Goa’s uniqueness is rooted in sun-kissed beaches, its hospitality and sussegado lifestyle, but mainly the drink thanks to the state’s alcohol-friendly policy and lower taxes. While the excise duty on Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and beers – both imported and locally-brewed– was hiked in the state budget for 2016, it still remains cheaper than liquor sold outside the state.
So what are the different drinks you can sip on while lounging on a beach bed all day long? Glad you asked. From beers to wines to spirits, both local and imported, Goa has a wide array on offer and at fairly reasonable rates, too.
Let’s start with what’s most popular – Beer. Goa has several brands of locally-made beer like Kings, Kingfisher and Belo. Besides these, you will also find imported brands like Budweiser, Tuborg, Fosters, Heineken, San Miguel, Carlsberg, Corona, etc easily available across all liquor stores and restaurants. Truly, there is nothing like a chilled beer on a hot, muggy day. You can sit by the beach at Calamari in Candolim (if you prefer the tourist belt) or Furtado’s in Sernabatim (if clean deserted beachers are more your thing) for the best view while you sip on your beverage. But drop in to any of the smaller taverns or bars scattered across the state and you will find the locals tossing back some ‘truly local brew’ called urrak and feni. Because while the beer claims to be ‘locally-made, it is in fact brewed and bottled in neighbouring states like Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Urrak and feni, on the other hand, are distilled in the rural villages of Goa by the locals over a wood fire using traditional methods. They might be a little harsh (and smelly) for the uninitiated, but trust me they’re good. And under no condition can they be compared to MOONSHINE.
While both are made from the cashew apple, urrak is seasonal and available only during the summer months of April and May. It has a sweet, fruity flavour and is best had with a pinch of salt, a sliver of green chilly and topped with either Limca or Sprite. No preservatives or artificial flavours are added in the making/distillation process and that is why this drink has a short shelf life.
Most large restaurants do not have urrak on the menu, so if you want a taste of this local secret, just drop in to one of Goa’s many smaller taverns and the owner will be more than happy to share some of his nectar.
Feni is a clear, twice distilled liquor that is definitely more potent (alcoholic strength of 30-35% proof ) than urrak (10% to 15% proof). Again, it is not moonshine. Instead, cashew feni is Goa’s de facto state drink and was even granted Geographical Indication (GI) certification back in 2000. As of this year, cashew feni is all set to be standardised and marketed beyond state borders as Goa’s “Heritage Spirit.”
Feni is best enjoyed neat with some sugar and lime, although you can mix it with some Limca or Sprite and it tastes just as lip-smacking. Popular brands include Big Boss and Rhea Distilleries, although there are several smaller names on the market. Cajulo also sells Feni, but at a much higher price point.
If you don’t want to buy the entire bottle, however, and would like to just taste it first, simply ask your local restaurant waiter to bring you a glass. Firefly in Benaulim also makes some truly tantalising cocktails with this potent brew. Try their namesake “firefly” and you will want for nothing more. O’Coqueiro in Porvorim also makes some delicious cocktails (on request of course) with this local favourite.
Besides cashew feni, there is also another kind of feni available in Goa- coconut feni or palm feni. Made from the sap of the coconut tree using a unique fermenting process, this too is made in local distilleries using the earthen pot method. Goan grandmothers also swear by its medicinal properties. This too is available bottled for sale in all liquor shops across the state. Like cashew feni, coconut feni is best enjoyed with Limca or Sprite and loads and loads of fish and Goa’s special chicken Xacuti (pronounced as sha-ku-ti ). Go to this quaint little place called Star Bar along the Ribandar-Old Goa road for the best xacuti in town. Located right beside the river, guests can sit under some verdant coconut trees sipping local feni as barges filled with iron ore plow by.
If you are a wine lover, Goa is definitely the place for you. Although we don’t have any large scale commercial wineries as such, most Goan homes make their own wine. From port wine to tomato wine and apple wine, Goa has it all. And if you are here during the summer, don’t miss the Great Goan Grape Escapade that happens in the state’s capital, Panaji, an annual extravaganza were you can sip on wines from across the world while indulging in delicious Goan cuisine and great music. Some brands worth sipping are Sula, Big Banyan, Port Wine or Vinho do Porto by Vinicola, Sula, etc.