Fernet is an acquired taste. Like with Campari and other amari, the bitter Italian herbal liqueurs, you tend to remember your first time vividly. Fernet is quite polarizing to say the least. Most people are revulsed at the mere thought of what they perceive as some kind of diabolical medicine. It’s a punch in the face and for most, not an experience they wish to repeat any time soon.
One unexpected use for Fernet – it helps against vampires! (photo reproduced by H2O74)
Some of us though, after the initial shock and horror, and maybe months or years of mithridatism, slowly develop a tolerance, and what eventually becomes a craving for Fernet’s unusual flavor. It feels so wrong yet there is something about Fernet’s taste that we cannot get out of our mind. We get past the obnoxious bitterness and appreciate the menthol and eucalyptus notes, together with a myriad of other botanicals which also include gentian and saffron. It is not a surprise that Fernet was conceived as a post-dinner remedy because its herbal mixture does wonders on upset stomachs, which makes it the perfect nightcap.
I often see Fernet combined with ginger but this is actually not something that I enjoy very much. Like Campari and grapefruit, this pairing feels like a cliché and this combination does Fernet much justice. I much prefer to mix it with gin and vermouth in a Hanky Panky or Don’t Give up the Ship. The rye-based Toronto is another favorite. These cocktails make the most of Fernet’s unique taste.
Most cocktails use Fernet in small touches as it tends to take over and overwhelm the other elements in the drink, which isn’t a surprise. For this month’s Mixology Monday Challenge however, I thought I would use it as the base for an Old Fashioned. Kaiser Penguin already had the same idea a few years back, so following his footsteps, here is my version of the drink.
Fernet Old Fashioned (adapted from Kaiser Penguin)
2 oz Fernet-Branca
1/4 oz simple syrup
1 dash each Regan’s orange bitters and Fee Brothers’ whiskey barrel-aged bitters
stir with ice, strain into chilled old-fashioned glass, orange peel garnish
- Fernet-Branca on Drinks and Drinking, August 2013
- Fernet-Branca in Imbibe magazine, article by Paul Clarke