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Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Finding ‘feni’

Feni is to Goa what tequila is to Mexico and absinthe is to Switzerland, carrying much the same perception of being a potent, strong, vile, noxious intoxicant, not for the faint-hearted. But here’s the truth: Good feni, the non-mass-produced, non-industrial kind, is almost sweetly smooth, aromatic and gentle on the palate. Feni also suffers a perception issue as a cheap local tipple, a far cry from the drink Goans were proud to consume in the years before and immediately after liberation in 1961.

For Biula V. Cruz e Pereira, who has a Goa University doctorate in sociology, the sociocultural reasons behind this transformation were fascinating enough to merit a year of research, culminating in the recently released book One For The Road, a detailed and insightful study on the role played by feni in Goan society. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What was it about ‘feni’ that interested you?

As a professor of sociology at Fr Agnel College (of Arts and Commerce), Pilar, whenever I went on picnics and excursions with my students, I would see them drinking in secret. Whereas I remember growing up with alcohol an integral part of our community; it was consumed liberally at most social occasions, like anniversaries, holy communions, baptisms, housewarming parties. I was curious to understand what had caused this change over the years.

Even when I was younger, I used to be amazed at the sharp contrast between the patterns seen in my Catholic family, and the Hindu community. The gap between the two was huge, and always fascinated me. I had initially chosen “Alcoholism Amongst Youth" for my thesis, but my guide pointed out that the topic was more apt for social work. That’s when I moved to understanding the sociocultural aspects of the change in the status of feni, and the consumption of alcohol which, I believe, can help revive and uplift the place of feni and the status of alcohol consumption as a whole.

And what were your conclusions?

For me, the most fascinating aspect was to see that despite the strong linkages between feni and Goan culture, social and religious practices, it is reduced to such a low status that even Catholics today do not serve it at their homes or functions. Five years ago, feni got a GI (geographical indication), which means to be deemed as feni, it must be produced in Goa. It is a cottage industry for us. The processes, recipes and means of making it are amazing; but the whole culture is dying because one, our government does not support the production of feni. IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) is on the rise and the average Indian tourist would much rather have that. Two, the process of production has deteriorated so much that locally produced feni is quite unpalatable. These days it is not made in the traditional copper pots, so it develops a strong smell, and turns people off.

Most important, locals in the tourism and hospitality industry are themselves not educated about feni, so they are unable to popularize or promote this local gem in their businesses. Although feni is much publicized by the tourism department today, it finds no place in local celebrations, such as ladin (litany), bhikream-jaevon (feeding the poor) or even at funerals. Today it is considered a poor man’s drink, not prestigious enough to be served to guests during a celebration.

‘Feni’ as a topic of research... what were the reactions?

Frankly, it was quite challenging. Goa, compared to the rest of the country, is identified as a state with free-flowing alcohol. The gender divide especially fascinated me. Why do some women openly consume alcohol, while some others don’t? Why are young girls discouraged from consuming alcohol, while boys not so much?

While the status of women improved considerably after the Portuguese conquered Goa, consumption of alcohol was considered a high-society practice, and mostly for men. The downside of this is the perception that the average Goan is a drunk, lazy and unwilling to work. However, I was determined to conduct this study to prove that, in fact, there are a number of socially legitimized practices and mechanisms to monitor and dictate how alcohol should be consumed, by whom, when and how.

What is the future of ‘feni’?

My study fortunately also took me to some enterprising Goans who have undertaken the task of making good quality feni without compromising on the process and quality. Hansel Vaz of Vaz Enterprises has a brand called Cazulo Premium Feni. It is the beginning of uplifting our local heritage and pride to international quality manufacturing processes that will put this drink on a par with any other IMFL.

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