An ode to Feni – The spirit from the fruit of Goan soil
With its taste that is synonymous with Goa and Goan traditions, it is only fitting that the Spirit of Goa Festival has a dedicated segment that celebrates the Feni industry of the state. The platform offers a chance for the brands in the state to introduce new products, while also allowing people to meet and mingle with the brands and get the taste first-hand. For the Feni industry that has been pushing Goa on the ‘World Map’, it’s all about taking heritage spirit to greater heights
It takes a combination of skill, honesty and ingenuity to make a spirit that has the power of putting a tiny coastal state on the map as a serious player in the alcho-bev segment. In Goa’s case, Feni is proud to have done just that. Since centuries, the bracingly crisp, awesomely fragrant, explosively fruity and spicy spirit was a ‘Goa postcard’ in a bottle. Aficionados swooned and the discerning wax eloquent. Over the last couple of years, new Feni brands have been making a big splash into the competitive alcohol retail shelves and bar counters. Family owned enterprises like Rhea Distilleries (Henriques family from Verna), Heritage Distillers (Bhakta Family from Mapusa), Madame Rosa (Vaz Family from Mapusa), Haldancar family from Valpoi and Vaz Liquor Industries (Vaz Family from Margao) have been at the forefront of this ‘spirited’ revolution. They have displayed the desire to raise standards to craft Feni that is unafraid of pushing the envelope.“We aren’t here to compete with the dime-a-dozen, bargain Feni in those plastic bottles that flood the wine shops; it’s time we boast about the world’s most exotic spirit – Premium Feni – be it a bottle of Cashew or Coconut Feni,” says Hansel Vaz an industry stakeholder. And at the upcoming Spirit of Goa festival, some of these brands are about to introduce, what they believe are, products that are not only in sync with the market demands but will also give the market something it has never seen before. The essence of this initiative is to try and increase the bandwidth for Feni. For instance, Cazcar will be launching a new Ready to Drink alcoholic beverage for the first time, a historic leap for Feni, given that it sets a precedent.“With the aim of bringing Feni on par with international alcohol products and proving the acceptability of Feni as a great drink, we are now launching ‘Feni Freezer’, a Ready to Drink (RDT),” says Gurudatta Bhakta of the Cazcar group. Giving Feni a new twist will be ‘Rhea’s Harmony’, a cashew Feni perfectly blended with cinnamon and honey. This new launch will be available for tasting at the festival, along with an array of attractive and tasty cocktails using the award-winning Fidalgo Premium Cashew Feni. “‘Rhea’ has given Feni a different dimension by ageing it in oak casks, a feature of most of the International premium spirits. Thereby giving it a distinctive character with rich aromas, a smooth palate and a golden colour,” says Regan Henriques of Rhea Distilleries. Fidalgo Premium, a smooth tasting cashew Feni from the prestigious Rhea Distilleries, has won several awards for its quality at various International Spirits Competitions. Cazulo Premium Feni, besides showcasing their Cashew and Coconut Feni, will be launching South Goa’s best kept secret and long time classic Cazulo Premium Dukshiri, a Coconut Feni that is craft distilled with the roots of the Indian Sarsaparilla or ‘Dukshiri’, as they say in Konkani. “This root has widely been employed in Ayurveda to make a tonic. The brilliance of our ancestors in Goa was to make it into a beautiful Feni! However, we do not ascribe our ‘Dukshiri’ Feni for any remedy; we prescribe it as a truly exotic spirit from Goa. It’s got beautiful pronounced earthy tones and strong vanilla flavours that marry very well with Coconut Feni. The trick is in the distillation, where roots of the creeper are distilled with the first distillate of coconut toddy or ‘mollop’. A ‘mollop’ is equivalent to what one would call a ‘urrack’. It was a real task trying to identify the creeper, then to dig out the deep roots before finally preceding to processing it to be ready for distillation. Connecting all the dots is the challenge, and that’s why no one has ever attempted to commercially make this traditional variant of Coconut Feni,” says Hansel Vaz of Cazulo Premium Feni. Cazulo has always been at the forefront with their Feni cocktail revolution, their cocktails featuring some must try funky Feni cocktails. Cazcar will be showcasing the traditional method of ‘Launi’ distillation. “‘Launi’ is the century-old process that we cherish and commercially bottle. The masala is fifteen types of condiments and herbs used during distillation. The fermentation technology of Cazcar, using native microbes for infused fermentation, is under patent. This method brings out the fruity flavour of cashew, which is exclusive to our products,” adds Gurudatta. The distillery maintains the century old traditional method of hand crafted distillery process, semi and modern equipments in hygienic and environment friendly conditions. Cazulo, on the other hand, will be focusing on Coconut Feni at the festival. Cazulo brand ambassador Karl Fernandes will be conducting two workshops for industry professionals as well as lay people on how Feni can be a really easy and fun product to use. Karl is a highly respected industry professional. “We are very serious about taking Feni to the world. We realise that even in its home state, Feni is a forgotten drink in almost all five star or resort properties. Even local restaurants ought to be able to use Feni in more contemporary cocktails. We want to demystify the haze around Feni and make everyone realise that it’s simple and great fun to use with,” adds Hansel. Mac Vaz, whose company Madame Rosa Distillery first kindled the Global positioning of Feni and also initiated the Geographical indication registration; states, “I am glad that the Government of Goa, especially the Excise and Tourism Department, are being proactive in our vision to protect and promote this asset of Goa. I must compliment Menino D’Souza, Director, Department of Tourism, for believing and walking the talk.” The Goa Cashew Feni Distillers and Bottlers Association follows the mission, ‘Take Feni to the world’, while strengthening and reinforcing the very objective of the people of Goa-Toursim, by developing a promotional plan to attract tourists with the greatest propensity and interest to visit Goa. While the past years has seen steady growth in the production and curiosity of Feni in Goa, the Association believes that the time is ripe to better educate the consumer through experience; and the Feni experience is a crucial component to the future success of both, the Feni and Tourism industry, while directly benefiting the people of Goa. The Association has reached out to the various government departments to realise, understand and appreciate how Goa could emerge as the world’s top exotic spirit tourism destination; and is also grateful to all the government agencies concerned for their support. “The season has started late and if the climate keeps good, then we can reach last year’s crop, if not it will be less by 15 to 20%,” said Gurudatta, while speaking about the season. While expressing hope, that the Feni industry will the potential it has in the seasons to come with regard to domestic and international markets; Gurudatta, the president of the association, also thanked the Tourism Minister Manohar Azgaonkar, for keeping his promise of promoting the ‘Spirit of Goa’. Furthermore, in addition to Goa Feni obtaining Geographical Indication (GI) status, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has now begun the procedure to patent the process of manufacturing Feni. “The process to be patented involves the system followed to manufacture Feni, right from plucking of cashew apple to bottling of the brewed final product. To get it patented, the process should be unique to the Feni manufactured in Goa, ICAR Goa Director Dr NP Singh had stated to news agencies earlier.
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