Monday, August 4, 2008

The measure of a man

The measure of a man
Still my 'causo' of Caju Feni overflows

By Cecil Pinto

Extracts from Chapter 12 of the bestselling book, "Elixir of the Gods: The definitive guide to purchasing, storage and consumption of Caju Feni", by Cecil Pinto.

"In the last chapter we saw the difference and relationship between'alcohol by volume', 'alcoholic proof' (using a standard Sykes hydrometer) and the traditional grao used to measure the strength of Caju Feni. Keep in mind also that grao measures strength and not purity or quality. In this chapter we shall look at retail and wholesale volume measures for this fascinating liquid."

"Long before 'What is the Goan Identity?' became the dominant debate in recent years, there was the far more important question that fascinated Goan males since 1622 or thereabouts when Caju Feni was first commercially marketed, 'How many bottles are there in a causo of feni?'.
That query continues to fascinate us and till date has no specific answer. Keep in mind that what is called a causo by North-Goan Catholics is called kollso by a Goan Hindus and causo-u by South Goans - who make good Palm Feni but know diddlysquat about caju."

"Ask this question to any bar man and pat will come the reply, '18 bottles of 750 ml each' but ask an astute barman, like Edwin D'Souza of Bar Manuel in Aldona, and he will reveal that the actual figure is closer to 20 bottles. How it works is that the supplier, normally the kazkar (distiller) himself, carries a standard measure causo that
contains approximately 20 bottles of Caju Feni. The additional two bottles are to compensate for losses in transportation due to spillage, pilferage, tasting etc. Similar to a Baker's Dozen – as branded Caju Feni czar Mac Vaz would certainly say."

"All that is very well. From a commercial viewpoint we need standard measures but this book was written for the non-commercial minded enthusiast. Every Caju Feni drinker worth his half-quarter will have his own personal stock of a few causos, of his very own favourite feni from his trusted kazkar, in his storeroom. Unless of course his wife
is a nagging shrew, in which case he will store his stock at the storeroom of a friendly relative – preferably a non-drinker."

"Now this personal cache is not the standard commercially produced stock that most barmen purchase. This is usually an excellent, and hence expensive, reservoir. But here comes the quandary. Ask most any feni enthusiast, who stocks his own booze at home, how many bottles in a causo and you will get a range of replies, from 15 to 25 bottles!
All of them have the same trusted supplier for many years, and are happy with the quality and the quantity. And, here comes the stunner, all of them are absolutely right in their measure of a causo!"
"How is that possible? – is the question that comes to the mind of any non-feni drinker. The feni drinker himself is not perturbed. Such minor matters do not bother him. He is wiser than the average man and is also at peace with himself and the universe. Even at Rs. 1000/- a causo, and even if he gets only 15 bottles to the causo, he is still paying only Rs. 67/- for a bottle of the Nectar of the Gods, whereas even a regular non-premium whiskey will cost more than Rs. 100/- a bottle, even wholesale, and is nothing short of rot gut. If you see anyone in Goa drinking a whiskey costing less than Rs. 250/- a bottle please understand that (a) he knows nothing about booze and (b) he probably also has a damaged alimentary canal."

"To understand the inconsistency in causo measures let us take a step back and re-visit the earlier photo-enhanced Chapter #5 where Siolkars Alister Miranda and Nilesh Vaigankar (son of late Dina - the legendary kazkar) walked us through the actual Caju Feni making process. Approximately 14 kousuli (totaling approximately 90 litres) of fermented caju neera is poured into the bhann. This bhann (copper, or rarely earthen) which contains the liquid to be heated has a pretty standard size. Vapours get distilled in either a coil process or in an earthen pipe and container process, depending on which we get either standard Caju Feni or 'launecho caju' which is the Holy Grail for any Caju Feni enthusiast - and is almost impossible to source nowadays.
Please excuse my foaming (feno!) at the mouth when I speak of launecho caju."

"Now, as explained earlier the first distillation gets us a light urrack. Re-distillation of this with more neera gives us cazulo, and re-distillation again gives us Caju Feni. The grao for these three are 12, 18 and 22 approximately whereas the volumes of each are in inverse proportion – i.e. one bhann will produce 24, 18 and 15 bottles approximately of Urrack, Cazulo and Caju respectively. Viola!"

"Therefore a non-commercial causo is not an exact measure of volume but rather, say this loudly and memorise it, 'that amount which is distilled from one full bhann'. Depending on the grao of the resulting distillate the volume will vary. All other factors being equal lesser the volume of liquid in the causo, stronger the grao."

"Keep in mind though the factors that decide this grao. Besides the material used for the bhann a crucial component is the nature of the fire used to heat the liquid neera into vapour. It has to be a low wooden fire kept at a particular consistency throughout till the ubb (shimmering) appears. The fire is then totally extinguished and re-lit
to get a particular grao. Making the fire stronger will hasten the process but also lessen the grao - and hence increase the causo volume measure."

"In the next chapter we will move from measures of quantity and discuss factors effecting quality - such as ripeness of cashew apples, juice extracting process etc. but before we get there let's look at popular retail consumption measures. Conventional wisdom tells us that a half-quarter should be 90 ml, or one and a half peg, but in
actuality this is not so. Hark back to the days when Caju Feni was served in a coconut shell or cotti. Over a period of time…"

The column above appeared in Gomantak Times dated 10th April 2008.


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