For even the most experienced drinker, fernet is an acquired taste. The extra bitter Italian amaro is chock-full of herbs and botanicals that give it a deep, dark color and flavor. But once you get on the fernet train, you’ll quickly realize that it works great in cocktails and is one of the most powerful digestifs on the planet. Heck, you’ll probably come to love the flavor too (we have). While Fernet-Branca is probably the most well known version of the spirit — and is the brand seen as bringing what we know as fernet into existence in the first place — there are a lot of other great brands (not from Italy) that are worth your time and attention. Here are six fernet brands you need to try this season.
When it comes to independent distilleries, you’re likely to see smaller operations produce a few select spirits very well. But Minneapolis-based Tattersall makes 22 different expressions, and from what we’ve tried, they are all top-notch. One of our favorites is their fernet, which is distilled in small batches from organic Midwestern corn and infused with more than 30 botanicals, spices, and herbs. The liquid is then rested in used bourbon barrels to round out some of the bitter notes and give it a deep, smooth flavor. Tattersall Fernet is bursting with cooling mint notes, so sipping it neat is a perfect way to cleanse your palate after a big meal.
Our other favorite from Tattersall? Their rye whiskey.
Eda Rhyne Appalachian Fernet
Many think of Western North Carolina and immediately think of the region’s bootlegging history, as back in the day the rugged terrain forced folks to work with what they had around them to cultivate food and drink from scratch. But the Blue Ridge Mountains also offer a great bounty and is said to have about 1,100 plants with therapeutic properties, so people used them to create booze for medicinal purposes, too. Asheville distillery Eda Rhyne creates small-batch spirits that celebrate their local heritage and use responsibly-harvested botanicals to craft expressions like their Appalachian Fernet. The amaro combines herbs from Western North Carolina with exotic spices from around the globe to give it a local feel and a worldly spirit. Sip it neat or mix it with rye to create a perfect Black Manhattan.
Townshend’s Pacific Northwest Fernet
This Portland, Oregon, operation actually began by blending tea, and they’ve used their botanical knowledge to create herbal spirits from their kombucha distillate. Townshend ferments tea and sugar to create their line of spirits, which includes tea liqueurs, amari, and botanical spirits like gin. For their signature fernet, they wanted to combine the old world flavor of the dark spirit with Pacific Northwest flora. Local ingredients like Douglas Fir, Willamette hops, and birch bark are blended with additional botanicals that are sourced from five continents. We suggest combining this woody fernet and Campari in equal parts for a post-feast Ferrari.
The folks at Arcane Distilling are obsessed with science, and they have the high-tech machinery to prove it. They specialize in vacuum distillation, which is so-named because it operates at a greatly reduced pressure (aka, they can boil water at room temperature). We always come back to Arcane Fernet because it’s so beautifully balanced and more drinkable than other overly bitter amari. They mix gentian with three types of citrus peels to dial back some of the sharper notes. They also add peppermint to give the spirit a round flavor without having to add too much sugar. We love sipping this one over a big rock of ice accompanied by an expressed orange peel.
We’ve been spotting this Mexican fernet a lot lately and it’s definitely worthy of your attention if you see it in the wild. Founder Henri Vallet started crafting bitters in the 1860s when he emigrated from France to Mexico. The 70-proof liqueur is still made according to his original recipe from a maceration of ingredients like cinnamon, clove, gentian root, and cardamom. The flavor is woodsy and herbal with a touch of sweetness to help it go down easy. While we love Fernet-Vallet after any meal, we suggest serving it after a big Mexican feast, especially on taco night.
Fernet Francisco founders Max Rudsten and Ben Flajnik formed their friendship over a shot of Fernet-Branca, so they decided to make their own California-inspired version of the spirit. Manzanilla, the original formula, is made by infusing 12 botanicals in a local grape brandy for three weeks. It is then brought to proof when they mix in a chamomile tea they made from scratch in an Arnold Holstein pot still. Combine it with ginger beer and an orange slice for a refreshing Highball or use it to replace the gin in a bold version of a Last Word. If you’re a fan of rhubarb, check out Fernet Francisco’s latest expression, Ruibarbo, which uses the root as the focused botanical.