Goa has just got the world’s first feni cellar. Started by Hansel Vaz, founder of Cazulo Premium Feni, this initiative is his attempt to preserve Goa’s heritage and make a case for feni the world over. “Feni comes first, Cazulo second, and money last,” smiles Hansel.
Hansel’s brainchild and Goa’s latest attraction, Beco das Garrafas — Portuguese for alley of bottles — is situated in the foothills of Cansaulim. As you enter the space, you are embraced by the aroma of cashew fruits, spice trees and the fresh salty air. The old distillery is still well preserved. In the middle is a quaint structure, all jazzed up in yellow, with large wooden doors, but locked away to be unveiled at the ideal time. A few wooden tables and chairs lie outside, there’s the whiff of charcoal from the barbecue as a violinist and guitarist croon a few classics. And perfectly paired with it all are refreshing feni cocktails — our welcome drink.
Glass full Cellar’s cheerful yellow facade
We are then taken around the plantation to see the process that starts at the fruit stage and ends at the cellar. The tour starts at a traditional colmbi, a basin cut into the rock, where the cashew apples are brought for crushing. Nearby are pots buried in the ground with their necks sticking out. These are non-porous kodem that are still used to ferment the cashew juice.
The distillery — made with stones and mud — uses copper pots and a wood fire, interesting innovations that have been in existence way before modern distilleries and technology made an appearance. The distillery also has no temperature gauges, or gadgets, just the power of observation and know-how passed down generations.
“Whisky-making is considered a science, wine-making an art, but feni-making is magic,” says Hansel. It’s time for some feni tasting and Karl Fernandes, the in-house mixologist takes the lead. He was laughed at for quitting his cushy job at Diageo to join in what everyone thought were Hansel’s madcap ideas. “After every tasting session, people now want to buy feni and drink it. And that is how I measure success,” smiles Karl. Other than the original avatars, he also makes you try a few of the cocktails that he has developed. The best, according to me, is Pataleo. It is based on a Goan dessert with the same name, and tastes just like its liquid version, but with a little kick.
In vintage style
The pretty cellar is surrounded by around 1200 garrafas (bottles), in every imaginable shape, size and colour. These large-bellied, hand-blown glass bottles, were brought by ship from Europe to India back in the 1600s. Sadly, these are not even made any more. Which is why Hansel has been really keen on collecting and preserving them.
The tasting session is also peppered with interesting snippets of information. Sample this, some say feni has been made for 400-plus years, but the first written record of the spirit is in the 1580s, thanks to a Dutch spy.
Cazulo makes 35,000 to 40,000 litres every season.
Sitting under the pretty night sky, with folks waltzing away, exploring their new-found love for all things feni and a lovely home-cooked Goan meal, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a Sunday evening.
Beco das Garrafas organises cellar visits during weekends. It’s priced at ₹2,000 per person, or you could even do a private visit if you are a large group of 20 or more. For details, log on to www.cazulofeni.com