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How one man's obsession with feni led to a museum in Goa

Nandan Kudchadkar is a proud Goan who aims to preserve the legacy of feni 

A signboard that says feni distillery. (Photo: Conrad Braganza)
A signboard that says feni distillery. (Photo: Conrad Braganza)

Nandan Kudchadkar, 52, has been an avid collector since he was 14—his collection of pens, altars, inkpots, glasses, cooking utensils, and more could fill not just several houses but even museums. Through it all, though, he has retained a particular passion for the many facets of his state’s traditional drink, feni—both cashew and coconut—and its responsible drinking culture.

“I want to explain the beauty behind its (feni’s) production, and why it is an intoxicating drink,” says Kudchadkar, the owner of LPK Waterfront Club which is a club in Nerul. “The Goan drinking culture is far removed from the drunkards typically depicted in movies and pop culture. You won’t see Goans falling in the gutter around you. We know our alcohol and appreciate it, and we drink to be happy.”

So it’s not surprising that some of this passion has taken the form of a museum, opened last month to showcase this aspect of Goa’s heritage. The All About Alcohol (AAA) museum in Candolim, which has created a buzz on social media and aims to be the first of its kind “encyclopedia of alcohol”, has been getting a steady stream of curious visitors. Their Instagram page @alcoholmuseum got more than 13000 followers within a month. 

“There’s no other museum in the world dedicated to only alcohol,” claims Kudchadkar, urging people to prove him wrong. He does know, however, that there is a lot more to be done before it transforms into an “encyclopaedia of alcohol”.

AAA’s focus is the pride Goans take in feni, the colourless alcohol that has been part of the Goan culture for centuries. It comes across in the passion with which he talks about this drink that is made on his family’s estate in Neturlim, South Goa, and stored in garrafaos (handblown glass containers) since 1946. The family doesn't retail feni. It comes across in the display, which features implements, and a dummy version of a rustic still that shows how feni is distilled, measured and stored. It also comes across at the tasting at the end, which dips into the collection to offer visitors a taste of feni in cocktails as well as in its “pure” and undiluted form.

The cellar containing glass garrafoes with feni. (Photo: Conrad Braganza)
The cellar containing glass garrafoes with feni. (Photo: Conrad Braganza)

AAA, spread across 13,000 sq. ft, has five sections, four rooms and an outdoor area showing the feni stills for cashew and coconut. Nearby is a "cellar" stacked with garrafões, some filled with feni, and kodem (earthen pots in which the cashew juice was fermented). These earthen pots are not as common anymore.

While the first room has a collection of glasses, and old measuring equipment, the other three rooms are packed with items from Kudchadkar’s collection. The alcohol paraphernalia—glasses, bottles, manufacturing and distilling equipment—is dispersed throughout the museum. Of note is a sugar-cane crusher, a wooden shot dispenser, and a grav (a scale used to measure the potency of feni). Most of these objects are over 50 years at least. The collection of glassware includes cocktail and beer glasses, chalices, snifters, inclined wine glasses, the world’s tallest shot glass from Poland, a Queen Elizabeth II June 1953 coronation glass with gold trimmings, and crystal glasses that give out the most melodious ring when clinked.

There are non-alcohol items too. One room offers the vibe of Goan kitchens of, with an old stove, spoons, mortar-and-pestles, measures, grinders, packing trunks, old graters, and more.

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The displays are irregular and they blend different beverage categories. The items don’t have tags or descriptors. Instead, there are five guides. Armando Duarte, one of them, carries with him a fierce pride in Goan culture, backed by decades of experience working as a guide in Goa. He talks about why feni needs to become popular, and how acid was once used to disinfect equipment used to make and store feni.

The tour starts in the first room, takes about half hour, and is free for now. It ends in the central room done up like a tavern—a place where once gossip and feni flowed freely. “With feni, you need to sip it to understand it,” says Kudchadkar. In one corner of the room, bartender Lionel Gomes pairs feni with strong flavours like mustard, Tabasco and ginger to showcase its versatility for tastings. To mellow the feni’s bite, he recommends some food pairings, like pickles, and strong citrus flavours.

Kudchadkar has ambitious plans for the future. First up is an app—visitors can select an item at the museum and learn about its history and use. He has worked into the nights doing research and gathering data about the collection.

An upcoming section will focus exclusively on glassware, another will talk about wine (including a glimpse of Goan sacramental wine). Kudchadkar also wants to start selling his own feni sourced from his family’s cashew plantations. He has the bottle and label and name picked out—Salazar, named after the Catholic dictator Antonio Salazar “who enjoyed his feni”. The feni will be bottled, sealed and sold exclusively on site.

Through all this, he is clear that he wants to promote responsible drinking. “With AAA, I want to tell tourists that there are pleasures to be found on the beach, and away from it too.”

Nandan Kudchadkar
Nandan Kudchadkar

All About Alcohol is open from 4-9pm (through the week). Tours and entry is free

Joanna Lobo is a Goa-based journalist.

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