Friday, 17 October 2014

Friday Cocktail: 4 Ways with Fernet Branca

You’d better watch out, I have one bitter beast for you here... Fernet Branca.

The digestif amaro, invented in 1845 by Bernardino Branca in Milan, has had a bit of a bad rep in the past - not surprising really, it’s a bit like Marmite - love it or hate it, it’s an acquired taste that will knock your socks off if you’re not careful! I’ve noticed a trend with these kinds of drinks lately though, and after picking up a bottle whilst holidaying in Sicily last month, I thought I’d bring out the big guns and share a few drink ideas with you. You can pick up a bottle from Master of Malt for £22.25.

So, Fernet Branca is a dark brown, menthol flavoured, herbal Italian liqueur, and with very little sweetness, it’s certainly not as user friendly as something like Campari or Aperol. The recipe is a closely held secret of over 40 different kinds of herbs and spices – myrrh, bitter orange, chamomile, bay leaves, galangal, and aloe to name a few – with the most important ingredient being saffron. (I’m told that the manufacturers consume 75% of the worldwide supply of saffron, wowzas!) The flavours are left to marry and mature in barrels for 12 months before being bottled at 39% ABV.

There’s something pretty medicinal about the taste, which is why it’s usually drank after a massive meal to aid digestion. However, with its complex-mouthwash character, I’ve read that it’s a good hair of the dog hangover cure too. It sure as hell would burn off any lingering taste of the night before that’s on your tongue... I’m yet to try it, but I’m not convinced.

How do you go about drinking this potent monster then?

Well, you can have it on its own with a bit of ice, but if you’re not used to drinking amaros then I wouldn’t suggest it. The Argentinians flippin’ love it with cola (as do I); the Fernet enhances the spices inherent in cola, and the sweetness of the cola brings a bit of balance to the Fernet. Together, it creates this weird saffron-infused frothy head - a bit like when you make a coke float - which fascinates me. It certainly doesn’t behave like your usual spirit/mixer combo. The recipe below instructs a strong 2 parts cola to 1 part Fernet, but vary it according to your taste.

Otherwise, using it in cocktails is your best bet. I’ve picked a few that I think are interesting out; Fanciulli, which is essentially a Manhattan (with bourbon and sweet vermouth), but with menthol undertones; Root of All Evil, another bourbon based drink, but much sweeter thanks to the Grand Marnier and Maraschino; and Fernet Me Not - a concoction from London bar Callooh Callay - which muddles cucumber with gin and the Fernet, then tops it with prosecco. They say, “it’s fresh and dainty, but also has a lot of depth to it,” I say it's DELICIOUS.

So here we have it, four ways with Fernet Branca:

Fernet Branca & Cola

  • 1 part Fernet Branca
  • 2 parts cola
  • Ice & lemon wedge or twist

Fill a tall Collins glass with ice. Add the Fernet Branca and cola. Stir gently and garnish with lemon wedge or twist.


  • 1 ½ oz bourbon
  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth
  • ¼ oz Fernet Branca
  • Ice

Pour the whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Fernet Branca into a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until the outside of the mixing glass is icy cold to touch, about 15 seconds. Strain into a tumbler and serve.

Root of All Evil

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • ¾ oz Grand Marnier
  • ½ oz Fernet Branca
  • ½ oz Maraschino Liqueur
  • 2 dash orange bitters
  • Ice and orange peel

Add all ingredients apart from the orange peel to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange peel.

Fernet Me Not

  • 3 cm muddled cucumber
  • 20 ml sugar syrup
  • 20 ml gin
  • 10 ml Fernet Branca
  • 10 ml lemon juice
  • Sparkling wine or prosecco to top

Shake all the ingredients hard over ice. Fine strain in to a cocktail glass and top with sparkling wine or prosecco.

The cola image is taken from Simon Cock's photostream under the Creative Commons License.

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