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Nov 17, 2008 11:57 AM

Fernet Branca: first taste leads to puzzlement

[I initially posted this in the San Francisco forum, which was a mistake. I'm reposting it here.]


After reading about Fermet Branca in this month's _Atlantic_ I decided to give it a try. I found a bottle at a great price at my local Mission St liquor store and tried a shot after dinner on Saturday.

After reading about the drink in the magazine and online I expected a bizarre, bitter, confusing assault on my senses, and a lengthy period of acclimatization to an "acquired taste" (as I experienced years ago with oysters and wine and am currently going through with whisky). Instead, my first shot (which I slammed) was an anticlimax. It tasted mainly of mint, with a mild, somewhat bitter aftertaste which lingered for a while. It wasn't particularly bitter, had no sign of anise, and didn't remind me at all of medicine.

On Sunday evening, just after a square of dark chocolate, I decided to sip my Fernet, on the theory that I'd simply missed the complexity of the flavor by slamming my shot the night before. But again my experience was of a simple, very minty flavor with a lingering, slightly bitter aftertaste. I quite enjoyed it, but it hardly opened a new door to my palette. It wasn't an _interesting_ flavor.

I am confused. I certainly bought a bottle of Fernet Branca and not Fernet Mentha, so I'm not drinking the mintified version. Perhaps I got a bad batch or (more likely) my taste buds are defective in some way.

What am I missing?


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  1. It's actually saffron that you're tasting, not mint. But in extremely high concentration, some people get the two confused. Try diluting it with still water and sparkling water. Try doing that as well with the addition of some simple syrup. Diluted you're more likely to get a handle on the flavors going on.

    1. According to Wikepedia (not always the world's most reliable resource), there is a "slight" difference between Fernet Branca made in Italy, and that made in the United States.

      I've had it once aboard an SAS flight from Zurich to Athens, and it remains the most vile thing I have ever put in my mouth. Maybe it's because it was served as a miniature. Maybe it's because it was the Italian version. Or maybe it's because of altitude. I can't envision an occasion when I would drink it again.

      Did you have a serious head cold when you drank it? '-)

      5 Replies
      1. re: Caroline1

        Thanks tmso and Caroline for your advice and suggestions. I'll try it with sparkling water this evening. I didn't know that concentrated saffron can sometimes register to the confused as a minty taste.

        Last night I had some Fernet about an hour after eating, rather than immediately after dessert (chocolate) as on the first two attempts. This time I wasn't as overwhelmed by the mint and noticed the bitter flavors a little more. Perhaps I am getting more accustomed to the taste and able to pay more attention to the "edges".

        Caroline: no, I didn't have a cold :) My wife's theory is that, since I grew up eating Vegemite, either my taste buds are dead or I am impervious to nasty tastes.

        On the positive side, drinking Fernet after dinner seems to be helping with my heartburn. I'm working on a small sample size (3 nights) but the anecdotal evidence is that I'm getting less heartburn overnight, even after a heavy meal.


        1. re: quokka70

          I'm glad it's doing something good for you! I would hate to think of someone suffering it for naught. On the other hand, Vegemite? Poor baby!

          Clucking motherly noises from an old broad... Have you seen a doctor about your "heartburn?" It might be more beneficial than Fernet Branca! '-)

          1. re: Caroline1

            Quit with the Vegemite bashing! It is truly the food of the gods.

            The heartburn is never very bad, but it is nice to find another treatment.

          2. re: quokka70

            Well, last night I finally tried it with still water. It was about 1 part Fernet to 4 parts water.

            The difference in taste was very surprising. I had been somewhat skeptical of tmso's report that the mint flavor was really something else, but watered down the Fernet didn't have a mint flavor at all. I shouldn't have doubted you, tmso!

            The texture was quite different with water: I think I prefer it neat. It will be interesting to try it with sparkling water.

            I'm noticing that I feel somewhat groggy the day after taking a Fernet digestive, like I'd taken a codeine (but less so). I wonder what's really in this stuff.


          3. re: Caroline1

            I don't believe Wikipedia. I think there's only one formulation of Fernet Branca. There are other Fernets by other makers (Stock and Vallet, for two), and those are quite different.

          4. One of my favorite drinking spots offers a Fernet Branca frappe (ok, yes I'm in Boston). It is served in one of those tall shot glasses. Crush ice packed into the whole glass, creme de menthe and Fernet Branca. Just thought I'd offer another way to drink Fernet besides straight. Also if you search cocktail recipes you will find a lot of Fernet recipes that are mixed with whiskey (rye is my preference).

            Vegamite - an acquired taste mate.

            1 Reply
            1. re: kate used to be 50

              I'd use caution when using FB as a cocktail ingredient. Regardless of what you think of its flavor, I'm sure you can agree that it's very pungent. It can overpower other ingredients quite easily, so a little goes a long way. On that note, I've found a recipe online for a cocktail called a Toronto, which as the poster above me suggested is a rye-based drink. I'm guessing it was invented as a Manhattan varient? It's a nice combination if the proportions are kept in check.

            2. The "mint" tastes more like menthol to me than like peppermint. Maybe that's why some people think it tastes medicinal? Anyway, it's probably the combination of the 5 billion herbs. I like the taste, but it's certainly strong.

              1. How strange to see this thread. I was watching some of the Three Sheets marathon on Mojo yesterday and one of the episodes is set in Argentina. He does a whole segment on Ferent Branca and mentions that it's very popular in Argentina to drink with cola. I was at the store last night and they had mini bottles so I bought one to try. Haven't tried it yet but this thread has tempered my enthusiasm a bit.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Scott M

                  it is an interesting taste, alone or mixed, but worth a try especially with a mini-bottle. as crschechter mentioned above, I too have wanted to try a Toronto but didn't want to invest the $$ in a full bottle of FB. not sure i would be able to use a whole bottle. i'll have to look for a mini. Thanks

                  1. re: Scott M

                    Scott, give it a try sans cola first; the soda really mask the intricacies of this beautiful spirit.