The ABC’s of Spirits by Alexandre Vingiter: F for Feni
F for Feni
If I say cashew, you will answer cashew nuts because it is this part of the plant that is mainly exploited and exported. But did you know that this nut is found on the outer side of a sort of fruit called cashew apple? The more the demand for cashew nuts has developed in Goa, a former Portuguese colonial trading post in India where this tree was introduced 450 years ago, the more apples are obtained that the locals have obviously transformed into an alcohol called feni, the first Indian spirit to obtain a geographical indication in 2009.
First, we harvest by hand the ripe cashew apples that have fallen to the ground into baskets for three months in the spring. The outer nut is then separated by hand from the fruit and the fruit is pressed in one or two stages, either mechanically or with the feet, such as crushing the grapes of some traditional wines. We thus obtain firstly a nectar more or less rich in pulp then a clearer juice called niro. Some producers only use the first press, just like for fruit brandies, others clarify everything. Fermentation then lasts between three and five days. After the first distillation with wood fire, we obtain a brouillis (double distillation) called urak from about 15% vol. It is only after the second distillation that the feni is obtained, around 40% vol. but some producers can use a triple distillation, sometimes by hanging a bag of herbs in the atmosphere of the still to make feni masala. We would almost find kinship with gin or mezcal pechuga.
There are about 4,000 micro-distilleries, but this figure may vary as not all distilleries necessarily apply for authorisation each season to the local authorities. Indeed, if some distilleries have stills made of metal or copper for all or part, with concrete tanks, most use the traditional terra cotta stills called bhatis. They consist of a part that will be heated, the budkula, then a bamboo or nolo tube will connect it to another terracotta container called launi on which water will be poured to condense the alcohol vapors. In particular, fabrics and rope are applied to ensure the waterproofness of the still, then mud or even ash is applied in addition to this to ensure a good distribution of heat. This type of still is ephemeral and can easily be rebuilt and moved. Traces of this type of still have been found more than two millennia old!
With a marketing previously restricted to the state of Goa, feni has gained national recognition with its recognition as part of the Indian heritage inventory and is now seeking to export itself. After its very successful single malts, India still has many surprises in store for us!
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.