In the traditional method of making cashew feni, the cashew apples are manually crushed in a coimbi, a rock on the hill which is carved or shaped like a basin with an outlet for the juice. The juice is collected in a huge earthen pot called Kodem, which is buried in the ground. The juice is then distilled in earthen or copper pots.
When the cashew apples are crushed, the pulp is arranged in the shape of a cake in the coimbi and tied with a string. A huge boulder is then placed on top of it. The final quota of juice which trickles out in a clean form is called Neero. Many people like to drink Neero since it helps bowel movement and provides relief from constipation.
The traditional method of distilling cashew feni on the hill is very interesting to watch. The cashew juice is put in a big pot called Bhann. The Bhann serves as a closed boiler. It is connected to a smaller pot called Launni by means of a conduit. The Launni serves as a receiver or collector.
The juice in the big pot is then boiled by burning firewood under it. As the process of vaporisation and distillation goes on and the concentrated liquid collects in the smaller pot, the pressure in the receiver is kept in check by pouring cold water on it, frequently with a wooden laddle. The first stage of processing may be done on big fire but the later stage of distillation has to be done on slow fire to keep the pressure and heat under control. The process of distilling feni with such apparatus takes about 8 hours and is locally called Bhatti.
One can tell from a distance that feni is being distilled since the surrounding area is filled with its aroma. And this aroma attracts many feni consumers, who halts in their tracks when their nostrils receive the smell.
The liquor produced from cashew is of three grades Urrac, Cazulo and feni. The Urrac is the product of first distillation. It is light and can be consumed neat. It’s strength ranges between 14 and 16 grao. However, when consumed in excess, Urrac intoxicates the mind like any other hot drink. The Urrac is said to go well with orange or lemon.
The Cazulo is the product of second distillation. It is moderately strong. The Cazulo can be consumed either neat or in a diluted form depending upon the lining and resistance of one’s alimentary tract. However it is not seen in the market today.
The product, which we get after the process of third distillation is called feni. It’s strength ranges between 20 and 24 grao. It has a long shelf life.Now that the Cazulo is not made, feni is produced after second distillation itself. The second or third hand feni is a product par excellence.
What makes feni a great drink is not only it’s good taste but also it’s smell. It has a strong smell which cannot be hidden once the bottle is opened and the drink is poured in the glass. The glass from which the feni is consumed takes a long time to lose the smell, if it is kept unwashed.
What about the safety and quality of feni? Is the stuff which is sold in the market, today, good and safe? You guessed right. One has to be very careful, nowadays, while buying feni for home use or while consuming it in bars.
Love it or hate it Feni is Goa’s alcoholic drink of choice. Sadly the stuff they give you or sometimes even try to sell you in the tourist hotels is jolly dodgy stuff. Take a trip to one of the spice plantations and drink farm produced feni ice cold from drunk fom coconut shells to actually appreciate the real stuff. Be warned if you are not used to it it will go to your head!
It is a major local industry: There are known to exist about 4,000 such mini traditional distilleries or stills in Goa, manufacturing cashew feni and about 2,200 stills manufacturing coconut feni. About 75 per cent of stills making cashew feni are in north Goa and the rest are in south Goa. As far as the stills making coconut feni are concerned, south Goa has about 65 per cent of them and the rest are in north Goa. This is an indication that north Goa abounds in cashew trees while south Goa has more coconut trees.