This Diwali, how about extending the desi theme to your bar and stirring up drinks with an indigenous Indian spirit like feni and mahua?
All one needs is to add a dash of mahua spirit in a lemonade to make a simple yet refreshing cocktail. Its aromatic floral notes have an instant uplifting effect. Remember to rim the glass with some salt for added flavour and drama.
“It is delicious with fresh mint, lime and a splash of soda,” says Fay Barretto, a Mumbai-based freelance bartender. Or, grab a mint-infused tonic water from Sepoy or Svami, mix in the Mahua spirit, top up with ice and serve with a squeeze of lime.
A festival of lights and mithais also calls for sweet liqueurs and the Mahua liqueur from Desmondji, flavoured with spices like cinnamon and clove, can be served neat with ice. “You can add a few drops of coffee or chocolate liqueur to take it a step further,” suggests Neil Alexander, corporate mixologist at the Bengaluru-based Windmills Craftworks.
As the Diwali party progresses, move to feni. Goa’s Cazulo feni is now available in cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru. “If you want to build a cocktail with feni, the first thing to remember is to mask its strong aroma. Unlike the mahua spirit, feni has an overpowering aroma which can be off-putting for first-time drinkers,” says Alexander. His recommendation is to make a spice-infused drink with it like Bloody Mary. As with most spirits, it complements citruses like lemon, orange and grapefruit. “But pairing it with tomato and tabasco is a revelation,” he says and adds, “What smells good, tastes good.” He also recommends mixing in grapefruit flavoured tonic water by Franklin & Sons to keep it simple yet flavourful. Cazulo's YouTube channel recommends a fairly easy-to-recreate cocktail with cashew feni, guava juice, tabasco and salt. The fragrant guava juice makes feni more friendly.
A feni cocktail, typically, is served in a high-ball glass with an aerated mixer like Limca and a lots of ice. Feni is not always made with cashews; there is a coconut version too which is known as Nasha Paani (intoxicated water) in Goa. The coconut version pairs fantastically with plain tonic water and is made to be accompanied with spicy food—it might be a good idea to have Goan chorizo samosas on the menu.
Dress up the cocktails to reflect a Diwali appropriate theme. Garnish with edible flowers, dried rose petals or a few marigold petals. If time permits, freeze the edible flowers in ice cube trays, and just as the Goans, raise your glasses and say 'salud'.