BOOZER: So What Is The Deal With Fernet Branca, Your Bartender’s Secret Sauce?

June 8, 2011.

by David Greig | First produced by self-taught apothecary Bernandino Branca in 1845, Fernet Branca is an Italian amaro, specifically a fernet.  It is a type of potable bitters made by infusing a base spirit with a number of herbs and spices, thereby creating a secret, proprietary recipe. In this case, the blend includes saffron, gentian, rhubarb, chamomile, myrrh and up to 40 others. It is then aged for 12 months in Slovenian oak.

Yes, but what is it really…

Fernet was (and still is) prized for its medicinal qualities, particularly in aiding the digestive system in times of need. It was also, oddly, the inspiration behind the Booker Prize-listed novel Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson in 2004. Some refer to it as the Thinking Man’s Jagermeister – making it pretty much the very definition of an “acquired taste”. Most recoil at their first sip, but learn to cherish it as one would an endearingly abusive lover. It serves a modern purpose as a bartender’s secret handshake, garnering a knowing look, nod and wink from any self-respecting barkeep upon order. Setting its stall staunchly in the so-bad-it’s-good category, it’s as close a thing as there is to drinking with irony. In other words, it’s “Snakes On A Plane” for bar geeks.

And How Should I Use It?

“Hanky Panky” (created by Ada Coleman in the American Bar at The Savoy in 1925)

1.5 oz Gin
1.5oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dash Fernet Branca

Stir with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist. Enjoy.

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U.K. import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine and can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or sipping around town.

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