a shot of Feni for the first time they make the weird face when swallowing harsh alcohol, the flavor is strong, the throat burns a little and you desperately look for water to soothe the feeling. What about Tequila? same reaction different flavor. Did you know that Tequila is not supposed to be consumed as a shot? It is meant to be sipped? the same concept applies to Feni. It is best consumed as a nice cocktail. Unless it is an infused Feni, then the shot will not be as harsh.

Before the Portuguese landed in Goa Feni was prepared from the juice extracted from the top of a coconut tree that is referred to as Palm Feni or Coconut Feni. Due to the extensive trade routes along tropical countries, the Portuguese introduced new fruits and vegetables as the travelled. One such fruit is the Cashew. While most part of the world would focus only on the nut, Goans prepared alcohol out of the fruit.

Cashew Apples in Goa
Cashew Apples just picked up for Feni

Like most alcohol, the base process is as it is. Fermentation of the sugars produce the alcohol. The cashew fruit is picked from the ground after it has naturally fallen down once ripened. These fruits are the sweetest. The nuts are separated from the fruit. The fruits are crushed together and the juice squeezed out is called 'Ros'. It is quite pungent and sappy in flavor and can even itch your throat. Not a pleasant experience. The remaining fruit is piled up, tied with a rope and a heavy stone is placed on the top. A milky juice comes out at this stage which is sweet, delicious and very refreshing when served cold. This is called 'Niro'.

cashew apple juice
Cashew fruit along with the Juices

So how is Feni made? Feni is made from the Ros that is left to ferment for around 2-3 days. It depends on the weather and the rate of bubbling to determine if it is ready to be distilled. The cool part is all the ingredients are natural and there isn't anything more added to the mix. The fermenting agent is wild yeast which is already present on the surface of the cashew fruit as it grows. When the skin punctures, the yeast gets to work on the sugars. The fermented cashew juice is then distilled over a slow flame and the first distillate is called Urrak (10-15% alcohol).

mashing cashew fruit
Cashew Fruit being mashed to extract the juice easily

People ask Feni vs Urrak? What is the difference? Urrak is fruity, light and seasonal as an alcohol. It is available for commercial consumption only during the cashew season. You would find some places selling Urrak throughout the year but that has lost its aromas because the content of alcohol is low. During the season, almost every other Goan enjoys Urrak with Limca, soda, a pinch of salt and a slit green chilly. It is traditionally special for Goans to consume it this way.

traditional feni distillation unit
Feni Bhatti

The Urrak is then mixed with some more fermented juice and distilled another time. The output is called Feni (35-42% alcohol). This has a longer shelf life and can be stored without refrigeration. Here is a pointer, all alcohol must be stored in glass bottles because the glass does not react with the alcohol. Plastic leaches into the alcohol. Avoid plastic bottles at all costs. It tastes bad and it isn't the safest to consume. How does Feni Taste like? Feni has a stronger kick and a fruity flavor that is more concentrated. You could make a classic mojito or a Tambde Rosa with Kokam to consume Feni.

Aani ek infused feni
Aani ek Infused Feni

The only reason you should try Feni neat is when it is infused. Infused with spices to enhance the flavor. This kind of Feni is was initially prepared to retain the qualities of the different spices that are infused into it. These medicinal qualities were so effective that traditional healers would recommend a spoonful depending on the ailment you suffered from. Even for young children. Although most of these infusions are available only in local taverns, there is a brand called Aani Ek that bottles infused Feni for commercial purchase.

Feni Salud

The common ingredients used in infusions are Cumin seeds, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Ginger, dhukshiri (a local root) and even Garlic. Each has a different use. The most outrageous flavor comes from a local legend that states that this infusion would help cure tuberculosis. The ingredient is illegal in the modern day but back in the day fox meat Feni was a remedy for Tuberculosis. There are over 20+ kinds of infusions that are available in local bars around Goa. Which Feni is best? The ones that will not disappoint? For neat Feni you could purchase Cazulo or Big Boss. They are the top premium Feni brands.

urrak cocktail in Goa
Urrak cocktail

Why is Feni famous? especially only in Goa. It is so cool that Feni has a GI tag and cannot be called Feni if it is produced outside Goa. The cultural significance is close to every Goan and travelling through North and South Goa all these years I have learned how to consume it the right way. Good Feni gives you a high just like scotch. It will run down smooth with the fruity aroma. The whole industry is still unstructured and follow traditional means of production. Join the quest to find good Feni as you explore Goa. Become a Feni Connoisseur and appreciate the good stuff when you see it.

Viva Feni! Viva Goa!

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