An ode to Feni: An evening at the world's first Feni cellar in Goa
‘Feni Man’ Hansel Vaz is busy crafting a revolution.
Hansel Vaz has come up with a first-of-its-kind cellar dedicated to give Feni its rightful place.
Goans have been drinking Feni for centuries, but not many know its history.
The Feni-making is not only quite elaborate but also pretty expensive.
‘Feni Man’ Hansel Vaz is busy crafting a revolution. After distilling much-loved Cazulo Premium Feni, he has now come up with a first-of-its-kind cellar dedicated to give Feni its rightful place under the sun.
On the quiet narrow road, leading to Cansaulim beaches of South Goa, a fascinating story has been created by a man whose determined resolution is set to make traditional Goan spirit a worldwide phenomenon. Hansel Vaz, owner of Cazulo Premium Feni Distillery, has created the world’s first Feni Cellar on the foothills of Cansaulim Monte, a non-descript tribal village. Nestled in a thick plantation of cashew, spice and coconut plantations all around, the rustic setting of the distillery (barely a few metres away from the cellar) adds to the surreal charm. Those who come here get inexorably drawn to the wafting Feni aroma and the romantic notes played on the Spanish guitar in the front podium.
This unique idea was brewing in Hansel’s mind for quite some time and he worked hard to translate it into reality. His grandparents and father ran a distillery in their days and when Hansel retuned to Goa, determined to give Feni its due, he had many battles to fight. After concerted efforts, Feni finally got its GI, and things began to look up.
He took over the distillery and started making Cazulo Premium Feni, and started promotions through social media and busted the belief about Feni being a foul-smelling drink. By creating the Feni cellar in the distillery premise, he is giving Feni a chic makeover.
As we entered the green door with loud mustard-coloured walls, we were transported into a world of breathtaking garrafãoes – small, big and giant ones. These round-bellied glass garrafãoes with narrow necks are used for resting Feni after its distillation and before it is bottled for commercial use. Hansel really scouted hard to get hold of some of these prized garrafãoes.
“I have been asking around people in Goa for garrafãoes and got to know about a family that had about 60 of them. They (family) were so attached to these family heirloom that they had a long session with him before they actually decided to part with them,” shared Hansel. As we saw here at his cellar, all garrafãoes were well-kept and given an honourable place to rest before being put to use in the season.
The oldest of them is as old as 300 years.
Goans have been drinking Feni for centuries, but not many know its history. The ubiquitous Feni first found mention sometime in 1583 in a Dutch spy’s handwritten notes which might have led to the Europeans descending in Goa. They came to live here for long but Feni remained intrinsically a Goan heritage.
“It is still a mystery what made only people in Goa distill cashew fruit into an alcohol,” recounted Hansel while taking the visiting people around the rustic distillery, still being run in the age-old classical way. It is quite impossible to believe that such artistically bottled Cazulo Feni is rooted in age-old ethos.
In his interesting anecdotal style, Hansel gave a lowdown on Feni making to all of us, gathered under trees. In the traditional method of making cashew Feni, only tree-ripened cashew apples that have fallen are picked and taken for crushing. The cashew apples are de-seeded and then dropped into the stomping area, called a "colmbi" and is usually a rock cut into a basin shape. The cashew apples are stomped to release the juice. Stomping has now gradually been replaced by the use of a press called a pingre (cage) but Hansel still uses the old method of doing it by stone. The juice produced by this extraction process is known as niro and is refreshing to drink. The juice is then transferred into large earthen pot called a kodem, which is buried halfway in the ground and left while the juice ferments for three days.
“Such earthen pots are now difficult to procure as there are hardly any potters left in Goa who make this kind of Kodem. Some of my pots are 100 years old,” he shared. This problem has led many Feni distillers to use plastic drums. No artificial yeast or nutrients are added to hasten the process.
Fermented cashew fruit juice is then transferred into pots for distillation. Hansel takes us to his traditional pot known as a bhatti. The distillate is collected in an earthen pot called a launni. The tradition of cold water being continuously poured on the launni to condense the distillate has now been replaced by immersing a coil in cold water.
The Feni-making is not only quite elaborate but also pretty expensive. “We only get 15 percent of juice after distillation,” said Hansel.
In the cellar, a long wooden table took central place where Cazulo Premium Freni Brand Ambassador, Karl Fernandes, conducted Feni-tasting, in a way similar to wine tasting in a wine cellar. We are encouraged to understand the different variants of Feni through smell, palate and bouquet. Karl, who is also a mixologist, offers some interesting Feni cocktails to realise how exciting (and different) Feni tastes when made into a nice cocktail.
The heady evening ended with some Goan cuisine made available for the guests, paired with Feni cocktails. As I bid goodbye to Hansel and his team and walked to our car parked up on the road, the guitarists were still belting out dance numbers. Goa now has another not-to-be-missed attraction.
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