Stranger Than

By / Wine + Drinks / June 17th, 2008 / 2

“The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto… what they sold there was milk plus something else. They had no licence for selling liquor, but there was no law yet against prodding some of the new veshches which they used to put into the old moloko, so you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches which would give you a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog and All His Holy Angels and Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg.”

—Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

Or maybe a moloko with knives in it to warm your guttywuts and sharpen you up? Perhaps, sir, you’d be more satisfied with a chalice of Romulan Ale to put additional spring into your galactic galliard, eh? Beam me up, Scotty.

The reality is that you don’t necessarily need to resort to fantasy to experience some rather out-there tipples. The following is a short list of some of those coming to, available at or never to be seen (mercifully) at your local hooch purveyor.

tidings Fenny glassWhat’s So Fenny?

Fenny (or feni) is India’s contribution to the world of “what the $#@! is that?” tipples. Originating from the state of Goa — where the best is said to come from today — fenny is a rather unique distillate made from either coconut-tree sap or the juice of cashew apples (kaju feni). Cashew fenny is seen more frequently than its coconut counterpart. It is said that there are approximately 4,000 small distilleries (how many of these are actually of “commercial” status is hard to say), located mostly in north Goa, that produce cashew fenny, and 2,000 or so manufacturers who make the coconut version (most of them located in south Goa due to the abundance of coconut trees there).

To make the stuff, cashew apples are crushed (traditionally by hand in a basin-shaped rock called a combi). The juice is collected and distilled three times in either earthen or copper pots. The distillation process (locally called bhatti) takes place in two tandem pots, the larger called a bhann and the smaller a launni. Three grades of liquor are created through the subsequent distillations.

The first gives the mildly alcoholic urrac, which is said to go well mixed with citrus-fruit juice.

(Gentle reader, allow me to apologize for the repeated and ongoing use of such cop-outs as “which is said,” “apparently,” “it is reported,” “somebody said so,” etc. While certain libations referenced in this essay have been tasted by Your Humble Narrator — in instances always prefaced by the phrase, “I can faithfully report beyond any shadow of a doubt that this stuff will kill you,” or some such disclaimer — others will not have been, either because I couldn’t get my mitts on any or I was too chicken to ingest the stuff I could.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah, right, fenny.

The second distillation yields the stronger cazulo, which can be consumed (according to the dubious Internet-generated info I’m liberally calling “research material”) neat or diluted depending on “the lining and resistance of one’s alimentary tract.” Lovely.

Finally, fenny. The end result of the third distillation, fenny has an alcoholic strength of 40 per cent (give or take). In her seminal work, The Best of Goan Cooking, Gilda Mendonsa notes, “Feni is considered a cure-all for any ailment, which is a good excuse for the serious connoisseur!” Consumed neat or in cocktails, fenny, for the uninitiated, is something of an acquired taste (that being a rather dramatic understatement).

Tasting Note

Maravilha de Goa Caju Feni

Colour: clear;

Aroma: funky, fruity–earthy, grape bubblegum, acetate;

Flavour: hard to describe — a combination of prune brandy, grappa, anise, pepper; hot, spicy finish.

Much Ado About Shochu

Though it probably originated in China and has a strong fan base in Korea (where it’s known as soju), the Asian spirit that’s gone from a traditional homebrew to all-the-rage-today is a product of Japan. In fact, Japanese shochu has become so popular that it now outsells sake in its country of origin. So what exactly is it?

Shochu is a unique distillate made from a variety of raw materials (the stuff found here is typically barley-based, while the most revered — and not typically exported — is distilled from sweet potato). Though it can have an alcoholic strength exceeding 40 per cent, it’s typically seen in a much lower octane of 25 per cent or less. The low-alcohol level speaks to the single-distillation process used to create the spirit. Most spirits undergo at least a double distillation, the second of which effectively doubles the strength of the first. While there is shochu made from a blend of different ingredients in a continuous still, the best — honkaku (“the real thing”) — is a single-ingredient, batch-distilled number.

Because of its relatively low alcohol level, shochu is apparently very popular with the young women of Tokyo, who warm to the somewhat-stronger-than-sake alcoholic buzz but don’t want the calling-in-sick-the-day-after debilitation from the hardcore hootch. They probably also warm to the fact that less alcohol means fewer calories. It’s also reported to have therapeutic properties. In fact, thirty years ago, a Japanese fellow who said campi to a half-pint of shochu daily shuffled off this mortal coil after a rather impressive 120-year run.

Tasting Note

Yokaichi Mugi Shochu ($29.95)

Colour: clear;

Aroma: similar to sake — floral, banana, nuts, cocoa, very mild whiff of acetate;

Flavour: very mild fruitiness with a peppery finish; smells like sake, tastes like weak vodka.

Hair of the Snake That Bit You

Anyone who has visited Vietnam is probably familiar with the country’s infamous snake wine. Big bottles, small bottles and all sizes in between stuffed with snakes as well as bugs, turtles, birds, scorpions, shrunken heads (oh, calm down, I’m kidding!), and various other delectables are topped up with a broth of something-or-other alcoholic (likely in the sake genre). Prior to this stage, the snakes/bugs/etc. are combined in larger vessels and left to ferment for a few months. The alcohol breaks down the snake venom (did I mention the snakes are typically poisonous?), rendering the liquor (ostensibly) harmless. Or a least not deadly, I don’t think.

If that style seems to stick in your throat, a second production method eliminates the trauma of seeing a pickled serpent staring at you (with a mighty unhappy stare, it might be added). To make snake-blood wine, you simply (and I’m sure most of you who are still reading have figured this out already) slice the snake open and let the blood mix with the liquor. Just thinking about this will no doubt pique your appetite. Never fear, you wouldn’t want all that yummy snake meat to go to waste. No, sir! You can drain the contents of the gallbladder into a glass, mix it with a little of the vino snakeo and knock it back with a sort of reptilian appetizer made from the prepared snake meat, liver and skin. Um. An excellent source of protein.

Okay, I know you all are raring to get on out and snap up a bottle or two of snake wine, but this may prove somewhat problematic. It is illegal to import snake wine into the United States (and no doubt Canada) since cobras and some of the other serpents killed for the production of Château Slither are on the endangered-species list. Too bad.

Tasting Note

As if.


Tod Stewart is the contributing editor at Quench. He's an award-winning Toronto-based wine/spirits/food/travel/lifestyle writer with over 35 years industry experience. He has contributed to newspapers, periodicals, and trade publications and has acted as a consultant to the hospitality industry. No matter what the subject matter, he aims to write an entertaining read. His book, 'Where The Spirits Moved Me' is now available on Amazon and Apple.

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