For centuries, hurricane was one of Goa’s well-kept secrets, a summer drink distilled and drunk at home, in cashew plantations and in local taverns. About a decade ago it slowly started to catch on and a few non-Goans got to grips with the seasonal drink mixed with Limca. Today it has arrived in high-end bars, with mixologists making imaginative cocktails made from this alcohol, which is distilled between March and May.
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Urraca is the first cashew nut distillate, before it is distilled again to make feni, Goa’s most popular spirit. contrary to feni, it is not spicy; it has a delicate fruity flavor of cashew nuts. And its 20-25% alcohol volume, just a little higher than wine, lets you drink more than a few drinks without worrying about being heavy-headed. “Urraca is naturally fermented and contains no additives, so it’s an easy drink, ”says Anika Proença of JUNGLE by Sturmfrei, a hostel with a performance hall and bar in Vagator, North Goa.
Urraca also has a relatively short shelf life; it should be consumed within two weeks of distillation. This, combined with the seasonality, made it less viable for bar menus. “Until recently, no Goa distillery worked to produce hurricane exclusively. It was drunk at home or sold to allow farmers to earn quick money to buy firewood or pay wages, ”says Hansel Vaz, founder of the feni Cazulo Premium Feni label.
Its seasonality also makes hurricane difficult to label and bottle, something Karl Fernandes, head bartender at the popular Tesouro bar in South Goa, finds it necessary to take Urraca to the next level. “Even beer has a shelf life of six months. Yes Urraca can be bottled, it will be accessible to more bartenders and can grow even further with government support. Tesouro is known for its Urraca Granita, with sea salt, fresh water and citrus notes, complemented by raspberries and frozen apples.
Since every farm distills Urraca differently, it also doesn’t have a standard taste, a fact that often sparks a healthy debate over who has the best. Urraca– north or south of Goa. Most lean towards the latter. Sheldon Abranches, partner of Hideaway Bar at Vagator, says Urraca from the south usually arrives two weeks later than the north. “The southern distilleries make the first batch only with fallen cashews. Urraca from the north is more fruity and lighter, while the southern one has a heavier body.
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Urraca has gained new fans over the past two years. “The crowd that has switched from whiskey to gin are now looking to try new spirits, with an emphasis on local and home-brewed options that aren’t commercial. This sparked renewed interest in Urracaespecially among tourists, ”explains Nathaniel Da Costa, partner at Hideaway Bar.
Traditionally, a Urraca cocktail would be made by adding Limca and a squeeze of lemon. Some add a split pepper to give it a bolder taste. But this standard recipe is now being reinvented in a creative way.
The Hideaway Bar, for example, offers an Urraca Negroni, with hibiscus tea, campari and jamun vermouth, and the Marie Marie, with hibiscus tonic, Vimto syrup and sour acids, served in a glass bordered with sumac salt and garnished with a hibiscus flower. This year, their best-selling urraca cocktail was a Mango Basil.
The interiors of Antonio @ 31. (Photo: Siddhanth Sheorey)
Chef Pablo Miranda d’António @ 31, a few months old in Panaji, says their Urraca The cocktail was the best-selling drink this summer until containment. “Urraca was never available in high end bars until this year and the response has been phenomenal. Previously, people did not drink it because it was wrongly compared to Santa Claus (cheap country alcohol) in Maharashtra and considered a cheap drink, ”says Miranda, adding that he has succeeded in converting single malt drinkers into Urraca cocktails, including one with fermented kokum syrup for that extra umami flavor. “We educated them on the mind, gave them blows to try and finally turned them into diehards Urraca Fans. “
Vipin Raman, partner of Jamming Goat beach bar in Utorda, south Goa, echoes Miranda: “We had a few Urraca cocktails on our bar menu and many tourists have tried it this year. They offer one made with lime and homemade spicy passion fruit soda and another made with lime and soft carbonated coconut water.
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Urraca occupies a strange space in the Indian spirit world. Although it is legal and can be sold in bars, it does not fall under excise duty as it is neither packaged nor bottled, nor available all year round. Currently the best hurricane does not cost more than ₹200 per liter, with options available at half price too. However, most bars charge the same for Urraca cocktails as they do for regular cocktails. They justify this by saying Urraca cocktails require a pour of 90ml versus 60ml for other spirits, but it still seems a bit absurd to load ₹400 for hurricane cocktails.
Fernandes explains that mixologists are still figuring out which ingredients go well with hurricane– and it is not available all year round. “Urraca is cheaper than beer. so sell Urraca cocktails means your profit margins are increasing. But if people quit premium spirits and only start drinking hurricane, the bar will end up being at a loss, ”he said.
Proença convinced JUNGLE by Sturmfrei to reduce the price to around ₹250 for one hurricane cocktail party but most bars charge more, riding the wave of its new hit. “Compared to three or four years ago, there has been a 40-50% increase in non-Goan consumption hurricane during the summer season, ”she said, adding that customers, in fact, seem reluctant to try cheaper drinks.
Proença says hurricane is now firmly in the sights of the hospitality industry. “My personal mission is to introduce people to the real Goa. The best thing with Urraca is that it rehydrates you, unlike chemical alcohol which dehydrates you. That’s why I think it’s the perfect summer spirit, ”she says.
The Marie Marie urraca cocktail at the Hideaway Bar. (Photo: Priyanko Sarkar)
Priyanko Sarkar is a Mumbai-based writer covering the beverage industry.