I have reached another milestone on this path I tread. I have at long last purchased my own bottle of Fernet (pronounce the T) Branca. I have joined the ranks of the hardcore cocktail fanatics.
Fernet Branca is the most bitter member of the amaro family. I’ve heard it called Jägermeister for grown-ups but that’s not at all fair – not to Fernet, or Jägermeister, or grown-ups. Fernet’s taste is so, ahem, bracing that most people first drink it as a dare. Before that distinctive taste you’ll notice its aroma, which contains notes of eucalyptus, menthol, roofing tar and regret. (I kid. It’s only two of the four. And maybe not the two you think.) Like many liqueurs it consists of a hodgepodge of ingredients, the exact formula held in secret. Known elements include myrrh, assorted fungi and gargantuan amounts of saffron, with some speculating that production of Fernet Branca consumes the bulk of the world’s supply of the spice. Almost since its genesis in 1845 it’s been bruited as a potent digestif, capable of preventing hangovers and the pains of gustatory excess before they start.
Despite being the working definition of an acquired taste, Fernet has found devotees beyond its birthplace in Italy. How it’s consumed will tell you something about the person who ordered it. Odds are anyone asking for Fernet and Coke is from Argentina. Fernet and ginger ale = San Francisco. And if someone seated next to you orders it straight, turn to them and ask is-THIS-your-card? style, “What bar do you work at?” It never fails. Love of Fernet is a badge of honor in the service industry.
Hawtrey’s remark was an apt one. Some sort of trickery is involved for the miniscule amount of Fernet to become a dominant but never overwhelming taste amidst the gin and sweet vermouth. There are worse ways to be introduced to this most intriguing of flavors.
The Hanky Panky
2 oz. gin
1 ½ oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. Fernet Branca
Stir. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist.