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"mouthwash with delusions of grandeur"
August 25, 2014 7:54 AM   Subscribe

'It’s hard to describe what Fernet Branca tastes like; it mostly tastes like Fernet Branca.' Fernet Branca is a kind of fernet, themselves a classifcation of amaro, bitter Italian digestifs. The Fernet Hot House: Don't Let Hipsters Ruin It For You

Or you could make your own.

Mysterious Liquids in Dark Bottles
Fernet is a liqueur so vile and dangerous that it is the national drink of Argentina. Only chefs drink it. Fergus Henderson, in his slaughterhouse of a recipe book The Whole Beast, provides this recipe:

A Miracle

2 parts Fernet Branca

1 part creme de menthe

ice

Mix together and drink. Do not be put off by the color.

I would add, don’t be put off by the color of any of your bodily secretions after drinking it, either. It’s worth it, since it cures everything from the plague to gout. Though, unfortunately, no diseases invented after 1830.
posted by the man of twists and turns (52 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's what I make do with when I what I really want is Unicum but I don't feel like spending days tracking down a bottle of that.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:56 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I used to have a Toronto (or two) almost every day. It is a delight. Amari are really fantastic to have in your home bar.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:58 AM on August 25


Fernet Branca: For when you've gotten too accustomed to Malört.
posted by graphnerd at 8:06 AM on August 25 [7 favorites]


I had the unfortunate experience of drinking Fernet Branca once when I was visiting family in San Francisco. It was the most godawful thing I have ever tasted and trust me, that's saying something.

Why so popular in San Francisco but not in other cities that historically have had large Italian American populations? “Nothing really seems to explain it,” Alsman admits.

The family member I was visiting worked as a waiter in several fine dining restaurants in San Francisco. He explained to me that Fernet was a restaurant "industry" drink. Basically, by ordering it, you let your bartender/server know that you were "industry" and accordingly you were treated like royalty, but received the check of a peasant. I'm assuming this is because no one in their right mind would actually want to drink the stuff.

Honestly, after tasting it once, I'd gladly pay full price...
posted by Mr. X at 8:07 AM on August 25 [2 favorites]


I have developed a taste for really bitter alcohol as I have gotten older. There's a bar down the street that serves amaro on tap, which I enjoy greatly. I've also made the negroni one of my go-to drinks to see if bartenders know how to pour a solid cocktail.

I assume it is because I am growing more bitter as I get older and need a drink that reflects my experiences.
posted by maxsparber at 8:08 AM on August 25 [8 favorites]


See also the delightful Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson:
THE success of this novel about a ghostwriter who's as nasty as the bottled bile of the title came as a surprise in Britain, especially to the book's author. "I wrote 'Cooking With Fernet Branca' to cheer myself up at a low point," James Hamilton-Paterson observed in The Guardian. "I wasn't aware that the book was so especially funny until people started telling me."
posted by OmieWise at 8:10 AM on August 25 [2 favorites]


in Germany, where, Branca told me, it’s mixed with Red Bull. (He followed this statement with a meaningful silence.)
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:13 AM on August 25 [4 favorites]


i drank some last night after a heavyish night of drinking, and it works as the perfect digestif.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:13 AM on August 25


I love Fernet and was just turned on to Fernet Valle - 'Mexican Fernet.'

It is wonderful.

Nothing settles the body properly after an overindulgent meal quite like Fernet.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 8:17 AM on August 25


The family member I was visiting worked as a waiter in several fine dining restaurants in San Francisco. He explained to me that Fernet was a restaurant "industry" drink. Basically, by ordering it, you let your bartender/server know that you were "industry" and accordingly you were treated like royalty, but received the check of a peasant.

People say this, but I've never seen it work out that way in any bar in SF. Order a Fernet and you get treated like anyone else IME.

(I'm always confused whenever someone outside of SF orders it. I can see having it here as some sort of local pride thing, but the rest of you don't have to torture yourselves!)
posted by asterix at 8:17 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Meet The 'Secret' Count Behind Fernet Branca
8 Fernets Around The World
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:20 AM on August 25


People say this, but I've never seen it work out that way in any bar in SF. Order a Fernet and you get treated like anyone else IME.

Yeah, I think at this point it's enough a part of normal drinking culture there that it's no longer a signal of anything except that you can tolerate bitter drinks. Same here in Chicago. Now if you go somewhere where it hasn't caught on yet, it might work as a signal for "industry" still.
posted by melissam at 8:22 AM on August 25


I keep reading this as "ferret" which is just confusing.
posted by curious nu at 8:25 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised to learn that there's a crowd against the flavor of Fernet -- a liqueur that is bitter? oh my god! -- but then also enjoying slivovitz may put me on the outside of the preference spectrum.
posted by mr. digits at 8:25 AM on August 25 [2 favorites]


How Fernet Branca helped Bill Cosby in Italy.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:28 AM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Hooray for mouthwash with delusions of grandeur! Yum. (and sorry if I contributed to any confusion!)
posted by ferret branca at 8:35 AM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Paging ferret branca, for curious nu's added confusion, if nothing else.

I love bitter drinks and really wanted to like fernet, but unfortunately didn't enjoy it the only time I've tried it. My first choice for a digestif is Underberg, which I deeply love, but honestly fernet is the only digestif I've tried that I didn't enjoy. Maybe I should revisit it.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 8:35 AM on August 25


And just a moment too late! Welcome, ferret.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 8:35 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


In the recipe above, I thought that "A Miracle" was one of the necessary ingredients.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:45 AM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Fernet's pretty popular in Boston, as well (at least at the hipster bars that we tend to frequent). I think the Citizen has it on tap. I like to keep a bottle of it on hand, as well as a few other amari and bitter spirits.

The only time I have not enjoyed it was part of a "shot and a beer" special at a bar in New York; they served it with a can of Harpoon cider and that flavor combination just did not sit well with me.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:47 AM on August 25


Prefer BrancaMentato traight Branca but it will do.
I gave myself a reputation of an alcoholic by bringing a flask to a holiday. Perfect cure for indigestion, headacke, sea sickenss, car sickness and everything in between.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 8:58 AM on August 25


Fernet Branca: For when you've gotten too accustomed to Malört.

Malört! I was recently introduced to Malört and I think it is ripe to become all the rage in non-Chicago area painfully hip bars. It's perfect: kind of old-school, under-known (outside of Chicago) and hard to love.

I do like amari though. And I kind of like Malört.
posted by aka burlap at 9:07 AM on August 25


The legendary liquid in that emerald bottle is more than merely San Francisco's preferred method of self-medication; it's an intoxicating fairy tale. And even though Dammann's story is one that demonstrates the devotion of Fernet's fans, in a city that drinks more of the liqueur than any other locale in the United States and more per capita than any place on Earth, there are plenty of asses on barstools with a story to tell about Fernet-Branca. And in telling the tales, they continue the life of the drink itself, which was born of myth, and somehow along the way has become perfectly suited to San Francisco's palate.

This is how Fernet-Branca came to thin the lifeblood of our city...
I will never forget the 4am shots I poured for a bunch of New Jersey bartenders in celebration of the big-ass Bay Area NYE party we just finished working together. You have to, it's Bay Area bartender thing & y'all just did New Years in 'Frisco.

4/5 of them made the most horrified looks/sounds, the 5th smoked cigarillos, and downed hers with a smile like the rest of us Bay-girls & -boys.

Srsly tho, FB has the most authentic stomach-settling properties I've ever experienced. The old school advertising had an alligator because of the folklore that an alligator could digest anything. I'm Quite psyched to see the 'gator being revived here in the Bay Area advertising campaign. Any other markets drink enough of the the licorice love to see these posters? Boston?

Also, my buddy Shane was the winner at last year's SF Fernet-Branca Barback Games.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:14 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I have developed a taste for really bitter alcohol as I have gotten older […]

I assume it is because I am growing more bitter as I get older and need a drink that reflects my experiences.


So, recently Altown Brown had Sother Teague on his podcast, and while the podcast is a little hit or miss, I really enjoyed this particular one. Teague runs a bar, Amor Y Amargo, that revolves almost exclusively around bitters and digestifs and the like. It sounds like a terrible place to hang out, but a really interesting place to read about. I'd probably go there without my wife to do some "research drinking" if I was ever in NYC.

Anyways. In the podcast, they talk at length about how as you get older, your tastebuds actually start dying, and bitter things are really attractive because they cut through the death of your senses. I have personally found this to be true working in the coffee industry for years and years; I like bitter things now, whereas when I was a teenager coffee was only good as approximately 1p cream, 1p sugar, 1p coffee.

If you're interested in the topic at all, its actually a really informative podcast, even though the whole concept of the bar he runs sounds kind of overdone.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:14 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


"Now I figured...that I could do it ... because I had four years of Latin I."

Cosby taught me all I need to know about Fernet Branca.
posted by allthinky at 9:17 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Here's my first experience with Fernet Branca. A couple of years back, when I was still writing about such things regularly, I was at an after-after industry party of sorts. In what was a long day of drinking and mingling, I walked out of the establishment the party was being held at only to notice that there were now conversations happening with people asking variations of "Who's working tonight?" and "You know who's at the door?" as cell phones were pulled out. Next thing you know I was practically pushed into a cab as everyone decided now was the time to head to Little Branch.

At Little Branch we all hung around the bar continuing with the drinks, and at one point someone suggested Fernet shots to the groans and good-natured ribbing of everyone around, "What is this, San Francisco?"

Back then there were many drinks I'd tossed back without a thought of its provenance when they were handed to me. I just happened to hang around a lot of professional drink slingers who wanted nothing more than to share things, especially since I was always curious and game to try stuff. More often than not, I'd have glasses (sometimes flasks) handed to me, with no explanation and just an eager expectant look to see my reaction as I'd toss the glass back.

This time was no different and I threw the Fernet down my throat. It actually wasn't as bad as I'd expected based on the build up. Honestly, for me it was more bracing than "tastes disgusting"...not that I'd go as far as to say it was now my drink of choice.

In fact, most of the horror came from the fact that I realized the flavor in my mouth was going nowhere and I didn't have a drink at hand. I quickly scanned the group and my eyes landed on one member of our party, a rakish Irish bartender with a particular sense of humor (when I was first introduced to him he told me a long story about moving to his new apartment...with the Wu Tang Clan...and I believed him for a hot second -_-), coolly pulling a sip from a bottle of beer.

"M____, can I have a sip of your beer?? I just need to get the taste out of my mouth," I implored.

He looked at me for a second, then without breaking eye contact, put the bottle back up to his lips and took a loooooooooooooooooong drink. Then with a grin, he turned the bottle upside down to show nothing was there, clearly relishing the look of despair on my face.
posted by kkokkodalk at 9:20 AM on August 25 [5 favorites]


> I have developed a taste for really bitter alcohol as I have gotten older […]

I assume it is because I am growing more bitter as I get older and need a drink that reflects my experiences.

> So, recently Altown Brown had Sother Teague on his podcast, and while the podcast is a little hit or miss, I really enjoyed this particular one. Teague runs a bar, Amor Y Amargo, that revolves almost exclusively around bitters and digestifs and the like. It sounds like a terrible place to hang out, but a really interesting place to read about. I'd probably go there without my wife to do some "research drinking" if I was ever in NYC.

Anyways. In the podcast, they talk at length about how as you get older, your tastebuds actually start dying, and bitter things are really attractive because they cut through the death of your senses.


I was going to say something snarky about getting older and your body slowly going dull, but "the death of your senses" somehow is all the more stark. And in looking for a quick link to back up this reality, I came across Aging changes in the senses, an article from U.S. National Library of Medicine, from the National Institutes of Health.
As you age, the way your senses (hearing, vision, taste, smell, touch) give you information about the world changes. Your senses become less sharp and you may have trouble telling apart details.

Sensory changes can affect your lifestyle. You may have problems with communicating, enjoying activities, and staying involved with people. Sensory changes can lead to isolation.
Shit, now I need a drink.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:23 AM on August 25


And now I have a little less disdain for people who pair their shots with a beer. Previously, I would have scoffed and said they didn't appreciate strong tastes. Now, I will raise a glass to their youth and vigor, may bitterness always taste bitter to them.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:26 AM on August 25


Hipsters, nor anyone else, can ruin something for me because I don't care what anyone thinks. I like Fernet Branca on ice on occasion in the evening. Some things I like become a fad, and others don't. Just as long as something doesn't become rare, expensive, or it's quality drops because of demand, then I just don't care.
posted by Eekacat at 9:38 AM on August 25


It tastes exactly like what it is: medicine to get over having eaten too many delicious things. The terrible taste is to remind you not to overindulge again.
posted by elizardbits at 9:43 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I couldn't find the answer to this question via the links: Is the "t" silent, i.e., "Fer-nay"?
posted by the sobsister at 9:53 AM on August 25


I have a friend who swears by Fernet Branca and coke. I'm fairly indifferent myself, there are much better amaro out there (Montenegro is my current favorite). One time I had a bartender mix an amaro with ginger beer because we were bored and why not? It was actually amazing, but I forgot to catch the name of what she mixed. My life is poorer for it.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 9:54 AM on August 25


the subsister: in Italian, you pronounce it with a t: fir - net - branca
posted by mumimor at 10:03 AM on August 25


"Fernet Branca is the George Costanza of liquor."
- @meowrey
posted by smasuch at 10:45 AM on August 25


I love bitters and try every one I can get my hands on. Fernet Branca is good. Unicum is excellent. Riga Black Balsam, however, puts the rest to shame. On the rare occasions it shows up a the LCBO I put in a good long supply.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:48 AM on August 25


What the Argentina link barely mentions, is that Argentinians drink fernet with Coke and ice, in five years there I never saw anybody drink it neat. If you were invited to a party you would simply buy a litre of Fernet, a 2 litre bottle of coke and off you'd go. Pretty much everybody else at the party would be doing the same.
posted by jontyjago at 11:41 AM on August 25


Hah! Amaros! When I was skiing a few years back the town had a wonderful weekly "welcome" party that involved mulled wine, the local amaro and festive dancing devolving into a tourist-invite session of "YMCA". Each one of these is improved by the former and more of itself. Braulio has a wonderful flavor that the marketing describes as "Intense concentration with a touch of medicinal spice that speaks to the original purposes of these ancient potions," which I think covers it. It tastes like mystic medicine -- and bile -- and looks about the same.

I brought bottles home for punitive reasons...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:49 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


while the Argentinian fernet y coca is yummy, apparently the chileans have a drink called terremoto (earthquake) which is:
pineapple sherbert
bad white wine, preferably boxed
splash of fernet on top
which is also quite yummy

(I thought "Cooking with Fernet Branca" was hilarious and am thinking of trying another one by Hamilton-Paterson)
posted by sineater at 12:16 PM on August 25


I've just realized why I love Fernet: it tastes like an alcoholic, non-carbonated Moxie (which I also love).
posted by bakerina at 12:21 PM on August 25


Now, I will raise a glass to their youth and vigor, may bitterness always taste bitter to them.
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:23 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


Amor Y Amargo is a great place, even if it is a little tiny. If you like any kind of bitter drinks, it's the place to go in Manhattan. Also, just to bring this full circle, I spotted someone at the bar there reading Cooking with Fernet Branca last time I was there. Sure it's a little meta, but I can't think of a better book to read there.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:00 PM on August 25


Been drinking it and loving it for the past 15 years, so this ain't no amaro dilettante talking here.

"Jaegermeister with a PhD" is how I describe it to my bar customers, when unfamiliar with the product.

Also, try it with a nice, spicy ginger beer as a chaser.
posted by erskelyne at 1:05 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Fernet Branca is a fine amaro, but has too much minty flavor for my taste. I'd much prefer a Maletti, Cardamaro, Zwack, or Becherovka. (I haven't really seen it mentioned up-thread: most of these things have significant anise or 'herbal' flavors.) Also, a bit of ice and an orange twist go very well with most of these.

Working behind a bar in Seattle, most people who order it from me are (in order of likelihood) SF-connected, industry, or people who spend a lot of time on the internet and really, really wanna be cool.

For the record: nothing beats the medicinal, hangover-restorative, tummy-upset-healing powers of Underberg.
posted by cult_url_bias at 1:34 PM on August 25


My Danish friend introduced me to Fernet a few years ago. I still haven't forgiven him.
posted by ZipRibbons at 2:47 PM on August 25


From the man of twists and turns' link:
So you go out in Milan?

Yeah, I go out in Milan and Florence. Also, Switzerland is only one-and-a-half hours away so you can go skiing there in winter. Then you have lakes and the seaside. I am a pretty normal guy.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:59 PM on August 25


Oh, and I love Fernet. With a homemade ginger beer back. Perfecto.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:59 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I'm really surprised that people find Fernet so challenging. I mean, it's not Sprite Zero, but it's also not, like, battery fluid or something. It's just a sweet, minty, anisey, somewhat bitter liqueur.
posted by threeants at 5:31 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Fernet Branca and Coke is fucking delicious, though thanks to this post I'm trying some straight right now. Like threeants, I'm sort of surprised by the hate. I think it's less straight-up bitter / challenging than say, Campari.
posted by ghharr at 8:10 PM on August 25


Ah, Campari. Mix it with some orange juice and you have a perfect breakfast drink.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:26 PM on August 25


Letherbee, a distillery here in Chicago, makes a killer Fernet. It's a lot smoother than Branca. Really, really tasty.

The same company makes a delicious Besk, which used to be branded as "Malort" before the Jeppson's company took them to court over the name. It's probably for the best, as Letherbee's drink bears virtually no flavor resemblance to Jeppson's infamous "two-fisted" Chicago legend. I'd happily recommend any of Letherbee's stuff, actually.
posted by rabbitroom at 8:42 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


LOVE many different amari. Love Campari and Aperol. But this stuff? Tastes like the ass end of a thing with two asses. There's a bottle with two shots gone in Frederick, MD for any takers. Good riddance.
posted by ersatzkat at 9:25 PM on August 25


So I just bought a bottle of this, and on my first taste was surprised to get a bit of a numbing effect. Like what one gets from Szechuan pepper, but I didn't identify that flavor. Just the numbing. Maybe menthol? Am I crazy? A quick Internet search doesn't turn up anything related, other than "Branca Menta" which is like a menthol Fernet Branca.
posted by Nelson at 8:14 PM on August 27


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