Acquaint yourself with Goa’s heritage drink, as the feni cellar ‘Beca das garrafas’, located in Cansaulim and said to be the first of its kind, has just opened to public, discovers NT BUZZ
CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ
Goa may be the home of feni. Yet not everybody knows how feni is made, which are the various types of feni around, or indeed, what makes a good feni. “People generally tell you that they know that the feni is good by the smell, but what quantifies it and what qualifies it, that information has been lacking. A lot of people also tend to depend on someone else’s opinion about feni, which is a dangerous thing because it could be a prejudiced one,” says Hansel Vaz.
Belonging to the second generation of a family based in South Goa which has been involved in the feni business, for Vaz, feni has always been personal and dear. However, he came to realise that this lack of knowledge about feni was a challenge as people were hesitant to spend accordingly.
While Vaz used to go to restaurants or to people’s homes to talk about feni, he realised that it wasn’t enough and something needed to be done on a bigger scale. And thus, he has now opened up one of his distilleries located in a cashew orchard (Fazenda Cazulo) in Cansaulim and set up a feni cellar which is open to the public.
Done on appointment basis and usually conducted either once a week or once in two weeks, visitors (only 35-40 at a time) are taken on a touAr (about 3 hours long) where they can witness the feni making process, while Vaz provides insights including why people did it in that particular way. Inside the cellar, guests are treated to a feni tasting. “Here we break down the spirit into its smell, bouquet, clarity and taste. We explain what the spirit is, how it behaves, what it tastes like etc,” says Vaz. Apart from the more widely known cashew and coconut feni, guests can also experience types of fenis that they may not have tasted before like the dukshiri. “A lot of Goans themselves do not know that there are actually 18 different types of feni. The dukshiri is a root which is distilled with coconut feni. It is a favourite in South Goa and has a very earthy tone to it. It also has got notes of peanut butter and vanilla to it,” explains Vaz.
The cellar which is named ‘Beco das garrafas’ that translates into ‘alley of bottles’, also consists of rows of garrafões (large bellied glass bottles) in varied hues (over 1000 of them) which were traditionally used by Goan families to ‘rest’ the feni.
“Traditionally we have always rested feni in glass for at least a year as opposed to ‘ageing’ in oak. Doing this makes the drink smoother and enhances the taste,” says Vaz.
The garrafões also have an interesting history of their own and are now considered part of Goa’s heritage. “The beauty of these bottles is that they are around 150-200 years old and came to Goa by boat from Europe. They were all handmade. I have tried to get in touch with people to make them but there is nobody who makes them anymore,” says Vaz.
In earlier times, almost every home had a garrafão. But today they are no longer in use. And Vaz is thus trying to put them back into perspective and give this product a use again. What saddens him however is there are many people who are selling these garrafões as antiques. “Every time you sell a garrafão you are losing part of Goa’s heritage,” he says.