Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Spirits >
Aug 2, 2008 04:15 PM

fernet branca

so i finally bought a bottle since i am quite a fan of such herbal digestifs/aperitifs (cynar is my favorite summer drink.) but seriously--this stuff is tough to get down. the notes of menthol make me think i'm smoking a newport. should i use a mixer or just grow some hair on my chest? i know of the alleged medicinal qualities of various herbal liquors but this tastes a little too close to actual medicine for my tastes. i feel like i might as well finish my dinner with robitussin. maybe my bitter palate is more underdeveloped than i thought. advice/comments anyone?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. "should i use a mixer or just grow some hair on my chest?"
    You could do both!

    It's good as a mixer (coca cola is a simple one, some fancy cocktails will use it to good effect as well). I do drink it plain sometimes, but when on it's own I'll usually pour it into a small cordial glass, stick it in the freezer for a few minutes and shoot it down.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sailormouth

      Fernet and Coke is one of the most popular mixed drinks in Argentina. Fernet is surprisingly popular there, considering its respective popularity in Italy or the US.

    2. I found it really foul when I first started drinking it, but tolerated it because it's such an effective digestive aid I needed something to replace Jagermeister, my prior favorite digestif, which thanks to American marketers went from being a little-seen, sophisticated digestif to a frat-boy's shooter. I got sick of being carded the second I ordered it. (I'll endure the shame of looking like an idiot drinker if I need a stomach settler and Jager's all they have.)

      I don't think Fernet cocktails are the answer if you don't like the taste of Fernet yet. There's nothing that can hide its flavor. If you come to like it, they can be interesting. Eastern Standard Kitchen in Boston serves a highball called The Rat (Fernet and Coke, not bad), while Green Street serves a cocktail called the Toronto (Fernet, rye, and simple syrup), which is more interesting to me.

      In the early days, keeping my bottle of Fernet in the freezer helped. I found that over time I came to love its flavor. Maybe it's a Pavlovian thing: that flavor became inextricably linked in my mind with feeling better in the stomach, so maybe that's how it became a pleasurable taste to me. But I do love it now, and taste many things in it that I didn't when its overwhelming impression was of bitterness. I had similar early reactions to Guinness and espresso and Campari when I was very young; maybe you have to be older to start loving bitter flavors.

      I still don't like Branca Menta, however; it feels like a failed attempt to mask Fernet's flavors with mintiness, not good.

      30 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        This is good information for someone who likes (and often needs) a digestif. Do you have any other suggestions? I have been drinking Jagermeister for this purpose, as well as Underberg (hard to find in bars in the US). I'm interested in any other suggestions from anyone on good digestifs/stomach settlers.

        1. re: ed1066

          Many of the Italian amari work for me; I tend to prefer the less sweet ones, but as you point out (I searched for Underberg for years in the US after stumbling across it in South Africa; I'm still hoarding a few of the little bottles), beggars can't be choosers. Campari actually does the job, even if it is more traditionally drunk as an aperitif, ditto Punt e Mes, an extra-bitter sweet vermouth. Averna is one of the more popular proper digestivi. If you can find it, Strega (sweeter than most), Ramazzotti (strong orange note), Cynar (based on artichoke, odd but tasty, another one I suspect is more commonly taken before dinner than after), Montenegro, Amaro Nonino, Lucano, San Giovenale, Amaro Mio. Monk-made cordials like Chartreuse (green or yellow, the latter is dryer and stronger) can be helpful.

          Plain old Angostura bitters, which everyone seems to have a bottle of but only uses in the odd Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, or champagne cocktail, is an excellent digestif (its original application). Add a few dashes to plain soda water and maybe add lemon. The barman's Alka-Seltzer.

          Becherovka, a pale-yellow Czech bitters, is unusual and good, a bit clove-y and cinammon-y. Mixes nicely with tonic.

          I've also found a Luxardo Fernet that is far less astringent than Branca's: the label describes it as "beet molasses with natural flavor" (and 45% alcohol). Easier to take than Fernet, but not as effective. I once sampled something called Fernet Vallet in Mexico years ago, but I haven't seen it since.

          If you can find it, pacharan, a Basque liqueur that's like a cross between pastis and quality sloe gin, is very nice.

          1. re: MC Slim JB

            Thanks a lot Slim, you obviously know your digestifs! I will try some of these, I have seen most of them at my local BevMo.

            1. re: ed1066

              There was a bar we frequented in Aruba that had a fairly long cocktail list. One of the cocktails was called the Stomach Ache. Angostura and fine Aruban water.

              This thread reminded me that I have a small bottle of Becherovka that I bought in Prague and never opened. Actually, I've never even tasted it. I picked it up along with some Absinthe to take back home. I might have to crack it and give it a try.

            2. re: MC Slim JB

              this list is great and thanks for everyone's advice. i found the fernet branca much more enjoyable with a splash of coke and think that i am starting to like the way that it challenges me on the rocks.

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Slim, you make a reference to a digestif called "Montenegro." Can you be a bit more specific?

                I'm familiar with a grappa-like product from Montenegro called "Lozava Rakija." I believe the bottle refers to it as an "immature grape brandy."

                I'm interested in your reference...

                1. re: MDBBQFiend

                  The Montenegro I'm referring to is Amaro Montenegro, from Bologna. It's got an unusual shaped bottle (see ) and is dark amber colored and slightly sweet, not unlike Averna, pretty easy to take as a digestif. Good stuff. Each of the first couple of bottles I bought came packaged with a nice, solid-feeling bitters glass, which is like a tall, narrow, heavy-bottomed shot glass, with two markings in milliliters for a short or long pour.

                2. re: MC Slim JB

                  Montenegro is an exceptional amaro. Unsurprisingly, it's from Bologna, home to all things good on the palate.

              2. re: MC Slim JB

                Slim, I was unaware of that particular cocktail in Eastern's repertoire. The name no doubt a nod to the previous tenants of that block (the rock club, not the mammal!).

                1. re: Scortch

                  ...actually, from what I've read, both the rock club AND the rodent coexisted happily for years at that address.

                  For Boston-area skeptics wondering about how Fernet may be successfully incorporated into a cocktail, look no further than across the river to Green Street in Cambridge and seek out Owner Dylan Thomas's "Ewing No. 33": pastis-rinsed glass, aged rum, Fernet, spiced brown sugar syrup, dash Angostura, garnished with lime. Sublime.

                  1. re: AbeFroman

                    That's Dylan Black - Dylan Thomas was the poet.

                    The Ewing #33 is great, though I think the Toronto makes an even better introduction to Fernet cocktails.

                    I developed my taste for Fernet by drinking it with Coke like they do in Argentina.

                    1. re: AbeFroman

                      wow, the ewing no. 33 sounds great. tell me more and i will make it!

                      pastis rinse - can i use a provencal pastis like henri bardoiun?
                      how much rum to fernet? any specific aged rum?
                      spiced brown sugar syrup? i'm picturing a brown sugar simple syrup but what spices? allspice seems a good one, orange peel?

                      man i wish i still lived in boston.

                      1. re: andytee

                        Oops. Sorry for the goof on Dylan's name. Poet or not, the drink IS poetry.

                        Here's the recipe:

                        EWING #33, Green Street, Cambridge, MA

                        1/4 ounce pastis (rec. Pernod Ricard)
                        2 ounces amber rum (Jamaican. Perhaps Appleton V/X?)
                        1/2 ounce Fernet-Branca
                        1/4 ounce spiced brown sugar syrup (see below)
                        dash Angostura

                        Rinse chilled coupe with the Ricard, then pour it out. Fill a mixing glass with ice. Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir well. Strain into the prepared coupe and garnish with lime wedge.

                        SPICED BROWN SUGAR SYRUP: In a saucepan, bring 8 ounces water to a boil with 1 cup dark brown sugar, 1 star anise pod and 2 allspice berries. Simmer over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Let cool, then strain into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 12 ounces.

                        1. re: AbeFroman

                          star anise - genius. that looks amazing, will have to try soon! thanks for posting.

                  2. re: MC Slim JB

                    The Porteño Cocktail uses some Fernet and in my opinion highlights it quite well while greatly reducing the punch that it delivers:


                    I had trouble with it at first as well, until I managed to get through my first bottle. Now that I'm used to it, I like to sip it straight... Fantastic stuff!

                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                      hey slim -

                      what sort of proportions would you use to make a toronto? got a preferred rye for it? it sounds like a drink that is right up my alley.

                      fernet and coke hardly needs a name, but is a good drink, though it perfer fernet and soda.

                      1. re: andytee

                        I had a Toronto at Green Street a few weeks ago, but didn't watch it being made nor ask, but I'll hazard a guess based on the color: 3 oz rye, 1/2 oz Fernet Branca, long dash of simple syrup, probably stirred rather than shaken (Fernet can turn cloudy if shaken, not desirable), and strained into a chilled cocktail glass, no garnish. Given the insistent flavor of Fernet, I'd probably choose a rougher rye like Old Overholt, which also has the advantage of being a great value.

                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                          I put in two dashes of Angostura when I make them at home and typically use Overholt, but Rittenhouse will do as well, which will make a chest-hair growing version if you like it hot.

                          1. re: sailormouth


                            3 oz. old overholt rye
                            0.5 oz fernet
                            dash simple syrup

                            pour over ice and stir, serve in a chilled cocktail glass.

                            sound good? no garnish? i could totally see a lemon twist in there.

                            1. re: andytee

                              to follow up - here's a toronto recipe, similar proportions plus a little angostura, which seems a bit like overkill to me:


                              1. re: andytee

                                If you want to mess with rye and Fernet, how about a Franciulli?


                                (it says bourbon there, but I think rye makes it better)

                                1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                  ah, looks like a manhattan variant with a fernet added in along with the vermouth, and instead of the bitters. sounds good, will try.

                                  1. re: andytee

                                    Yes, it is essentially a Manhattan variant, but the key thing is that it's built "frappe-style". In other words, shaved or finely crushed ice. Think Manhattan slushee and you're on the right track.

                                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                      thanks for the tip, i'll give it a whirl next time i feel like crushing some ice.

                                      or shaving some - what does one use to shave ice?

                                      1. re: andytee

                                        [Insert Gillette joke here]

                                        An ice shaver, like for sno-balls.

                                        For crushed ice you could use a Lewis Bag or improvise with a meat tenderizer and a normal (and clean) bag.

                                        1. re: sailormouth

                                          Another idea is to use a blender or food processor. Put in some water with the ice (otherwise it won't move around enough), blend it until it's slush, then pass it through a sieve to get rid of the excess water.

                                  2. re: davis_sq_pro

                                    similarly, a pick up (rye, fernet, pastis) sounds interesting -


                                  3. re: andytee

                                    ok, made a toronto according to the proportions above, and it still pretty much tastes like fernet. (not a bad thing) i think next time i'll scale back the fernet a little, and maybe do a bigger dash of the sweetness. and yeah, i'm all for a twist of lemon peel.

                                    1. re: andytee

                                      toronto, round two: slightly less fernet, double the simple syrup (using a 2:1 "rich" syrup of organic cane sugar, probably a tablespoon this time) and a twist of lemon peel.

                                      this time i got it right, thanks for turning me on to this drink.

                                      and, its... effective. logging off, done for the night.

                            2. re: MC Slim JB

                              to MC Slim: I think Branca Menta was created from word of mouth (or slur of mouth) since the long recommended hangover cure – above all others – was equal parts Fernet Branca and Creme de Menthe. So, they produced both in one bottle. Yes, it does sound disgusting, but presumably it works. I love bitter tasting drinks, Campari especially, which is out of character since I have an very unsophisticated palate.

                            3. Fernet is kind of in a class of its own. I'm not sure anyone likes it on first taste, but it really grows on you. That's the taste of saffron that's so overwhelming; thinking about that might help you see what people appreciate in it. Following it with a small glass of ginger ale is also helpful.

                              Let us know how that chest hair goes if you do get a taste for it :-)

                              1. I suggest drinking it with your Italophile (but secretly Irish) father-in-law. Mine has managed to rally a whole extended family around his bottle, although I don't yet have one at home. As to its therapeutic digestive properties - the stuff really works.

                                1. beverages or anything for that matter should be consumed in the manner one chooses. i think the ego portion of our alcahol consumption careers should cease as we graduate from shotgunning schlitz to gracefully sipping white zinfandel... i however prefer my fernet neat

                                  and quite a wonder how fernet, particularly branca, has following in and around a few cities.... boston, it's everywhere, same in san francisco. ever order it in chicago? often harder to find

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: bowmore36

                                    Fernet Branca was very difficult to find outside of a handful of well-stocked full-license Italian restaurants and old-school North End and Eastie caffes in Boston until three or four years ago (I know because I tracked it the way birders look for the ivory-billed woodpecker).

                                    I think the broader availability of Fernet Branca in Boston started when it became popular with certain local bartenders. This makes sense: they're bored with the usual stuff, they get exposed to rare and novel products far more frequently than civilians, and it's a drink that flags them as insiders to other bartenders (or used to). I knew Fernet had made strides with the general populace when my local South End liquor retailer started carrying bottles that I hadn't special ordered myself; that happened probably eight months ago.

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      the time line is irrelevant.... fernet (branca or any other) has been around for over 150 years. and of course this phenomenon occurs because of restaurant (or retail) items becoming popular amongst those that sell them. i was merely commenting on how specific it is to very few cities in north america

                                      1. re: bowmore36

                                        Not sure what the "timeline" has to do with anything. Averna has been around nearly as long, but it has not caught on locally the way Fernet Branca has.

                                        You wondered why Fernet is so popular in a few cities; I offered an explanation as to why I think its popularity has surged recently in Boston. I believe that a similar bartender-driven phenomenon occurred in San Francisco a few years back, slightly ahead of Boston.

                                        Bartenders sell everything, but they rarely drive demand for new drinks to the point where they initiate mass-market drinking trends. Far more often, such trends are catalyzed by sophisticated brand marketing campaigns by manufacturers and distributors (the classic example of which is the Jagermeister success story, though you might also cite the rise at various times over the last few decades of Galliano, peach-flavored liqueurs, super-premium vodkas, and so on), pop culture, and the vagaries of consumer taste. Bartenders didn't put the Cosmopolitan on the map; Sex and the City did.

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          look back, i wrote "the time line is irrelevant"

                                          1. re: bowmore36

                                            I was expressing my confusion about your comment on Fernet Branca's age. I'm not clear on what that has to do with your original question. I agree that the fact that Fernet Branca is 150 years old is irrelevant.

                                            I did lay out my own timeline in offering an answer to your question, "Why is Fernet popular in some cities like Boston and San Francisco?" It wasn't all that popular locally until a bunch of local bartenders started drinking it and stocking it, mostly for themselves and their friends. A bar manager at Boston's Eastern Standard Kitchen once told me that after-hours staff drinking accounts for 90% of their rather considerable Fernet consumption. Maybe you're not interested in the timing here, but I think it's useful to understanding the narrative. It didn't just happen instantaneously here.

                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                              fernet (branca) has a uniquely strange following in a few cities, unlike any other product behind a bar. that can be supported by those bartenders you refer to... i was simply commenting on that phenomenon.