PANJIM: Last year was a complete disaster for feni distillers. Three days after the first batch of cashew apples arrived at the big distilleries in the State, the Union government announced a national lockdown due to COVID-19, halting among other things the production of alcohol.
Feni, the heritage liquor of Goa, could not be distilled. Opinion in the State, though, was divided on whether feni and urrak, the liquid after the first distillation, are food products or alcohol. The distillers had lost the main season at its peak.
“The pandemic did not just affect us, it crippled us. The lock down was imposed during the last cashew season and thus we lost an entire seasons earning from cashew distillation and cashew nut,” Hansel Vaz, founder, Cazulo Premium Feni, Fazenda Cazulo said.
Agreeing with him, Gurudatta Bhakta, managing partner, Cazcar and president of Cashew Feni Distillers and Bottlers’ Association said, “Last year we were almost dead. We were closed when the season began last year and when we opened up we were down by at least 45 per cent in the business.”
But, that was last year. The spirits of the distillers are up this year despite the delay in the season. The delay is simply because the first flush of cashew flowering was not optimum but the second flush flowering appears alright. “This season looks much brighter and sales would pick up,” Bhakta said.
Mac Vaz, founder president of Cashew Feni Distillers and Bottlers’ Association and director, Madame Rosa Distillery felt that the harvest has been delayed by a fortnight. The good news, according to him, is that there should be abundant feni which will hopefully dissuade those few stakeholders who fortify feni with extra neutral alcohol.
“The good news is that the vendors are now understanding the hara-kiri of this exercise. Fortunately, locals know their feni and stick to their source and brands. Last year the grassroots stakeholders were the most hit,” Mac Vaz said.
The feni distillers also agree that the industry needs reforms. “We need reforms for the feni industry, especially to streamline the bureaucratic process,” Hansel Vaz said.
Commenting on the recent reforms undertaken by the Excise Department to extend the licence for five years at a time from the present three years Bhakta said, “It is not too attractive for me personally as I would not like to lock my money when I require that most for developing my production centre. So I am happy for three years licensing which will anyways give me a rebate of five per cent. Yes, if one goes for five years they can avail the benefit of 10 per cent discount of licence fee.”
Hansel Vaz, however, has a different take on this. “I welcome the allowance to renew my licence for five years at a time,” he told Herald.