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Mar 3, 2014 11:45 PM

fernet branca - love it or hate it?

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.

    8 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.

          1. re: dtm323

            Reminds me of the time I was a tad having lunch at the old F&T in Kendall Square, shocked at all the Bud longnecks that were being downed at noon. Years later, I was still surprised to see the same deal at Sadie's Saloon every lunchtime, and more recently, tequila shots at the Corner Pub of Chinatown. (I'm not much of a day drinker, I must confess.)

            Far sadder were the late-stage alcoholic homeless people that used to queue up for the Waltham Tavern's 10am opening. One poor old soul of a regular had some condition that made it impossible for him to hold up his head, like his neck were made of rubber. I was sorry to see the 'Ham go: for all its alleged mobbed-up dirty dealings, it was the last bit of old-school color left over from the South End's far sketchier past. But that truly tragic lineup still haunts me.


        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:, 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.