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fernet branca - love it or hate it?

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Definitely an acquired taste but it has recently become a new favorite. I tend to drink it straight but wondered if anyone has used it in mixed cocktails? Know any local bars that use in special cocktails?

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  1. I'm a fan, had been drinking it as a digestivo for decades before it became trendy with the industry set and more recently civilians. (I used to carry a list in my wallet of the handful of places in town that carried it, most of them North End caffès.) If you like Fernet, look for Santa Maria al Monte, which is similar in flavor profile but a bit less assertive.

    One useful side effect of its recent popularity surge is that it seems to have spurred interest in many more Italian amari and other bitters; it's much more common to see a bar stocking Fernet-Branca, Averna, Meletti, Ramazzotti, Cynar, Becherovka, etc. now than just a few years ago. Lately I've even seen ones that are new to me, and I've been collecting them for years, like Braulio, and the options available at retail are also expanding (Gran Classico popped up for the first time a couple of years ago), which I also expect is tied to increased demand driven by local craft cocktail bars.

    That's the place to start if you're looking to sample new ones and try cocktails that feature them, bars like No. 9, Drink, Clio, Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, The Hawthorne, Brick & Mortar, backbar, Craigie on Main, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Deep Ellum, Tavern Road, Ribelle, Fairsted Kitchen. Some examples I like: the Rat (a riff on Argentina's most popular highball, Fernet-Branca and Coke) at ESK, the Tornonto (many places, but I first ran into it at Green Street: rye, Fernet-Branca, simple), the Hanky Panky (a classic, so any serious bar should be able to make it: gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet-Branca), a Fernet Flip (with raw whole egg and simple, Drink is a good place to order this one). You'll find most use Fernet in small amounts, as it can easily overpower other ingredients.

    Note that there are other Fernets (Stock, Vallet, Jelínek, Leopold), but they're far harder to find at both retail and in bars. The last time I saw Fernet Stock (from Czech Republic) was at Gaslight. Vallet is a Mexican bottling that I've heard is around but haven't seen since a holiday in Mexico years ago. I brought some Jelínek back from Prague, and it's starting to pop up at retail, too (Martignetti's in Brighton was the last place I saw it). Leopold is made in Colorado; I first tasted it at First Printer, and bought some at Liquor World (Porter Square). I still think the Branca product is the most interesting, and the most effective relief when I've overindulged at dinner, especially in animal fat. It's a small miracle in that regard.


    7 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      slim, have you learned by experience of the amount you need for an upset stomach? i think i may have figured out the cause of my stomach problems this week, but i still have left some FB.

      I learned about FB's existence in 1980 when I was visiting a Swiss friend who was an herbologist/ homeopathic pharmacist. She had a shot of FB every morning before leaving for work. Have you known anyone who did that?

      1. re: opinionatedchef

        I know starting the day with booze was the habit of nearly every adult in Colonial America (who didn't teetotal for religious reasons), but doing so myself would remind me too much of the late-stage alcoholics who used to queue up every morning waiting for the (now bygone) bucket o' blood in my neighborhood to open its doors at 10am.

        For me, the typical "Oof, I need a Fernet" dinner has a lot of animal fat: charcuterie, short ribs, pork shoulder, marrow, a brick of beef neck, a Gorgonzola sauce, etc. A standard ounce-and-a-half shot, neat, is enough to provide relief from that "post-Thanksgiving-dinner, need to lie down on the sofa and unbuckle my pants" feeling in about five minutes. But it's not unusual for me to have a second one just because I like it.


        1. re: MC Slim JB

          I love it. You're absolutely right about what kinds of foods it's best after. I find about 3/4 oz is right for me, but I totally get why more is good.

          But you so reminded me of something from years past... I used to work nights and would get off around 7:00. My colleagues and I (if you could call us anything as grandiose as that!) would head out for an after work drink — and I would be stunned at how many guys in business suits would be there having a pre-work snort. Wow.

        2. re: opinionatedchef

          you may also want to consider a simple mix of bitters and soda. just a splash of bitters usually does the trick.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            hn, do you mean as a general restorative? i guess i thought that , for our Swiss homeopathic pharmacist friend, it was an immune boosting substance.
            That was an interesting thing to learn, that Switzerland has this strong homeopathic pharmacist tradition and those pharmacies are 'on every street corner.'

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Yes, I also often do a vial of this in a small glass of sparking water: http://www.urbanmoonshine.com/bitters/, if I don't want to even have a glass of amaro.

        3. Slim's list is excellent- i'd add that JM Curley has often (though I don't think currently) had on the menu a toronto variant called the torontino with- whiskey, fernet, campari, and carpano. On a less drink more indulgent side, they also have a concrete, the mayday Mabry, made with ice cream, ginger beer, and fernet.

          Two of my favorite amaro not already mentioned are both from Varnelli-

          Amaro Sibilia is probably the closest amaro i've had in flavor profile to fernet branca in terms of being medicinal. In restaurants i've seen it at Asta, not sure where else around here (and haven't seen it in retail, though haven't looked hard)

          Amaro d'ell erborista- mentioned this in another thread, this is a super gentian forward amaro, and i love it for that. If you enjoy the gentian aperitifs (eg suze, aveze, salers), you'll likely enjoy this. I find the flavor is closest to something like turmeric- it's a very earthy bitterness but without any of the spice and spiciness of ginger.People not used to gentian will often remark that this is much more 'bitter' than fernet branca, but i think it's more just that people at this point are more acclimated to the medicinal style of most amaro. Also haven't seen it around here in stores, though you can find it in NY, and i know Hungry Mother has had it on their menu.

          Tempus Fugit (who makes gran classico, kina l'avion, and a few other great products) has released their own fernet del frate angelico, that i like quite a bit: it's not nearly as medicinal, but, despite that, I think remains a very complex amaro (most of the other fernets, imo, trade off complexness for approachability). Oddly, I can't seem to find this either in Boston or NY, but, in doing online searches, CT liquor stores appear to have it...

          4 Replies
          1. re: valcfield

            Puritan has an amari tasting or flight on its dessert menu, which is fun, although I don't think I ate enough beforehand to really need it.

            1. re: CportJ

              Interesting, wish they had the details on their website, can't find any info.

              1. re: Bugsey34

                They have Moxie and cardamaro on the cocktail list.

                1. re: Bugsey34

                  We had the amaro tasting at Puritan & Co over the weekend and found it quite fun. Here's the overview:
                  --It's $20 for a flight of 3 amaro liqueurs (we were told that pour sizes would be "around 1 oz." ... but they were all freehand pours and we definitely got more than an ounce in each sample).
                  --The waiter chose our flight for us, based on his personal preference/knowledge. We enjoyed his choices, but I'm sure you could select your own, especially if you see a bottle or two that you're particularly interested in.
                  --I'm not sure how many amari they have in the house (I should've looked closer), but it must be at least 8 or 9 bottles. We had one from the Czech Republic, but the others were Italian.
                  --All in all, it was a fun little splurge, and we learned more about several amaros that I'd not sampled previously.
                  --My favorite: Santa Maria al Monte, which had a lovely herbaceous flavor without being overly sweet (or loaded with a menthol flavor .... like Fernet Branca -- which I also enjoy)

                  Bottles I know they had in house:
                  -Fernet Branca
                  -S. Maria al Monte
                  -Amaro Nardini
                  -Amaro Nonino
                  -R. Jelinek Fernet (Czech)

            2. Catalyst was doing Fernet with house made sasparilla. It was fantastic. Make it all the time at home now with root beer.

              1. I have grown to appreciate it more, though I prefer it in a Toronto, than straight. The wife loves it. Citizen's Public House has Fernet on tap.

                1. Cincquecento had at least 4 different fernets at the bar a couple weeks ago when I was there.

                  1. The last cocktail I had with Fernet also included my beloved Aperol at West Bridge, called the Love & Fear: Plymouth Gin, Aperol, Lemon, Pineapple, Fernet. The Fernet was obviously just a touch since it would have overpowered the drink otherwise, which I think you'll find in most places.

                    Fernet, despite my love for amari, is too strong for me to have on its own. In any amaro discussion I must mention my beloved Calabrian brew Amaro del Capo, available at Cirace & Sons and I think Martignetti, though I order it by the case from my favorite wine store, Winestone in Chestnut Hill. It is on the sweeter side but a family favorite that we are never without.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bugsey34

                      I agree that the Love & Fear is real standout cocktail creation at West Bridge - and a bit of challenge to make at home based on the (smoked?) pineapple syrup preparation. It is good reason to stop into that friendly bar.

                    2. The Frenet Buck at Deep Ellum is wicked good.

                      1. When I was browsing through Liquor World last Saturday, I noticed that they had a Luxardo product in their impressive selection of amari. Anyone tried this one yet? Triplum and Luxardo Amaretto are staples of our bar, so I'm assuming it's worth a taste.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                          I bought a bottle of the Luxardo Fernet a few years ago, and it's like most Fernets that aren't Branca: relatively light-bodied, lighter in color, and much less intense, with far less in-your-face flavors like the bracing myrrh and licorice of Branca. (I'm told that Branca uses 75% of the world's saffron to make its Fernet, but I'm not sure I can detect it in there.)

                          If memory serves, the Luxardo product explicitly says it is distilled from beet molasses (others are made from grain neutral spirits, and I think Branca uses a pomace spirit base), and has more of that magenta tinge than the usually very brown Fernets.


                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            Ooh, so if you drink a lot of it, you'll think you're peeing blood? COOL!

                          2. re: Jenny Ondioline

                            I have enjoyed luxardo fernet for mixing, but was shocked at how rough it is on its own- and by that i mean not bitter, but just from a high amount of/unbalanced alcohol.

                          3. All of the amaros mentioned in this thread such as Averna, Meletti, Ramazzotti, Cynar, Becherovka are new to me

                            - do you drink them by themselves???? (with or without ice?)

                            I want to explore these more bc I love the bitter herbal taste component and would rather start with sampling them alone rather than mixed in a cocktail.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: emari

                              Common ways to drink amari: neat, chilled over ice and strained (I used to drink Fernet-Branca this way, now I drink it neat), on the rocks (citrus twist or wedge optional), with some soda water and ice, mixed with orange juice and ice. Coppa serves Aperol Spritzes by the pitcher: Aperol, Prosecco, and soda, a nice brunch drink.

                              For some reason, I think Campari, Aperol, and Cynar are more often drunk before dinner than afterward.


                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                To split the difference between two of those options, amari are quite lovely with the San Pellegrino citrus drinks over ice. It really brings the herbs forward.

                                One unexpected side benefit of my slow introduction to amari: I now think Moxie is delicious. My late father-in-law, who once explained his fondness for Moxie by pointing out that no one ever steals it out of the fridge, would approve.

                                1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                  That's brilliant, and totally doesn't work in my family. I've often said that you can approximate the taste of Moxie by mixing Coke and Jager.


                            2. This is a great thread and as a lover of all things herbal, I would also recommend trying Chartreuse or Chartreuse VEP (if you're feeling flush). Westbridge actually offers VEP at a very reasonable price per pour. I find it less exhilarating but more soothing after a meal than Fernet, but obviously it depends on mood.

                              I like Fernet neat after a heavy meal, and can appreciate a fernet flip but I'm always fascinated by what catches on. Why Fernet in particular? There are so many wonderful amari, genepi, alpina, vermouth, and herbal liquors out there and it's fun to explore all the various flavors. Slim's list below is great for places to try them out before committing to a bottle as they can start to pile up at home.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Klunco

                                I am officially on notice at home not to buy any more bitters at retail until we've drunk our stock down a bit. It was at about 30 bottles at its peak, a more manageable 20 or so now. Also annoying to Mrs. MC: the big collection of obscure spirits for real Tiki cocktails.

                                Historically, I think "Fernet as an industry handshake" originated in San Francisco in the late 90s and spread to Boston, thence to the craft cocktail consumer crowd. The first place I really saw it guzzled by the staff was Eastern Standard, right from the time it opened (2005, I think). I recall Jackson Cannon saying that 90% of their Fernet inventory was drunk by the staff after hours. I wrote my first feature on bitters and bars that carried bitters-forward cocktails in 2007.


                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Actually it was Josh at Silvertone who started the Fernet juggernaut here. I can never get out of there without at least one. No complaints lol

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    also had it at the franklin around the same time as silvertone--- but much earlier than eastern standard , for sure--
                                    had it at Anago, lenox hotel, in the earlier years.

                                2. re: Klunco

                                  yes! agreed! charteuse. fantastic all around-

                                3. I like it plain. GREAT digestif.

                                  My father in law makes an amazing after dinner concoction with it:

                                  - Take a tea cup and put a healthy strip of orange zest in it. Add about 2 shots worth of boiling hot water and allow to steep for 2 minutes. Add FB to your taste, a shot or two. Great on a cold night particularly after a big meal or if you are coming down with a cold. This is also great with Fernet Menta.

                                  - I don't particularly like FB in cocktails. I feel like no matter how little is used it dominates.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: StriperGuy

                                    Reminds me of the cocktail we made in college, christened the Northern Exposure - apple cider mix, brandy, cinnamon, nutmeg, juice of half an orange (to ward off scurvy) and last and least importantly very hot water.

                                    Stir, cup in hands, sip while very hot, quickly cooling the lips on the other half orange. Drink while watching an episode of Northern Exposure.

                                    If we had known of Fernet and its ilk at the time, we surely would have subbed it in for the brandy.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy

                                      stripes, i soooo appreciate your posting this recipe. I'm gonna make some tonight. After I read this thread last night, during a stomach episode, I hauled up from the cellar my 30 year old bottle of FB and had a bit. And again awhile ago. Now I'll go for your FIL's way; yay, th you!

                                    2. I happen to love it, especially after a big meal out. Anyone else dumbfounded by the Argentine obsession with it in a tall glass with iced coca cola. I was in Buenos Aires a few years ago, it is the pre-dinner(and all day for some) drink of choice. To my palate it was a train wreck. I kind of get it on paper - clove, citrus, cinnamon in the coke working with the herbal flavors. But it just tasted like a bad imitation of Moxie, of which I don't really care for the real thing anyway.

                                      1. Thanks EVERYONE for so many wonderful, informative & thoughtful replies! Super helpful & I look forward to a Spring filled with digestif tastings!

                                        1. My favorite way to mix fernet branca is to just add nice, spicy ginger beer. 2:1 ginger beer to fernet is a good starting point.

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                            That sounds delicious; I'll have to give it a try.

                                            Recently, I've been mixing Fernet with San Pelegrino's Chinotto soda. Not for the faint of heart, but for the herbal/bitter lovers in this thread, it's an intense mix that is somehow deeply soothing in the most herbal/medicinal of ways.

                                            1. re: Klunco

                                              Chinotto is fabulous stuff, and good for people that want the bitter/spiced taste without alcohol. The problem is it's so expensive here!

                                              1. re: Bugsey34

                                                Where do you buy Chinotto in the Boston area? I just returned from Italy where I instantly became addicted to San Pellegrino l'Aranciata Amara, but not sure it's available in the U.S. I'm thinking Chinotto may be a good substitute that is (slightly) easier to find locally. Of course if there's a source for l'Aranciata Amara, that would be great to know too.

                                                1. re: Nolapants

                                                  Capone's in Union Sq. I asked a similar question about Sanbitter last fall.


                                                  1. re: Nolapants

                                                    I've bought it at both Tutto Italiano and more recently at the Star Market on Beacon Street in Brookline.

                                                    1. re: Klunco

                                                      The Packards Corner Star as well, in the Italian imports aisle.

                                                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                        Thanks for the suggestions. I was able to get some at Foodie's in the South End this morning. $4.89 for a six-pack of the small glass bottles.

                                                    2. re: Nolapants

                                                      I have found it in many random places including the Putterham Grile in South Brookline, not sure if they still have it. All caffe's in the North End have it. When I run across it again I'll post here.

                                                      It's also available on Amazon, as is the Lurisia version which is a step up: http://www.amazon.com/Lurisia-Nostro-.... Very expensive though.

                                                2. Russell House Tavern used to feature a cocktail called the Wigglesworth, which I enjoyed enough to attempt making at home (thanks to finding the recipe on this invaluable website:http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com/20... ). It featured bourbon, fernet, apple-cinnamon simple syrup and maple bitters. Definitely a Fall-Winter vibe. In the proper proportion, the fernet perfectly offset the treacly apple-cinnamon simple syrup. Alas, the cocktail is no longer featured on their cocktail list, although perhaps some there can still make it.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: tomjb27

                                                    Makes sense to find on that website since I think the author is a bartender at RHT (and would definitely make it for you if they have the syrup).

                                                  2. Catalyst in Cambridge has a Fernet flip on its brunch menu.

                                                    1. ewww. Fernet Branca was the reason nobody in my family(seven sibs) over 4 or 5 years of age ever told Grandma they had a tummy ache. I can still see that spoon heading for my mouth in my nightmares. Nearly keeled over when I saw it on the cocktail menu at Spiaggia Chicago when it first opened in the 1980's. My mouth literally locked up tight when a friend offered me a taste. Inadvertently got some in a cocktail 20 years later and required medicinal doses of Ginger Ale and Saltines and a call to mom to get me over the experience.
                                                      Put me in the way beyond hate category.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: KateBChi

                                                        I think that's called "transference" among physicians.

                                                      2. It's not local to you, emari, but the next time you're in NYC, check out NoMad -an hotel on 28th & B'way darling to C'Hounds; their cocktail creativity is well regarded, including this version with FB. I had the drink last week and can recommend it heartily. (Sorry I don't know the proportions).

                                                        HAIR TRIGGER
                                                        VENEZUELAN RUM, FERNET BRANCA, GINGER, LIME, CUCUMBER

                                                        [I love FB, and usually drink it straight as a digestif, but chilled and strained, to take a little of the sweetness out of it.]

                                                        6 Replies
                                                        1. re: Phil Ogelos

                                                          Or Amaro Et Amargo on St Mark's near The Gin Palace. Everyhting in the bar is brown bitter and stirred, and there is NO fresh fruit or mixers, everything comes out of a bottle. They have a crazy 40 amaro sazerac, but their coffee and amaro drinks in the afternoon are boss.

                                                          1. re: kimfair1

                                                            That's so St.Mark's Place! Dark, dingy, and straight out of a bottle.

                                                            1. re: kimfair1

                                                              amor y amargo... and it's an eight amaro sazerac ;). but otherwise agree; it's a great place to try amaro-based cocktails, and their 'double buzz' brunch, with coffee cocktails, is excellent (they have an 8 amaro corretto as the coffee counterpart to the sazerac).

                                                              a favorite off their menu is the blackrock chiller: suze, branca menta, reposado tequila, not chilled at all. the branca menta does a good job at making the drink feel cooling nonetheless.


                                                              1. re: valcfield

                                                                You think I could have opened my wallet and took out their card so I could spell it right. I think the bartender told about a higher numbered amaro sazerac in the city, or maybe I'd jut been sitting at the bar too long. ;~)

                                                                1. re: kimfair1

                                                                  exactly, which is why i'm punishing your laziness by nitpicking your post ;)

                                                                  I certainly wouldn't be surprised if they played around with a bigger blend of amari at some point for a sazerac or another cocktail... but man can't imagine how it would be administrable at that point (even the eight amari is crazy to watch!).

                                                                  Re: Phil, ha! if i used it after shaving more likely i'm drinking it to dull the pain from cuts.

                                                                2. re: valcfield

                                                                  "the branca menta does a good job at making the drink feel cooling nonetheless."

                                                                  Sounds like a useful aftershave, too!

                                                                  EDIT: and like typical New Yorkers, we've highjacked a Boston thread! I'm an Orioles fan myself, but I like the liquor justice in all of this.

                                                            2. Ordering Fernet is the equivalent of a hipster handshake at most bars, but I like it anyway. I use it as a digestivo.

                                                              Also love Campari and soda or Cynar and soda as aperitivos.

                                                              1. Journeyman is having a dinner with Haus Alpenz, which based on their website appears to be the importer of quite a few amari. I also noticed that Bronwyn has quite a few, including Germany's infamous Underberg.