Cashew feni is no longer the stinky strong brew that used to be sold in village pubs (although that isn’t bad either!)—it’s now an artisanal product that’s just had heritage status bestowed upon it by the Goan government.
Armada, a spicy liqueur based on a family recipe handed down through generations, is picking up international awards. And much of the so-called Indian tequila is bottled in Goa.
These are the drinks to look out for in the Indian state:
The process of making cashew alcohol begins much like wine. Ripe cashew apples, either handpicked or naturally fallen, are stomped on to extract cashew wine or neero. The neero then goes through a distillation process in which the first distillate is a light alcohol called urrack, with about 12 to 15% alcohol.
For the second distillate urrack is mixed with neero in varying proportions depending on each distiller’s recipe to produce cazulo (42 to 46%). Cazulo is further distilled with urrack to create feni (45%). Feni by itself is considered too strong for consumption so what is usually available is actually cazulo, but sold as feni.
Available across Goa at dim hole-in-the-wall bars, feni is traditionally the drink of the Goan man on the street. It has been described as ‘firewater’ and that’s exactly what it’s like. It burns (in a good way) as it makes its way down your throat, an experience that takes some getting used to.
Local distilleries are moving with the times, though, and creating a modern version that’s not as rough yet retains the fire that the drink is known for. Look out for Hansel Vaz’s Cazulo Premium Feni, which you’ll find in Goa’s cocktail lounges and upmarket bars, enjoyed by adventurous urban types willing to experiment with a traditional drink.
Like all good fenis, nothing extra is added—no ripening agents, color or sugar. Drink a shot of it neat or try one of the new feni-based cocktails: Classic Cazulo (muddle lime wedges in a Tom Collins glass, pour over the feni and add cubed ice), Goa de Susegado (feni, cinnamon powder and sugar, garnished with a rim of desiccated coconut) or even a Firefly (feni, lime juice and jalapenos) that will leave you panting for more.
If you want to try something a bit smoother, DesmondJi might be more your style. Created by entrepreneur and software engineer Desmond Nazareth, the agave-based brand is India’s answer to Mexican tequila. After a spell in the U.S. working and then doing a master’s in film and television, Nazareth returned to India and was unable to find locally made spirits, so decided to distill his own.
His company Agave India has a micro-distillery (India’s first) in Andhra Pradesh, with the bottling and packaging done in Goa. The agave spirits are made from a blue-green species grown on India’s Deccan Plateau, while the liqueurs are made from the famous oranges of Nagpur in western India.
The brand is a favorite with well-traveled foodies who are open to experimentation. Make a classic margarita with the agave spirit, try a DJ Mango Daiquiri (with DesmondJi pure cane spirit, lime juice and fresh Alphonso mangoes), or invent new combinations with local ingredients like tender coconut and sugarcane juice.
If you’re partial to a sticky drink, try the award-winning Licor Armada created from a recipe belonging to an old Goan family. Founder Oscar de Sequeira Nazareth created the drink after stumbling upon a recipe (possibly dating to 1821) in an old book in the family’s ancestral home in the beautiful, unspoiled village of Loutolim in southern Goa.
The then-London-based finance professional moved to Goa to launch the drink in 2012. Made with spices and fruits, Licor Armada is the only Indian alcohol to ever win a prestigious Gold Outstanding (GO) award at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.
You can cook with it, sip it like a traditional liqueur or add it to a cocktail like the Armada Sour—which is one part each of Armada, bourbon and apple juice plus 5ml lemon juice, served in a martini glass smoked with cinnamon and bourbon, and garnished with a cinnamon stick.
Or what better than a Goan Sunset? One part each of Armada and gin, 5 mint leaves and a touch of lime juice topped up with orange soda, served in a highball glass, and garnished with an orange slice and mint leaves. Cheers!