On a recent evening, I was chilling at Isabella’s, a charming tapas bar in Panjim that Vikram Doctor, a favourite food writer, had recommended. The pre-monsoon shower picked up force outside as I sipped a sampler of the homemade vermouths. Vermouth is a herb-fortified wine and this bar uses chamomile, sage, and cacao among other interesting infusions. My thoughts gently rambled to what used to be the wine of Goa. There’s nary a trace of port wine now. Has it been banished by newer replacements or the imported wines which aren’t too expensive in Goa? I was to find an answer the next day.
Solomon Diniz, who runs a family-owned distillery in the southern part of Goa, invited us for a visit. His grandfather Aleixo distilled feni at his home in Quepem. Aleixo’s son Alleluia had a day job at a mining company and had opened a small bar in one of the rooms of his home. His bride Maria Francesca Deniz, fondly known as Connie, decided to also start serving her specialities in pork and beef – vindaloo and aad maas. Connie’s homemade food led to a startling increase in sales and sowed the seed for the Adinco Bar to grow into a full-fledged distillery. Today it makes over two dozen variants of different types of liquors including feni, whiskey, brandy, rum, vodka, gin, liqueurs, and port wine.
Port wine in Goa had lost ground because of malpractices in its production, Diniz told me. But he thrives on adding new categories and launched a port wine a few years ago. People told him that it wouldn’t work as his port wine was red in colour; people were used to highly caramelized port that was almost black. But he was firm on introducing a better quality of wine and was proved right when customers began enjoying it. His latest version is a spiced port wine that also serves as a base for sangria. And surprise, surprise, the biggest market for port wine is not Goa but Puducherry.
Another night at the popular Cantare, while local roués showed off their moves on the dance floor to giggling girls tripping on Goa, I showed off my mixing skills. Coconut feni can be enjoyed on the rocks but the raw and strong taste of cashew feni needed toning down. Holding soda in one hand and Sprite in the other, I firmly poured both simultaneously into a glass of cashew feni. And voilà, ‘fenirita’ was ready! Perhaps that’s the last time I made it. Distilleries like Cazulo have made the heritage spirit of Goa smoother with double and triple distillation, and cool bars use it in cocktails. Aani Ek Feni even offers variants infused with honey-cinnamon, chilli, and lemon.
Gin brands are bursting out in Goa as fast as IT start-ups in Bengaluru. Gin has shed the tag of being a ‘women’s drink’ and a Goan pink gin is one of the most sought-after drinks across India by men as well. Gender stereotypes are breaking, one drink at a time. Have you noticed that Pina Colada and Peachy Keen have few takers among women now? Tamarind, blue pea flower, star anise and raw mango have tarted up the drinks that women are reaching for. We might still order a drink based on its pretty colour but hold the syrup please, bartender.
PS: Do remember to drink responsibly. In the lottery that women won, apart from periods and inconveniently located urethras, we were also blessed with higher blood alcohol levels than men. The effects of alcohol hit us faster and last longer. So don’t try to drink the guys under the table. That game should be off the table.
– Sandhya Mendonca is an author and host of ‘Spotlight with Sandhya’ podcast.