Feni - Gastro Obscura
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Drinks

Feni

This triple-distilled cashew fruit liquor is a source of Goan pride.

The Goan custom of distilling cashew fruit into the liquor known as feni dates back to the 16th century, when Portuguese colonists first brought cashew trees to the coastal Indian state. Today, the once-exotic plant is ubiquitous in Goa, and feni is its most popular liquor. Aficionados say a good feni is velvety and potent, but leaves no aftertaste on your tongue. Its hints of tropical fruit and nutty spice pair well with citrus drinks, such as the local lemon-lime soda known as Limca.

The original Goan distillers would recognize modern production methods, as little has changed. First, feni makers collect fallen cashew apples and crush them underfoot, akin to the traditional process of making wine. Then, they press the pulp beneath heavy boulders, collect the juice, and store it in an earthen pot underground. After fermenting, the liquid will go through three distillations until it becomes a strong, smooth, and aromatic liquor containing about 45 percent alcohol by volume.

The majority of Goa’s feni distillers use their own clay or copper pots (70 percent of their yield is for home consumption). Variations in containers and cleanliness, coupled with a lack of benchmark testing, lead to inconsistencies in quality and strength, but this is hardly a deterrent for Goan drinkers. In 2009, feni received protected “Geographical Indication” status, meaning that true feni must come from Goa. The designation has sparked efforts to standardize hygiene and quality, but many argue that mass-production yields a harsher, less authentic product. Large-scale feni might be more hygienic, but it would lack the unique variations that make the drink a truly local specialty.

Need to Know

Commercial feni is available overseas, but isn’t as well received (or as strong) as the traditional version. As when sampling any local hooch, proceed with caution. There’s no way to be sure what’s in any unregulated liquor.

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