For anyone that has travelled to Goa, Feni will be a familiar drink; for those that haven’t, it’s a regional alcohol that is much more palatable than most “moonshine” styles.
Feni (sometimes spelled fenno or fenim or fenny) is a spirit produced in Goa, India and other southern Indian states. The two most popular types of feni are cashew feni and toddy palm feni, depending on the original ingredient. The small-batch distillation of feni has a fundamental effect on its final character, which still retains some of the delicate aromatics, congeners and flavour elements of the juice from which it was produced.
In the traditional method of making cashew feni, only tree-ripened cashew apples that have fallen are harvested. The cashew apples are de-seeded and then dropped into the stomping area. This area is called a “colmbi” and is usually a rock cut into a basin shape where the cashew apples are stomped to release the juice. The extract is then transferred in a large earthen pot called a kodem, which is buried halfway in the ground and left while the juice ferments for several days. Traditional earthen kodem have started to be replaced by plastic drums for the sake of practicality. The juice is then allowed to sit for three days as it ferments. No artificial yeast or nutrients are added to hasten the process, as the feni uses natural bacteria for fermentation. The fermented juice is then triple-distilled for a final product with an ABV of around 40% alcohol.
Locals tend to buy feni directly from the thousands of traditional distillers who run seasonal mini-distilleries or stalls in the villages of Goa. A large volume of feni that is distilled is sold directly by distillers to taverns who have business relationships that extend over generations.
It’s also a seasonal product, wholly dependent on the cashew season, distilled only from late February to mid-May.
Cashew Feni, tastes and smells distinctly of Cashew along with earthy- peppery notes. There’s notes of fruit, nuts and cloves and it’s a very bold spirit that is unlike anything else.
Now Feni hasn’t seen much mass adoption outside of the region of Goa, but bartenders are starting to becoming increasingly interested in the spirit, and it is starting to find its way onto more cocktail menus in a variety of ways. So if you see Feni out in the wild, give it a try!