Not many spirits inspire quite the response that Fernet does. The dark Italian amaro has long been adored by bartenders and certain corners of the world for its incredibly distinctive profile. But for every soul who loves the stuff, there seems to be an equal or greater number of folks who find Fernet utterly repulsive.
The flavor is a bit polarizing and part of the draw is the secret recipe, something quite common among European amaro. It is wildly bitter, with notes of menthol, anise, and fresh-plucked herbs. Fernet is a witches’ brew of chamomile, cardamom, rhubarb, aloe, saffron, and more atop a base of grape spirits. It pours nearly opaque and remains popular among industry types, ever-thirsty for a post-shift drink that’s anything but ordinary.
An estimated three-quarters of all Fernet is consumed in Argentina. The South American nation is obsessed with throwing it in a glass with some Coke, or with some coffee or espresso after a meal. Several brands are in orbit with the most popular and iconic being Fernet-Branca. The brand is headquartered is Milan but thanks to all the love it gets in Argentina, has one additional distillery in Buenos Aires.
If you have bartender friends, you’ve probably already sipped the stuff straight. It’s been a go-to and invigorating pour within the drinks inner-circle for a couple of decades now. But Fernet also mixes well, if you’re careful. It plays well with ingredients like ginger (try it in a Moscow Mule) as well as citrus (also try it with gin or in place of gin in a Tom Collins). If the flavor is for you, try it with a splash of soda water. If Fernet is too fierce for you, experiment with adding a dose or two to your favorite coffee drink as the roasted beans can take some of the sting out of the stuff.
Here are a few more cocktails to consider as you learn your away around the cultish amaro:
This riff on the classic cocktail demonstrates how a little Fernet can go a long way in the glass. It matches well with bourbon but does especially well alongside a sweet and aromatic vermouth.
- 2 oz bourbon
- 1 oz Antica Formula
- .25 oz Fernet-Branca
In a mixing glass half-filled with ice, combine the bourbon, Antica Formula and Fernet-Branca. Stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Garnish with a preserved cherry.
Fernet Old Fashioned
Tempering Fernet can sometimes be an issue but nothing a little sweetness can’t handle. Here, the sugar cube does the heavy lifting, rounding out Fernet’s edgier side.
- 2 oz Rye or Bourbon
- .25 oz Fernet-Branca
- 1 sugar cube
In the bottom of a rocks glass, muddle the sugar cube and Fernet-Branca. Add rye or bourbon and a large ice cube and stir until chilled. Garnish with an orange twist.
Gin and Fernet combine to create an extremely fragrant cocktail here, one you can leisurely sniff and enjoy as the many layers meld over time.
- 2 oz Fernet-Branca
- 1.5 oz gin
- .75 oz Antica Formula Vermouth
Combine all ingredients in a glass with ice. Stir until well chilled. Strain into a glass.
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