Photo by Flickr user brad.coy
It’s often referred to as the “liqueur of Hades”. To say it’s an “acquired taste” is a vast understatement. Salon.com even dubbed it “the trendy drink that makes you gag.”
So, what the hell is it and why would anyone want to drink it?
Already quite popular in Italy and parts of Europe, Fernet Branca continues to grow in popularity in the US (mainly in San Francisco). It’s even the national drink of Argentina.
As you might have guessed, Fernet isn’t for everyone. Its over 40 different kinds of herbs and spices offends many palates with extreme bitterness. But those who can stomach it, swear by it.
At the Gintender, we’re excited because it is an American bitter liqueur…and bitter liqueurs are excellent when trying to find balance in a cocktail that has sweet notes. It provides yet another tool to create a spectrum of All-American cocktails are Church & State.
The Fernet recipe, of course, depends on the distillers recipe, but some of the more common ingredients include: myrrh, rhubarb,chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and coloured with caramel colouring. Its smell and taste is often described as “black licorice-flavored Listerine”.
Sound appetizing? Because Fernet, for those who can take it, is most commonly used as a digestif.
However, there does seem to be an American Fernet trend beginning to emerge. As aforementioned, San Franciscans are quite taken with the drink. But instead of enjoying a room temperature glass after dinner, they prefer a nice shooter with a ginger ale chaser.
As this article suggest, Fernet Branca is even becoming a more popular choice for a round of shots than Jameson for many bartenders.
Todd Leopold, master distiller from Leopolds Bros, describes the distillation process for Leopold’s version of Fernet:
Our Fernet is the most bitter type of Amaro (Italian word for bitter) that is prepared by steeping various botanicals, with a large proportion of bitter roots, in spirit.
Our Fernet, so far as we are aware, is the first of its kind produced in America since well before Prohibition.
We start by placing a flight of bitter roots and herbs, including Bitter Aloe, Gentian Root, Sarsaparilla Root, and Ginger Root, into cheesecloth for steeping. We then add the more aromatic portion of flowers, including Rose Petals, Elderflower, Chamomile, and Honeysuckle, which lends depth and an oily finish. To this we augment the Fernet with several varieties of mint, including a uniquely American touch: Spearmint, to lend our Fernet a bracing, cooling finish.
The question here is, is it right for you?
If it is, it’s rumored to be blissful.
If it’s not…well…Bleh!