On first sip, Fernet-Branca is just plain bitter. But let it settle on your tongue a moment and the full, dark complexity of its flavors really starts to shine. Made from a secret recipe that is said to include a combination of as many as 40 different botanicals, including roots, bark, herbs, and spices such as saffron and cardamom, Fernet-Branca has a whole lot going on in the taste department. There's something decidedly, well, medicinal about it, but also something surprisingly clean and bracing. It has a thicker, more syrupy texture than Campari, and, at 40 percent alcohol, packs a much boozier punch. It's a liqueur with a bite - and bark.
Made from a formula first developed in Italy in 1845, Fernet-Branca was originally marketed as a medicine to aid digestion, and over the years, it's been claimed to help everything from hangovers to cholera. Part of a larger family of Italian herbal liqueurs called amari (singular amaro, meaning "bitter"), Fernet-Branca is now one of several brands of fernet available on the international market (others include Fernet Stock and Luxardo Fernet Amaro), but remains the most iconically famous. The distiller Branca also makes a powerful mint-flavored liqueur called Branca-Menta. Fernet-Branca is especially popular in Argentina - and San Francisco.
A Few Ways to Drink It
- Straight: Served either neat or on the rocks, Fernet-Branca's the ultimate digestif
- With Soda: Lighten things up a bit by adding club soda or seltzer for a refreshing hot-weather drink
- With Cola: A delicious combination of bitter and sweet that's especially popular in Argentina
- With Coffee: Add a little to a cup of black coffee for a bracing after-dinner drink
- In a Cocktail: Cocktail uses include a 2-bitters riff on the Old-Fashioned called the Toronto, which calls for rye, Fernet-Branca, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters
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Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.
Related: After-Dinner Tipples: Digestifs
(Images: Nora Maynard)