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Learning to Love Fernet Branca

Learning to Love Fernet Branca

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When I started getting into the spirit and cocktail scene in New York City just a few years ago, I immediately learned about trends that I had no idea about before. Classic cocktails? Totally in. Punch? Totally in. Shots of Fernet Branca? Wait, what?

It took awhile for me to warm up to this herbaceous liqueur, but it didn’t take me long to get completely hooked once I did. Upon ordering a shot of Fernet Branca at most bars, I’ll get at least one of three reactions from the people I’m with, or the strangers sitting nearby who hear my order:

Reaction #1: "What the hell is that?"

Reaction #2: "That smells horrible."

Reaction #3: "That’s gross. Do you drink lighter fluid, too?"

However, the response from the bartender, which is the response I value the most anyway, usually goes something like this:

"One shot of Fernet? Make that two. One for me!"

Fernet Branca is an abrasive, potent, and fantastic Italian liqueur that falls into the large class of Italian Amari, or bitter liqueurs, including Campari, Aperol, and Averna. It is made from 40 roots, herbs, spices, and other ingredients including myrrh, chamomile and saffron. The aroma of Fernet is full of herbaceousness and menthol, an aroma that is intense enough to sometimes scare people away. But have no fear! This is a lovable liqueur with a lot to bring to the table (or bar).

The beauty of Fernet Branca is that while it is primarily enjoyed as an after-dinner digestivo meant to counter the feeling of a full belly after a large dinner, it is also a fantastic spirit for cocktails. The mint and herbal notes in Fernet can really liven up a cocktail, which is why many bartenders are beginning to reach for it as a go-to ingredient. Clocking in at 40 percent ABV, Fernet adds a seriously boozy bite to any cocktail.

Below are two recipes that use Fernet Branca. The first is one that a beginner Fernet drinker may want to go for with flavors that are not as potent. The second is for the seasoned Fernet drinker, or someone who is ready to move up to the big leagues. We hope you enjoy these Fernet cocktails as much as we do! Cheers, and happy drinking!

Click here for recipes for the Benton Park Swizzle and The Hanky Panky Cocktail.

— Sara Kay, The

10 Things You Should Know About Fernet-Branca

It’s cool. It’s vaguely medicinal-seeming. It’s made with stuff you could find in body wash or the Bible. At one point, it definitely probably might have contained opiates. It’s Fernet-Branca.

Sure, it’s a shade of brown we tend to prefer squarely in the realm of chocolate desserts or fine wood furniture. And, yes, it’s been described with words like “Listerine” and “why.”

But Fernet-Branca is also rich, seductively complex, and blissfully challenging (trust us). It may or may not cure your hangover, and will definitely make you seem cooler in many social settings.

Here are 10 things to know about it.

“Fernet-Branca” is the Band-Aid of booze.

Not for fixing your body (for that, see “cholera treatment,” below). Fernet-Branca is like Band-Aid or Kleenex or Q-Tip: a brand name so well-established it becomes synonymous with the category. In truth it isn’t even the only “fernet.” Fernet-Branca did popularize the category, though, and is likely the only reason many of us started craving that strange, root-y, “this-Birch-Beer-dropped-out-of-grad-school-to-play-jazz-fusion” complexity of any other fernet liqueurs.

It’s the real San Francisco treat.

The winner of the “We love Fernet-Branca more than ourselves” award goes to San Francisco. For a constellation of reasons — the city’s cocktail game is strong, Google employees have money to burn on casual amaro consumption, etc. — San Francisco drinks more Fernet-Branca per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. And this despite at least one description comparing it to “black licorice-flavored Listerine.”

Fernet began as a cholera treatment.

Fernet’s backstory actually has roots — no pun intended — in naturopathic medicine. Or, more accurately, the unlikely crossroads where centuries of naturopathic medicine collide with robust capitalism. Fernet-Branca founder and “self-taught apothecary” Bernardino Branca began providing Milan’s Fatebenefratelli hospital with his recipe during a particularly bad 19th-century outbreak of Asiatic cholera. While it certainly wasn’t a cure, the stuff seemed to help — and, like Dimetapp, just so happened to taste good. From there it was a matter of distilling and marketing, with Fernet-Branca being taken for everything from menstrual cramps to digestion issues to virility.

Five of its 27 ingredients are mixed in a secret room.

When Fernet went from medicinal to commercial in 1845, the recipe was adjusted slightly. To this day people are still struggling to figure out the exact ingredients and proportions. The Fratelli Branca distillery (it also makes Branca Menta and Punt e Mes) shares some of the mystery. Fernet’s 27 ingredients include “Rhubarb from China, Gentian from France, Galanga from India or Sri Lanka, Chamomile from Europe or Argentina.” (Also myrrh, from the Bible.) But like any good producer of liquid legend, it still keeps things charmingly shady: Of those ingredients, five are mixed by the CEO in a locked room, most likely while listening to Sade’s “No Ordinary Love.”

Fernet-Branca: shameless saffron hogs.

Remember that time you decided you could probably make really great paella? (Yeah. It happens to the best of us.) Then halfway through you realized your kitchen is woefully lacking in saffron (how are you alive?), so you went to Whole Foods, bought a $20 vial, and proceed to use exactly one pinch? Don’t worry, Fernet-Branca will take your leftovers. Fernet uses a whopping 75 percent of the global supply of saffron, which, at up to $5000 a pound, is “easily the world’s most expensive spice.”

One of Europe’s first female entrepreneurs ran the company.

Fernet founder Bernardino Branca’s son Stefano died in the late 19th century, but the distilling didn’t stop with him. Instead, Stefano’s wife Maria Scala Branca took the reins, becoming one of the first female entrepreneurs in Europe. When Scala Branca stepped down, her son Dino took over, ushering Fernet-Branca into the 20th century by falling back onto its “medicinal” roots as a way to sidestep Prohibition in the new American market.

They have pretty cool posters.

Chalk it up to the Milanese heritage, we guess? There’s one with a dancing alligator (crocodile?) and one with two aquatic ladies battling (playing?) in the ocean. Fernet-Branca was one of the first liquor companies to successfully parlay the mood of a drink into a clear, “cool” visual aesthetic. The company began marketing with well-known artists in the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1893 that prolific Italian poster artist Leopoldo Metlicovitz designed the brand’s now-famous, oft-tattooed eagle logo. And but for the inevitable marketing aberration, they’ve stayed cool ever since.

It’s a handshake in a glass.

If you’ve ever been intimidated in a cocktail bar — was it the quiet jazz? the ironic taxidermy? the word “bespoke” all over the place? — fear no more. There’s a not-so-secret shortcut to your bartender’s heart, and it’s Fernet-Branca. Just saunter up, casually adjusting your suspenders all the while, and order a shot of Fernet. And, just like that, you’ll have enacted the ritual known as “the Bartender’s Handshake.” In some circles ordering Fernet shows you can handle some professional-level, palate-smacking complexity in your glass. It won’t always work — and, as with all “tricks” of intoxicated socializing, please don’t use it to try to get a phone number — but here and there it just might be your shortcut to a lasting bartender friendship.

It’s also a beer!

Chicago-based brewery Forbidden Roots consulted with Fratelli Branca distillery to transform the 27-ingredient digestivo into a 20-ingredient beer approximation, specifically an imperial black ale that’s as close to a stein of Fernet anyone in their right mind is likely to drink. Unfortunately for Fernet lovers, the beer — called Fernetic — was a limited release.

And it’s Argentina’s national drink.

Bartenders, San Franciscans, and the desperately hung over all love it, but if you really want to go to a place where the Fernet-Branca flows like, well, wine, head to Argentina. The country is so collectively enamored of the chicory-brown liqueur they drink upwards of 75 percent of the global supply. Maybe it pairs well with Argentinian beef? (We can imagine the brown savoriness of the Maillard reaction could make nice with Fernet’s dark brown complexity. Hmm.) Or, more likely, Fernet’s popularity skyrocketed because a really good marketing team positioned it as part of a cocktail with Coca-Cola in the 󈨞s. Argentinians began ordering it as a “90-2-10,” or one-tenth Fernet to nine-tenths Coke and two ice cubes. Proportions change, but Fernet con Cola is still Argentina’s national drink.

Here&rsquos how to make the creative eggnog, Fernetnog.

  • 1 oz. Fernet-Branca
  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 3 oz. Milk (whole milk preferred)
  • 2 dashes maple syrup
  • 1 large egg

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously. Add ice and shake again until chilled. Strain into a chilled rocks glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Even if you prefer a slightly less caloric option, Aktins has a Peppermint Eggnog Martini recipe. At under 350 calories, it doesn&rsquot mean that you have to run 10 miles to work off that sip. It is a fairly easy recipe and it tasty.

These creative eggnog ideas are just a few suggestions to raise another glass of that holiday beverage. Since eggnog is only around during the holidays, isn&rsquot it worth at least one glass?


Fernet-Branca’s history is profoundly Italian and began in 1845 thanks to Bernardino Branca: its unique and still secret recipe, using ingredients from all over the globe, has made Fernet-Branca the world’s most popular Italian liqueur.

With the invention of its amaro, the company Fratelli Branca Distillerie was founded and a short while later the first production factory was built in Corso di Porta Nuova in Milan, which employed more than 300 workers. The story surrounding Branca is about people as well as Italy and has earned its place in folklore thanks also to the aura of mystery that has always surrounded the product: the enigma concerning its formula, that is still hidden away in a safe that can only be accessed by the company’s chairman, and which continues to be bequeathed from father to son.

Fernet-Branca’s first advertisement appeared in the daily newspaper “La Perseveranza” in 1865. In this first 10×10 cm print, Fernet-Branca is referred to simply as Fernet and is described as having a range of beneficial properties that can even relieve the ailments of people suffering from fevers and states of anxiety.

A Fernet-Branca ad also appeared in the first ever edition of what became Italy’s main national newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, on 5 March 1876. Fernet-Branca was immediately the subject of feedback from doctors, head physicians and directors of care homes whose praise played a key role in driving the increasingly vast popular acclaim of the new Fernet-Branca recipe.

Fernet-Branca enjoyed – and continues to enjoy – accolade throughout the world. In 1907 Dino Branca took the helm of the company Fratelli Branca Distillerie: in keeping with with its motto “Novare Serbando”, Fratelli Branca set off to conquer European and American markets, proudly asserting its international vocation.

New factories were opened in Buenos Aires, Saint Louis and even Switzerland, in the town of Chiasso. Dino Branca also opened a new branch in New York. In that same period the Milan factory was moved to what is still its headquarters in via Resegone.

Milan, as well as Buenos Aires, New York and San Francisco. Over time Fernet-Branca has established itself as a project that integrated its Italian roots with new connections to geographically distant worlds.

But Milan remains the linchpin and natural heartland of the Branca universe. In 2009 the Branca Collection Museum was unveiled within the Fratelli Branca Distillerie industrial complex. It serves a dual role as business museum and space for recounting to new generations the history of Branca’s innovative communication, the company’s production processes as well as its values of quality, ethics, naturalness and eco-sustainability that are part of the roots and history of Fratelli Branca Distillerie.

Littoria Tower – that has been renamed Branca Tower – that was designed by architect Giò Ponti and built in 1933. By refurbishing and and giving back this architectural and artistic asset to the city, Branca’s aim was that of reawakening Milan’s pride and take a leading role in the development of a creative hub and benchmark for new forward-looking ideas, by starting with an emblematic monument.

Branca is no stranger to redevelopment projects: in the summer of 2003, in St. Louis, work commenced for the transformation of the city’s former Distilleria Branca into a museum.

The reconversion project was overseen by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who designed the floors of the exhibition space in two phases. The building was to house a public benefit purpose foundation and cultural centre, the Association for the Fernet-Branca Museum of Contemporary Art in St. Louis. This was replaced in 2011 by the Fernet-Branca Foundation.

The Essential New-School Fernet

For decades, the category of fernet has been synonymous with Fernet-Branca. The family-owned, 176-year-old Milan-based company has a long history of creative marketing and advertising that has landed their bracing and herbaceous elixir in over 160 countries across five continents. The global army of devoted bartenders who trade collectible challenge coins and rock countless tattoos of the brand’s logo attests to the enduring appeal of Fernet-Branca as the “bartender’s handshake” of choice. But Fernet-Branca is not a category unto itself. Historically, there have been other Italian-born expressions of fernet, as well as those crafted in Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Mexico. But even as the bold, medicinal, mint-forward profile of Fernet-Branca remains the touchstone for the category, a rising tide of new-school producers is crafting distinctive variations that challenge the old guard and plumb the depths of the category as a whole.

As an amaro, the question of what makes a fernet a fernet is a tricky one. The category lacks a clear definition and rules for ingredients, production methods and flavor profiles. A few hallmarks, however, include an elevated level of alcohol (typically 39 percent or higher), a dark brown to blackish color, less sugar and a more bitter profile than most amari, and a number of common ingredients, including aloe ferox, chamomile, eucalyptus, mint, myrrh, rhubarb root and saffron.

Since 2011, when Leopold Bros. let the genie out of the bottle with the release of Fernet Leopold Highland Amaro, the first American-made fernet since Prohibition, the category has been exploding. In 2014, Chicago’s Letherbee Fernet gave Malört (a Windy City darling) a run for its money, becoming a staple behind bars across the city, inspiring even more domestic takes on the Italian liqueur. In Washington, D.C., in 2016, Francesco Amodeo debuted his Don Ciccio & Figli Amaro Don Fernet. Its surprisingly low ABV (25 percent) made it inherently approachable while maintaining a pronounced bitterness, with an unexpected twist courtesy of unusual ingredients like ginger and dark chocolate.

Here’s a lineup of new-school fernet that’s reimagining the bitter, bracing category.

Arcane Fernet

Where it’s made: Brooklyn, New York
What’s in it: 27 botanicals, including citrus peel (three varieties), gentian root, hops, licorice root, wild mint
ABV: 39 percent

The story: Arcane Fernet was born on a bet. “That’s a long story that involves a wager made after a decent night at a favorite bar after a heated discussion about the nature of fernet and art,” recalls Arcane Distilling founder David Kyrejko. On the path to Arcane Fernet’s launch in 2016, Kyrejko turned to local bartenders, bar owners and fernet fanatics to sample dozens of varieties of the bitter liqueur to discern what they liked about it, what they could do without, and how he could make it better. The recipe he developed went through 26 iterations before landing on a formula of “complex bitterness” with a “nice clean finish” that still possessed the medicinal flavor that’s become a calling card for fernet while minimizing its harsh bite. “To give the fernet the needed mouthfeel and sweetness while keeping the sugar content way, way down, I turned to a bit of an old-school candy-making hackery,” says Kyrejko, who holds back the details on just how he’s able to use 30 percent less sugar for the desired sweetness and mouthfeel. “This was developed to be a truly anytime, anywhere, everyone spirit,” says Kyrejko.

(Arcane Distilling has been dormant for the past year and a half due to the build-out of a new facility in Bushwick, Brooklyn, which was delayed due to the pandemic. But according to Arcane Distilling’s Brian Thompson, they’re in the homestretch and hope to relaunch production this summer.)

How it tastes: The burnt caramel color conceals a heavy dose of peppermint, with the complex herbal sweetness of a small-batch root beer leading to a delicately bitter finish. Try it neat as a palate cleanser between drinks or after a meal, or muddled with mint on the rocks.

Eda Rhyne Distilling Company Appalachian Fernet

Where it’s made: Asheville, North Carolina
What’s in it: More than 30 ingredients, including wild mint and an assortment of undisclosed locally grown, foraged organic herbs and botanicals
ABV: 40 percent

The story: Among American-made amari, you would be hard-pressed to find a producer who possesses a stronger sense of regional terroir than the Eda Rhyne Distilling Company in Asheville, North Carolina. In 2018, co-owners Rett Murphy, herbalist and proprietor of Aardvark Farm, and distiller Chris Bower released their Appalachian Fernet, a spirit heavily informed by Western North Carolina distilling traditions, European restorative herbal liqueurs and the “mountain medicine” Bower was prescribed from his Pappy as a boy. “When folks think of the Appalachians and booze, they usually have visions of hillbillies and illicit corn liquor production, which is fair enough, but what most people don’t know is that portions of the run would be set aside for the medicine maker of the community,” says Bower. “The shine would be used to extract and preserve the compounds found in the therapeutic plants that are so abundant here, though we are not trying to make any claims that our product has any medicinal benefits whatsoever.” The eureka moment for Bower came when he made his first batch of homegrown fernet by “wild crafting” an assortment of roots, barks, nuts, flowers, twigs and leaves he soaked in a bottle of moonshine that he tucked away under his kitchen sink for a few weeks. This became the template for a recipe he would tweak over the years, but in the tradition of moonshiners of the area, he remains tight-lipped when it comes to revealing the particulars about the local ingredients used in their formula as well as the production methods. “Our plants are wild, our process is wild and our personality is wild!” says Bower. “But in all seriousness, we strive to create a spirit that captures the smells and tastes of our mountains and the ruggedness of its landscape and people.”

How it tastes: Oily and inky black with a rich, herbal aroma. Bracing, balanced and botanical-driven with an earthy backbone of bright mint. Bower’s recommendation: “Best enjoyed out of the bottle, around the campfire with friends, after a long day in the woods.”

Faccia Brutto Fernet Pianta

Where it’s made: Brooklyn, New York
What’s in it: 23 organic herbs and botanicals, including aloe ferox, chamomile, chicory root, cocoa nib, fennel seed, gentian, myrrh, nutmeg, peppermint, rhubarb root, saffron and star anise
ABV: 35 percent

The story: Faccia Brutto Spirits launched in March 2020, right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Really amazing timing, right?” says owner and distiller Patrick Miller, an Italian American restaurant industry veteran who worked most recently as the executive chef at Rucola in Brooklyn. He’s also quite aware that the name for his company (an endearing Italian term meaning “ugly face”) is grammatically incorrect, but the irreverent sprezzatura spirit inherent in his logo, label design and the Italian-inspired bitters and amari in his lineup helps stand out in a crowded field. For his Fernet Pianta, inspired by and named for his nonna, Miller has created an accessible gateway example that strives for a sessionable experience in the often-aggressive landscape of knock-back-a-shot fernet. “I’d like to think that it’s an everyman fernet. It’s truly a fernet for people who don’t usually like it, as well as for those who love it,” says Miller. “Balance is the key in cooking and that’s my approach here. I wanted it to be a better experience whether it’s your first time drinking fernet or your thousandth.”

How it tastes: Pleasing layers of wintergreen and peppermint with a mild-mannered bitterness that eases its way to the front of the room to make itself known. Perfect for a post-dinner digestivo. Miller takes his neat or in a half-fernet, half-aperitivo “Ferraro,” or as an icy highball topped with Coke for a Buenos Aires–inspired fernet con coca.

Fred Jerbis Fernet 25

Where it’s made: Polcenigo, Friuli, Italy
What’s in it: 25 botanicals, including bay laurel, chamomile, citrus, gentian, masterwort, peppermint, pine, rhubarb root, saffron and yarrow rested for six months in chestnut barriques
ABV: 34 percent

The story: The only Italian fernet in our mix comes from Federico Cremasco, a former perfumer and bartender better known as “Fred Jerbis” (“Herbs” in Friuliano), producer of small-batch, botanical-driven gin, vermouth, amaro and bitters that are driven by a true sense of place. His Fernet 25—the number refers to the total botanicals used—was released stateside in fall 2019. It features herbs grown in his own garden (“His mom actually waters the garden it’s not big,” explains David Curiel, national spirits specialist for Oliver McCrum Wines & Spirits, Fred Jerbis’ U.S. importer) and botanicals foraged from the nearby national forest in the Dolomite mountains. The unfiltered blend abstains from the more traditional dark brown to black color characteristic of fernet, instead possessing a light amber composition, courtesy of a six-month aging period in chestnut barriques, a technique that’s typical of wines of the region. “This gives it a gentle amount of wood tannin that seems to really be the glue for some of the botanical aromatics to bond together and evolve as a whole,” says Curiel, who considers Fernet 25 to be “a more delicate interpretation of the category.”

How it tastes: The lightest fernet in the lineup, unfiltered with a burnt-orange hue, offers fragrant floral notes and a warm, well-rounded flavor with a slight astringency (likely from its time in the chestnut barrels). Curiel takes his with a splash of ginger beer and a squeeze of lime: “It gives it a little effervescence and a kick from the ginger and the acid from the limes brings it to life.”

Geijer Spirits California Fernet

Where it’s made: San Francisco, California
What’s in it: 21 botanicals, including artichoke leaves, gentian root, dandelion and wild cherry bark
ABV: 40 percent

The story: What started as a mission to recreate and share his Swedish great-grandmother’s recipe for glögg has turned into a career for Martin Geijer, owner of San Francisco’s Geijer Spirits, which now produces a host of craft liqueurs, including California Fernet, first released in 2018. “My whole motivation for creating a fernet was the fact I wanted a gateway fernet that I could just sit down and enjoy as opposed to shooting it,” says Geijer. “I want the drinker to be able to pick out all the 21 different roots, herbs and barks that go into creating California Fernet.” Those herbs, spices and botanicals are macerated together for six months before filtering. Geijer notes that he’s perfected the ratio of the blend to allow the proper extraction rate for both lighter green and heavier barks. To create a more approachable, cocktail-friendly fernet, he cut the sugar to half the amount of most versions on the market, and leaned on wild cherry bark to add a distinctive “sense of sweetness” to offset its intrinsic bitterness. This permits the California Fernet to be used in more substantial quantities in cocktails, compared to the typical “barspoon of fernet” application. In other words, it’s less of a bully.

How it tastes: Notes of cinnamon and warm baking spices add to a well-rounded, mildly bitter blend whose alcohol content makes itself known but doesn’t hit you over the head. Geijer recommends his cocktail-friendly fernet in a Black Manhattan as well as in tiki applications like La Verité, a play on a Jungle Bird made with Jamaican rum and pineapple juice.

Liquid Riot Bottling Co. Fernet Michaud

Where it’s made: Portland, Maine
What’s in it: 22 ingredients with five types of mint, in a base of organic wheat-based Italian neutral grain spirit that’s re-distilled, charcoal-filtered and sweetened with blue agave
ABV: 41 percent

The story: Liquid Riot, the eclectic New England distillery, brewery and “resto-bar” added an American fernet to their collection in January 2016. Billed as Maine’s first fernet, Fernet Michaud is made without additives, food coloring, artificial ingredients or flavor enhancers. Aside from revealing that a quintet of mint varieties is in the mix, the remaining formula is kept under wraps. Liquid Riot general manager Matthew Marrier confirms, however, that “we source our ingredients organically and locally as much as possible.” Initially, Fernet Michaud spent some time aging in local blueberry wine barrels, but after that source dried up, they’ve been resting the fernet in red wine barrels for seven to nine months. The tall-neck bottle, with its simple label and flip-top stopper, resembles a rustic farmhouse ale more than an Italian-inspired digestivo. But the mint aroma immediately gives it away.

How it tastes: Amber in color with floral honey on the nose. Minty and herbal with a warm kick from the elevated alcohol content and a lingering bitterness. Marrier finds Fernet Michaud particularly friendly in cocktails with lemon or lime juice and recommends swapping for the triple sec in a Margarita (christening it a Fernetarita) or as the base of a bittersweet Fernet Julep.

Rhine Hall Fernet Lola

Where it’s made: Chicago, Illinois
What’s in it: Organic fruit brandy base with 14 herbs, botanicals and spices, including carob bean, cassia, chamomile, eucalyptus, saffron, star anise and vanilla bean
ABV: 37 percent

The story: First released in January 2017, Fernet Lola began as a collaboration with Rhine Hall Distillery and bartenders Jessica Lambert and Mike Ryan, who, inspired by Argentinians’ love of fernet, were looking to create a homegrown example to spotlight at Boleo, a South American–influenced rooftop bar they were opening in Chicago. This limited release soon became a permanent addition to Rhine Hall’s portfolio of eaux de vie. Some of the herbs in Fernet Lola go through an extended maceration in a spirit blend, while others soak in a heat extraction through water before the blending process fully integrates the components in a base of full-bodied brandy. “As a distillery that focuses on eau de vie production, we wanted to be able to push those bright fruit tones while balancing these alongside the complexity and bitterness of the botanical blend and sugar additions,” says Rhine Hall distiller Peter Johnson. “The resulting fernet is slightly sweeter with a smooth, yet bitter finish.”

How it tastes: The aroma of coffee, caramel and chocolate-covered blueberries is followed by a first sip that comes on strong but eases into a mellow richness. Bright pops of eucalyptus come through, but take a back seat to notes of spiced orange. Johnson loves Fernet Lola in a spirit-forward Toronto, as well as stepping in for rum in a bittersweet Daiquiri.

Not Cocktail of the Week #96: Toronto & Fernet Branca

Not Cocktail of the Week #96: Toronto & Fernet Branca
My love affair with Fernet Branca started a couple years ago when I spent a summer in San Francisco for work. It took me a year to discover the Toronto and until I tried one, I thought Fernet would be far too assertive to use in a decent cocktail. The Toronto became one of my favorite cocktails and is part of the reason I gained such an interest in cocktails in general… After discovering it, I went to a local bar and asked for a Toronto. My mind was blown when the bartender proceeded to ask which way I would like it prepared, as there are a couple variations, and gave me a quick history of the drink. I realized that there was a lot more to this whole cocktail thing than I was aware, and was hooked from then on.

Since then I've also found the Industry Sour, so now I have at least a couple Fernet cocktails that I enjoy.

The origins of the Toronto date back to 1922, in a book by Robert Vermeire titled Cocktails: How to Mix Them. In it there was a drink referred to as the Fernet Cocktail. The recipe called for bitters, simple syrup, and equal parts of Fernet and either Cognac or rye whisky (and gives measurements in fractions of gills, which is a quarter of a pint)! Following the instructions is a short note about how the cocktail "is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto." A similar recipe with equal parts Fernet and whisky appears in Boothby's World Drinks from 1930 but renamed the Toronto. The actual Toronto as we now know it, however, first appeared in David Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks in 1948. Embury calls for Canadian whisky specifically, but there has been some debate whether or not this cocktail actually originated from Canada. Embury describes the Toronto as "a modified Old-Fashioned [. ] made with Fernet-Branca, a bitters particularly loved by Italians."

Boothby's World Drinks, William Boothby, 1934
* ½ Jigger Whisky
* ½ Jigger Fernet
* 2 dashes sugar syrup
* 2 drops bitters
Stil well with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass, twist orange peel over and serve.

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury, 1948
* 1 part Sugar Syrup
* 2 parts Fernet-Branca
* 6 parts Canadian Whiskey
* 1 dash Angostura (optional)
This cocktail may be made in Old-Fashioned glasses or may be stirred with large cubes of ice and strained into cocktail glasses. In either case, decorate with a twist of orange peel.

Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails, David Kaplan, 2014
* 2 oz. Rittenhouse 100 Rye
* 0.5 oz Fernet-Branca
* 1 tsp Demerara Syrup
Stir all the ingredients over ice, then strain into a Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Links/Further Reading
History of the Toronto from And One More For the Road
Recipe from Imbibe
Recipe and a chat about glassware from David Lebovitz's blog
Recipe from Kindred Cocktails

This cocktail is quick and easy to make, but offers some deep complexity thanks to the splash of Fernet. I like Embury's characterization of this drink as an Old Fashioned with Fernet used as the bitters, so I tend to stick to the Imbibe recipe (2 oz whiskey, 0.25 oz of both Fernet and simple, no angostura bitters). If you add any more Fernet I feel like it takes over the drink. A little extra simple syrup gives a nice velvety mouthfeel, but I live in Kentucky at the moment, and I like to make my Toronto with bourbon which I usually find sweeter than rye. I think the subtle oakiness of the bourbon really adds a lot. Perhaps it's just that living here has turned me into some kind of bourbon fanboy (it's really hard to live here and not learn to love bourbon). While I absolutely love Fernet, I prefer to just hint at it in this drink instead of having it totally dominate. I tend to forego the angostura bitters as they seem to get lost in even just a quarter ounce of Fernet. I do enjoy it with rye as well, but I find the flavors of a Toronto with rye to be a bit too forward.

It's actually quite a different drink when made with rye, compared to bourbon or Canadian whiskey. Give it a shot both ways and see what you prefer!

Fernet Branca
If you've never had this stuff before, I should warn you that it's not for everyone. It has a very strong flavor. The best way I can describe it is bitter and herbal, with a strong menthol quality kind of like Jagermeister, but menthol instead of licorice and not sweet. I've heard people say it tastes like mouthwash, cough syrup, or "like licking a koala's asshole". It seems like people either love it or hate it. I've never met anyone that was just on the fence about it. There's also Branca Menta that is sweeter and minty, which I don't particularly care for.

Fernet Branca is a digestif and an amaro (Italian for bitter) that was invented in Milan, Italy in 1845. Harold McGee points out in On Food and Cooking that alcohol molecules have a "split chemical personality" because they have similarities to molecules of fats as well as water. This property makes alcohol a great solvent for volatile, aromatic molecules, and means that it's good at extracting and holding flavors from solid ingredients. So that explains bitters and tinctures. Fernet uses this quality to extract flavors from herbs, flowers, roots, and plants from 5 continents. It's rumored that Fernet Branca purchases nearly three quarters of the world's saffron.

Fernet has a bit of a cult following in parts of the world. The national drink of Argentina is Fernet with Coke. In the US, San Francisco drinks a large portion of the Fernet that is imported (I've heard numbers as high as 75% claimed, but I doubt it's that high). Among those working in the service industry, it's often consumed as a Bartender's Handshake, which is just a shot of Fernet with a ginger ale chaser. I have to say that the ginger ale afterwards does something magical in your mouth. Personally, I usually just sip it instead of shooting it, and don't have any issue drinking it neat with no chaser. Keep in mind that it's a deceptive 39% ABV. I always feel like I can drink this stuff all night, but it does tend to catch up with you.

The intro to this Munchies episode kind of gives a decent insight into "Fernet culture". Maybe it's a hipster drink, but I don't care. It's delicious.

Thanks to r/hebug for doing these every week, and for giving me a chance to contribute!! If you enjoy these, consider checking out the NCotW Book on redditmade!

The Fernet sour cocktail aka Industry Sour is a sophisticated and perfectly balanced drink. It’s great for showing off to guests! Serve it as a:

  • Happy hour drink
  • Dinner party drink
  • Late night drinks drink
  • Guys or girls night drink
  • Cocktail hour drink

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Confessions of a Fernet Branca Drinker – An Argentinean Love Story

The first time I tasted Fernet I hated it. I was young (and for legal reasons I will not say how old, just in case the alcohol police are reading) and just starting to go out with friends to “los Boliches” (discos) and bars around Mendoza, Argentina. That black bitter drink, strong as hell and sweetened with Coca Cola, was not my ideal dancing partner. Diluted lager beer served in a simple plastic tumbler was more agreeable with my inexperienced liver and empty pockets, until…

I do not remember the day the love affair started. If it was a question of my palate changing, taste buds maturing, or the fact that a guy seemed to increase his chances of pulling the blondes after a few glasses of Fernet with 45% abv. It may have been both at the same time – who knows – but from that point onwards “un Fernando” (remember the ABBA song of the same name) has since been part of my drinking experience. Many, many years before the wine bug took hold of me, I have to confess.

During my university times when the dating game started, I used Fernet as a way of filtering girls. Fernet-loving girls fell into the “cool with potential” box, and the non-drinkers into the “not-in-a-million-years-unless-your-sister-is-as-hot-as-you-and-drinks-Fernet”. You have to admit it was simplistic, but it worked. I needed to ask just one question: “What would you like to drink?” If destiny dictated that her lips muttered the answer “…just a Diet Coke please,” I knew that very minute I was wasting my time. Not even that pair of Kylie Minogue’s hot-pants could save the night.

Image courtesy of John Keane via Flickr

h3. The history and the facts

The Italians – as many other things in Argentina – brought with them the culture of the amaros (bitters). Used originally as medicine, amaros later became useful in curing the “pains of the heart,” as they called it. One only needs to listen to a Tango song from the 1900s to understand what I am taking about.

Fratelli Branca spotted the potential of Argentina in 1925, first producing Fernet in the country by importing the herb extracts directly from Milan. In 1941 they established their industrial facility in Parque de los Patricios, Province of Buenos Aires. Today, after moving and expanding the plant to Tortuguitas in 1982, Branca produces more than 24 million litres of the black herbal digestive.

The consumption of Fernet in Argentina is spread across all provinces and follows in third position in the alcoholic drinks rankings, after wine and beer. But the province of Cordoba, with 3 million people, consumes a whopping 30% of the total. There Fernet has an almost religious following. The province’s prodigal son of sport, Angel Cabrera, after winning the 2007 Golf US Open, declared in an interview that his celebration would involve a glass of his adored Fernet con Cola rather than a victorious bottle of bubbly. Cheers for the Cordobeses!

Are there any other brands? Yes, they are: Porta, Vittone, Capri, Ramazzotti, Luxardo, Martini, Cinzano, and recently 1882. New brands were launched in Argentina with great eagerness after 2001 when the economy went tits up and our pockets deflated. However, no matter how skint you are, the liquid produced by the brothers Branca is the king. Similarly, the mixer is just one: Coca Cola, not Pepsi. Maybe it’s the level of sugar, but believe me, Pepsi does not work. However, at “El Cacano” (the colourful bar on the corner of Plaza de Chacras, 50 metres walk from Casa Argento, in Mendoza) for some silly promotional reason they serve Fernet with Pepsi. So if I were you, I would have a local beer. What are they thinking? Can you imagine Tom without Jerry, Homer Simpson without Marge, Romeo without Juliet, or Popeye without Olive Oyl? These are loving partnerships that are meant to be together.

h3. How do you prepare the perfect Fernet con Cola the Argentine way?

* One tumbler glass
* 35cl (ish) measure of Fernet Branca
* 250cl glass bottle of Coca Cola
* Three ice-cubs
* Keep the bottle of Fernet Branca at hand for finishing

Put the ice-cubes in the tumbler. Avoid using more than 3 ice cubes or the final result will be too watery. Add the measure of Fernet, and then slowly pour in the Coca Cola. Allow that brown chocolaty foam to rise in the glass. Then the vital Argentinean touch: we kill it! Just before the foam reaches the brim, add a few more drops of Fernet – and surprise! – it stops rising. These extra drops are essential. They give the first sip that added punch of bitterness that we have learned to love so much.

Image courtesy of Jake Sutton via Flickr

* Fernando: The most common nickname for a glass of Fernet. It is the extra friend that comes to every party.
* Fernucho: Another friendly nickname.
* Cabezón: (Big headed) A strong glass of Fernet. It has more Fernet than cola and whoa… it kicks you backwards.
* Matálo: (Kill it, kill it!) The final touch, adding those extra drops of Fernet to “kill” the foam.

h3. When in Mendoza, Argentina

For the wine tourists visiting Mendoza, the best place to taste Fernet is in the bars of the Aristides Villanueva Street. This avenue got pretty trendy in the last 10 years and every time I visit I find a new bar, restaurant, resto-bar (our equivalent gastro pub), or just a new convenience store which spotted the potential and sells drinks with tables and chairs on the pavement. Along this street you will find many reincarnations of the drink presented in different formats:

* Sold by the glass, already mixed – for the single minded
* To share for two: one tumbler full of Fernet with two extra glasses and two cokes
* Same as above, but for one – for those with a larger appetite and keen on double measures
* And the mightiest of them all: the Super Dupa One Litre Mixed Jar – easily accommodates a party of 4 people and leaves room for second rounds

So that’s it amigos. Enjoy our national Argentinean drink (second only to our wine of course).

Popular Mechanics Amaro


750-ml bottle ­Spirytus Rektyfikowany, ­Everclear, high-proof vodka, or other strong neutral spirit 5 grams whole cloves

5 grams cinchona bark (Gentian root and ­cinchona bark are bittering agents, responsible for amaro&rsquos bitter flavor.)

10 grams orris root (A common ingredient in perfumes. &ldquoIt&rsquos a binding agent, so it helps with ­stability,&rdquo says Willis.)

5 grams rhubarb root (&ldquoRhubarb root I would highly recommend. It&rsquos one of the things that defines amaro, but people don&rsquot really know that they&rsquore tasting it.&rdquo)

3 grams yarrow (Willis: &ldquoI love yarrow, it has this almost citrusy quality, but it&rsquos a unique aroma, which is really great for an amaro.&rdquo)


1. Using a gram scale that is accurate to the tenth of a gram, such as the Bonavita coffee scale, measure out any flavorings that might extract quickly and add them to the liquor in a wide-mouth jar. Taste (carefully, it&rsquos strong) every day until the flavor seems pungent enough. In this case, we started with cloves, cinnamon bark, juniper berries, gentian, and cinchona, then strained everything out after three days.

2. Now add your second charge of lighter botanicals: the allspice, cardamom, orris root, ginger, grapefruit peel, rosemary, vanilla bean, rhubarb root, rosebuds, calendula, and yarrow. Taste every day. We waited about six more days, then strained the whole mixture using a kitchen strainer, then again using a coffee filter. 3. Make simple syrup by stirring one part sugar into one part boiling water. Let cool. Using a 10-ml pipette (you can buy these on Amazon), add simple syrup to the flavored alcohol 10 milli­liters at a time until the sweetness balances the bitterness, then add pure water 10 milliliters at a time until the alcohol reaches an acceptable percent. We added 200 milliliters of simple syrup and 800 milliliters of pure water for a final alcohol content of about 40 percent.

4. Pour 2 ounces over ice in a rocks glass. Enjoy.

Created by Mixologist Kyle Ford, this week’s drinks, is also the official drink of 2012 San Francisco Cocktail Week. Made of only three ingredients, Cointreau, Ferent Branca and Lime Juice. What you get is a bit of sweet and sour chased by minty freshness.

Says Ford, “The name, Black Lily, is an indirect reference to Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1842-1929), legendary North Beach eccentric, avid gambler, drinker, and fire(wo)man. Legend has it, Ms. Lillie left $118,000 &hellip Read more

Carpano Antica, Punt e Mes and Fernet Branca – Westerfeld House – San Francisco

We went to a rocking Victorian party at the Westerfeld House in San Francisco paying homage to the Italian aperitifs Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes and the Italian digestive Fernet Branca. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the memo to dress in Victorian clothes and so showed up in 21st century garb and lost out on the opportunity to win a really cool Fernet Branca bike!

Besides hanging out with people dressed in really cool but &hellip Read more

Fernet for Life

Learning to love a mysterious Italian bitter
By Carly Wray

This article originally appeared in

There’s a fairy tale quality to fernet — we’re talking Brothers Grimm here, not Walt Disney. Alone in a glass, the cola-brown spirit conjures the woods and strange roots dealt by witches there are medicinal notes, too, but of the sort bought in burlap and taken on faith.

A magical series of things happens when you do a shot &hellip Read more

Savoy Corpse Reviver

It’s Mixology Monday again and this month were are hosted by Chuck Taggart at The Gumbo Pages. Chuck picked the Amaro as the theme. If you don’t know what Amaro is, it is a variety of Italian herbal liqueur, commonly drunk as an after-dinner digestif. Amarai are typically made with herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and/or citrus peels steeped in alcohol, mixed with sugar and aged. Common brands are Fernet Branca, Cynar, and Luxardo. Even Jägermeister &hellip Read more

Watch the video: Weekend Sip: The Worlds Most Undrinkable Spirit (July 2022).


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