A revolution is brewing in Goa ...and it’s intoxicating!
Hansel Vaz and his team is using traditionally Goan indigenous produce with Feni to make unique Feni cocktails, in order to take this Goan exotic spirit to the world. Café finds out moreOf late, something very interesting is happening at the Firefly Goan Bistro Bar, “the experiment lab”, as Hansel Vaz, the founder of Cazulo Premium Feni and a key member of the four-decade-old Vaz Liquor Industries, calls it. Hansel delightfully states, “We have created the ‘world’s largest’ Feni cocktail menu,” clarifying that they aren’t aware of anyone else who is doing this.
Younger brother, Donovan, who looks after the affairs at Firefly, looks on and smiles. The last couple of months have kept Hansel extremely busy as he has completely immersed himself in a revolution of sorts. The plan is to make more and more people drink Feni, and eventually take this quintessential Goan exotic drink worldwide. Hansel plans on doing so by infusing with Feni other Goan indigenous fruits and produce to make Feni cocktails that are uniquely Goan. Hansel says, “Feni is perhaps the last of the exotic spirits that haven’t seen a revolution. Cashaca, Tequila.... everyone has seen that. If we Americanise Feni like Tequila, it will lose its local essence. Today, people are discovering Mezcal because Tequila has lost its soul. I see Feni reaching up there. And I want to be the one to do it.” For ages, Goa’s favourite spirit has been consumed in many forms. Hansel says, “In the olden days, if you had to go to the bar, the bartender would be your doctor for the evening. If you had a bad breath, you’d be served Badishep Feni, a stomach upset would make you go for a Jeera Feni, a Ginger Feni would fix your cough, And Dukhshiri would cure you of body ache.” The Feni revolution is also aimed at reviving these popular variants of Feni. But in recent times, the mainstream way of consuming feni has been in one classic way – with Limca, a pinch of salt and a sliced chilli. But if Feni has to travel the world, this ‘cocktail’ can hardly be Goa’s best representation. Hansel knew that for Feni to go to the next level, it had to offer people cocktails of the calibre of the next level. The mantra was simple – the cocktail had to be unique, in line with the classic trends and made using local ingredients. And although the process in theory seemed simple, Hansel knew that the execution was going to be anything but. Thus, investing in a seasoned mixologist and trainer seemed like the first step. Enter Karl Fernandes, whose job is not only to create cocktails and work with local ingredients, but also train an army of bartenders to work with the spirit. Since then, the team has created an array of unique Feni cocktails that has taken Goa by storm. The first one was what they call ‘Tambde Rosa’ – made with Brindao, more popularly known as Kokum – a traditional Goan fruit used by Goan families to make a refreshing drink. Not to be mistaken with the kokum juice or squash that is sold in cans. The kokum juice used for the drink is made out of fresh kokum skin that is crushed and mixed with sugar before being left in the sun for curing. The result is a refreshing drink with a hint of nostalgia. Then there is the Peru Meru – a guava variant of Bloody Mary – that was incepted accidentally out of shortage of tomato juice, which was then substituted by guava juice. The end product was a hit as it brought back childhood memories of eating slices of guava with chilli salt. Similarly, cocktails made out of Jambul or Black Plum, Dukhshiri or Indian Sarsaparilla, jackfruit, etc are creating the right kind of buzz. While popularising Feni, Hansel is also reviving the use of traditional indigenous produce that is lending the cocktails an unmistakable Goan identity. Take ‘Patolleo’ for instance, - a cocktail that is a deconstructed version of the popular Goan dessert. The cocktail consists of all the elements that go into making ‘Patolleo’ –jaggery, turmeric leaf, coconut and spices. Keeping it true to its identity, ‘Patolleo’ –the cocktail is made out of jaggery syrup, turmeric leaf extracts and coconut Feni. For presentation, the drink is served in a coconut shell or kotti. Hansel explains, “My father used to tell me that his father, my grandfather, used to call his three sons and serve them cashew Feni in a coconut shell. Traditionally, everyone in Goa drank Feni in that manner. I want to revive that connection.” But the thought of making a cocktail that is also a looker, has been far from easy. To procure the coconut shells was not only turning out to be a task, but also an expensive affair. Attempts of sourcing the shells from Kerala, where coconut shells are exported at the rate of Rs 50 per shell, was a bad idea. The next best thing was to procure these shells from the Udupi restaurants across Goa, get them polished and finished, to make them presentable. The cost involved is still a pinch, but Hansel says, “it is still worth it.” The result: Goa might have just found a range of Feni cocktails that can serve as an ambassador for the state in top bars the world over.
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