For those who’ve visited Goa, which is seemingly a staggering number of people post-pandemic, the signature Goan liquor Feni is a familiar name and perhaps a favourite memory. With a long and winding history, Feni is an alcoholic beverage whose legacy has weathered many storms to have stayed alive and popular in Goa.
The custom of crafting liquor from the Cashew Fruit or Coconut Nectar into the Goan Feni can be traced back to the 16th century, according to Gastro Obscura. This potent drink is nutty and tropical, pairs best with citrus flavours, and is known to invoke a ‘buzz’ that is light and almost euphoric. While the expert Goans who hail from a long family of Feni makers continue to handcraft Feni, there are also newer brands and distilleries in the market that are creating artisanal Feni that honour the tradition and craft of the trade, and Goenchi Feni is one to make note of.
Goenchi, as a word, means “of/from Goa” in Konkani. Founded by Yash Sawardekar and Tulika Sawardekar, the brand features the tagline, ‘Feni Konnank Bhienam’ which translates to ‘Feni Fears None’. The brand is a testament to the resilience of the ancient wisdom of crafting Feni that has survived the challenges of time. Of Goan origin, this sibling duo who grew up in Mumbai did an all India trip, post-pandemic and ended up in Goa, and realised that they truly felt at home there. Soon enough, they moved to the coastal town and convinced their parents move as well.
Yash who worked for a while as a cabin crew with a major international carrier from the Middle-East, had experience working the bar in the business class segment of their flights. His interest in the alcobev field, paired with the duo’s experience learning about the heritage-driven Feni distillation culture is what gave rise to Goenchi. Tulika who recently finished her degree in Management is equally passionate about doing the work to position Goenchi and Feni as a product, to a wider audience.
While Feni has been concocted for at least 400 years in Goa, it continues to be a largely untapped and unorganised sector. But the taste, finish, and story of Feni are unique and unmatched, according to Yash and Tulika. It is also a drink that is distinctive, and a huge part of the Goan culture. While it is a local product, it is also one with the potential to be a lot more. They opined, “if you think about it, most popular drinks - whether that is Scotch, Tequila or Sake, are inherently hyperlocal drinks that have found global popularity. We are hoping to help Feni to do the same thing,”
Inspired by the Gin revolution in India in the last decade or so, Yash and Tulika wanted to create a Feni brand that employs modern iterations of traditional distillation methods but is also design-driven as well. Creating a visual identity and social media presence that features the story of Feni, and captures the people that work with them are all aspects that they think will contribute to achieving their dream of contemporising and popularising Feni. According to Anirudh Mehta, the founder of Studio Big Fat who created the brand identity and package design for Goenchi, "the design features meticulously hand-drawn illustrations with intricate embellishments and typographic details, creating a cohesive and engaging composition."
From the label designs by Studio Big Fat to the modern variant of the traditional glass carboys called 'Garrafãos' that their Feni is bottled in, Goenchi weaves in their homegrown identity effortlessly through their varying communications. Delving deeper into the work that they did for Goenchi, Anirudh went on to say, "The label is divided into three sections - the left side covers mandatory information and features three illustrations showcasing crucial stages of the production process relevant to each variant - Coconut and Cashew Feni. The middle section presents a theatrical piece where the Garrafao takes center stage, cracking open the skies while Rendiers and Cazcars look above with a delightful and elated demeanor, welcoming the Ancestral Spirit. Finally, the right side celebrates the people behind Feni with a beautiful portrait of proud Rendiers and Cazcars holding their tools. The design harmoniously blends these elements together, creating an honest representation of the brand's values and the people behind it."
Based out of their ancestral plot close to their village in Sanvordem, Goenchi currently works with approximately 35-40 people indirectly and employs a team of 4-5 directly. Yash and Tulika’s parents are also part of the business, bringing their own unique skill sets to the brand.
The brand offers the two traditional variants of Feni - Cashew and Coconut. Each Goenchi bottle features illustrated portraits of the ‘Rendeirs’ who climb coconut palms to tap toddy and distil it to perfection to make the coconut Feni and the masterful ‘Cazcar’ who forage cashew fruit and distil it to create the Cashew Feni. The Goenchi Cashew Feni boasts notes of tropical jackfruit, pineapple, green pepper, and guava cheese, and is crafted from the juice of the Goan Cashew apple that is meticulously fermented. The Goenchi Coconut Feni is created from fermented coconut flower nectar and offers flavours of coconut water, sea salt, and green chilli and finishes with a more floral and sweet note.
Staying true to their small batch philosophy, Goenchi currently only produces about 1000 bottles of each variant every month but is hoping to scale further. In talking further about the challenges of trying to realise their vision, Yash and Tulika talked about the limitations of Cashews being a seasonal fruit. While it is hard to create larger volumes on their own, they’ve found a workaround. “Employing the approach used by whiskey brands in Scotland that work with smaller distilleries that align with their standards, we work with smaller aggregators that match our quality and ethos to acquire Cashew Feni as well.”
The misconception of traditionally distilled alcohol being of poorer quality is also something that new entrants into the field like them have to handle. But the Feni from Goenchi is double distilled to perfection, thrice filtered, and extensively quality checked. While Goa as an area is very conducive to alcohol distillation and sales, there are still challenges of licensing that they have to go through, to start making them available beyond the state. But they are hoping to scale the business slowly and steadily to create a market for homegrown, artisanal Feni on a national (maybe even global) level. In talking more about the cultural heritage of Feni and in creating the highest quality Feni, Goenchi as a brand is capturing the resilient essence of Goa through its distilled goodness.
You can stay tuned to Goenchi Feni via their Instagram.
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