In the midst of a gloomy weekend curfew here in Bangalore, I find that its a good time to write about the absolutely delightful time I had in Goa learning about a spirit that needs to get its due in all of our liquor cabinets at home – feni! Fazenda (Portuguese for farmhouse) Cazulo’s ‘Floating Feni’ experience in Goa is engaging, educational and gives you an in-depth look at what a true labour of love looks like when it comes to elevating the perception of what feni truly is.
Feni has been part of the state’s history since at least 1585 when the Portuguese brought the cashew plant from Brazil into India, and since then feni distilleries have been run by some Goan families over generations. Cashew feni received its GI certification in 2009, and the Goan government awarded it the status of a heritage drink in 2016.
I was surprised to learn how so much of the manufacturing process is governed by age old customs & traditional codes of honour in addition to (of course) excise guidelines! I was also saddened to learn that many of the associated forms of craftsmanship such as toddy tapping for coconut feni, specific application of superior pottery skills to make the earthen kodems or fermentation pots and the transfer of knowledge from experienced traditional distillers (known as bhaticars) are all slowly dying out because of different generational aspirations.
The feni cellar itself is a beautiful old building lovingly transformed from its previous avatars as a horse stable and a poultry coop. Today, the cellar houses an impressive collection of vintage large hand blown glass containers (called garrafãos) painstakingly sourced from homes around the world by the founder of the Cazulo Feni brand – Mr. Hansel Vaz. Some of these garrafãos are over 300 years old!
The most interesting part of the experience for me was the floating tasting, where you sit in a very unique environment (a stream!) and explore the flavour profiles of the different Cazulo Feni varieties – cashew, coconut & Dukshiri (made from Indian sarsaparilla root). We also got to taste (and see) the true versatility of each when expressed in a cocktail. I was thrilled to see how the coconut feni was blended with coconut, jaggery and turmeric to serve up a liquid version of a steamed sweet called Patoleo in Goan Konkani – or Patholi as I know it in Mangalorean Konkani (thanks to my mother-in-law). The spread of edible items presented as part of the tasting is varied, whacky & fascinating in terms of variety of flavours: from delicious local items like chorizo pao, guava cheese and pinagre to some other rather interesting accompaniments like bars of Snickers, jalapeños and cheese. We were encouraged to be as creative as possible when experimenting with what paired well with which variant of feni, and the experience really brought a group strangers together over absurd combinations and fond memories of nostalgic flavours.
You must sign up for the experience the next time you’re in Goa. At the time of booking in December 2021, the Floating Feni experience cost Rs. 2,500 per person. I booked it on an app called Urbanaut which also has a range of other interesting experiences on offer.