Learning To Love Fernet Branca

When I started getting into the spirit and cocktail scene in New York City just a few years ago, I immediately learned about trends that I had no idea about before. Classic cocktails? Totally in. Punch? Totally in. Shots of Fernet Branca? Wait, what?

It took awhile for me to warm up to this herbaceous liqueur, but it didn't take me long to get completely hooked once I did. Upon ordering a shot of Fernet Branca at most bars, I'll get at least one of three reactions from the people I'm with, or the strangers sitting nearby who hear my order:

Reaction #1: "What the hell is that?"

Reaction #2: "That smells horrible."

Reaction #3: "That's gross. Do you drink lighter fluid, too?"

However, the response from the bartender, which is the response I value the most anyway, usually goes something like this:

"One shot of Fernet? Make that two. One for me!"

Fernet Branca is an abrasive, potent, and fantastic Italian liqueur that falls into the large class of Italian Amari, or bitter liqueurs, including Campari, Aperol, and Averna. It is made from 40 roots, herbs, spices, and other ingredients including myrrh, chamomile and saffron. The aroma of Fernet is full of herbaceousness and menthol, an aroma that is intense enough to sometimes scare people away. But have no fear! This is a lovable liqueur with a lot to bring to the table (or bar).

The beauty of Fernet Branca is that while it is primarily enjoyed as an after-dinner digestivo meant to counter the feeling of a full belly after a large dinner, it is also a fantastic spirit for cocktails. The mint and herbal notes in Fernet can really liven up a cocktail, which is why many bartenders are beginning to reach for it as a go-to ingredient. Clocking in at 40 percent ABV, Fernet adds a seriously boozy bite to any cocktail.

Below are two recipes that use Fernet Branca. The first is one that a beginner Fernet drinker may want to go for with flavors that are not as potent. The second is for the seasoned Fernet drinker, or someone who is ready to move up to the big leagues. We hope you enjoy these Fernet cocktails as much as we do! Cheers, and happy drinking!

Click here for recipes for the Benton Park Swizzle and The Hanky Panky Cocktail. 

— Sara Kay, The Spir.it