April 14, 2021
Summer has arrived with a bang. For most of us summer is the time to drink lot of water/cool drinks, eat ice creams or some seasonal fruits to beat the heat. However, for the tiny state of Goa known more for its roaring waves, dazzling nightlife, vibrant culture and inexpensive alcohol and much more, summer is a different ballgame altogether. It does not mean that they love the summer heat. In fact Goans look forward to summer perhaps for only one reason. Summer marks the arrival of the Goan made popular alcoholic beverage ‘Urak’. One can feel the pungent aroma of the freshly distilled brew of cashew apple wafting through the narrow lanes of the numerous cashew plantations of Goa.
Known by names like ‘Jungle Juice’ or ‘Taste of Summer’, Urak is known for its cooling property and that’s why it has made its way to every Goan household. Come summer and Goans wait eagerly to lay their hands on the cans or bottles of this locally brewed drink as soon as its first arrival. It is available either in bars and pubs or in makeshift distilleries who directly sell the brew to the customers. Goans are accustomed to downing the brew right through the summer months – March to May, when the cashew crop is available. Once the monsoon sets in, Urak also disappears as it has a very short shelf life. Recently I got an opportunity to visit one of the distilleries in Canacona in South Goa, where I was able to see the distillation process in a makeshift distillery. Hence, this write up!
What is Urak?
Non Goans and tourists are familiar with the acclaimed Goan feni and many might not have heard of Urak, leave alone drinking it. It is considered as one of the tastiest drinks of Goa and there are many who go gaga at the very mention of this quintessential seasonal drink. While Feni is obtained by double distilling the fermented cashew juice, Urak is the first distilled version of the fermented extracts of cashew juice. Feni is available all through the year whereas Urak is a seasonal brew and is available only during the cashew fruit season.
The popularity of Urak derives from the fact that it is hang-over free and that is quite a reason to make this drink a favourite of many. With an alcohol content of between 28 to 30 percent it isn’t as portent as feni. According to locals the best way to consume Urak is with dash of lemonade, soda and a few ice cubes. Locals also drink Urak by adding a pinch of salt and lemon along with lemonade and some also add pieces of slit green chilly. It is something that can be prepared to suit individual’s taste preferences. An important aspect of Urak is that it is quite inexpensive with price starting from a mere Rs. 100 a litre if bought directly from any of the make shift distilleries. As the legend goes drinking Urak during the summer season gives immunity from colds and fever for the rest of the year.
Premanand Devgaonkar, who has a makeshift distillery in the cashew plantation at Canacona says that most of his customers are locals. Premanand has taken the cashew farm of the forest department on lease by paying Rs one lac. He has obtained the license from Goa government to brew Urak.
Premanand uses a hand operated crusher to extract the juice from cashew apples and ferments it for two days and then brews it without adding anything to it. He is able to get one can of Urak by using 7 cans of fermented cashew juice. His two sons help him in making the best use of the three months of Urak season. To make one can of fenny he has to use two cans of Urak and one can of fresh juice of cashew apples. Premanand has over 20 years of experience in brewing Urak and feni but this is the first time he is brewing it independently. Interestingly, Premanand says he doesn’t drink any liquor including Urak and Feni.
Heady & Scintillating
A look at the heap of cashews all ready for extracting juice I realised that the Goan cashew apples are quite large in size and are pulpy and juicy. According to Premanand, as compared to feni, Urak gives out a fruity and slightly pungent aroma of the cashew apple. Urak is just the right drink for those who dread their sweat odour might reveal that they had one too many the previous day.
Is there any link between Urak and the golden beaches of Goa? If locals are to be believed, it is a sublime afternoon spirit to enjoy lazing by the beaches of Goa. The heading mixture of Urak and sea breeze is sure to give you magic moments. Many Goans say that they will exchange any popular brand of liquor for Urak, which says a lot about the popularity of this drink.
The summer is at its peak in April-May and the time is just ripe just like the ripe cashew apples, the only ingredient needed to make jungle juice ‘Urak’. As the shelf life of Urak is short, summer is the right time to get in touch with your Goan friends or even to make a short trip to Goa. The trip is worth every penny and I am sure you won’t regret it.