In this tropical region along India’s western edge, coconut trees line the beaches and hills roll inland from the coast. The slopes are thick with vegetation – jackfruit trees laden with enormous fruit, mangoes hanging from heavy branches. Amidst all this greenery, you’ll see flashes of yellow as ripe cashew apples peak from behind leafy screens
For more than 400 years, Goans have used the vibrant fruit to brew feni, a potent alcoholic beverage. Now, the distilled liquor has earned a place in the international geographical indications registry, meaning only feni distilled in Goa can carry the title, in the way that only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne.
Today, stills tucked into Goa’s forests continue to produce feni in the traditional fashion. Once the nut is removed from the fruit, local producers gather the cashew apples in stone basins. They crush them the way Italians once crushed grapes, stomping the fist-sized apples and releasing a milky juice. The pulp is then gathered in piles, tied with string, and crushed again, this time beneath heavy boulders. A clear liquid streams out and is transferred to an earthenware pot buried in the ground. The liquid is left to ferment over several days, and the brew that results is clear and strong with a fruity aroma reminiscent of its cashew origins.
Locals like to drink feni mixed with lemon soda or served over ice with a slice of lime. Ask for Big Boss or Cashyo if you’re ordering a cocktail from the bar. For a truly regional taste, stop in one of the roadside stands that line the coastal highways. There you’ll find feni made using the old methods with flavors drawn from the verdant hillsides and rich earth, as if Goa itself had been distilled.