Fernet Branca is made from 27 different herbs, roots, and spices including cinchona, chamomile, rhubarb, myrrh, and galangal. It has a distinct bitter and mentholated taste and is traditionally consumed as a digestif or combined with Coke in a Fernandito cocktail.
It is not the most common or popular liqueur, but Fernet has a strong fan base of bartenders and other industry professionals. It's also exceptionally popular in Argentina. The South American country is responsible for no less than 75% of the world's Fernet consumption.
The complexity of flavors in Fernet Branca makes it quite versatile and a great ingredient in cocktails and other mixed drinks. It's also known for helping your digestion and other health benefits.
The intensely herbal taste with a strong kick of mint and intricate bitter notes makes Fernet Branca an acquired taste that's not for everyone. But once you get used to it, you fall in love with this dark brown liqueur.
What is Fernet Branca?
Fernet Branca is the best-known representative of its category and contains the essence of 27 different botanicals like herbs, roots, and spices. Like many other Amari, it once was a medicine. In this case, the herbal liqueur's purposes were curing cholera and relieving menstrual cramps. However, that's long in the past, and today it's consumed for pleasure, usually as a digestif.
It also has a comparably high alcohol content of 39%-40%. In the past, Fernet Branca even contained 45%. -You can still buy these bottles from the 70s, 80s, and 90s online in selected stores.
The bold and bitter flavors of Fernet Branca make it an excellent ingredient in mixed drinks. The high amount of alcohol even makes it a great base for cocktails.
The most popular drink made with Fernet is the Fernandito cocktail, also known as Fernet con Coca. It's the most popular cocktail in Argentina and the main reason why Argentina has the highest Fernet consumption worldwide.
- Produced by: Fratelli Branca Distillerie
- Origin: Italy
- Released: 1845
- ABV: 39% - 40%
- Price: $35 - $40
- Taste: spicy, bitter, licorice
- Best serve: on the rocks or in mixed drinks
Fernet Branca has a distinct bitter and mentholated taste. The first sip is strong and very minty. You will get a hint of mint tea, chamomile, and roots. The aftertaste is bitter, with lots of herbal and minty notes and a touch of fruity prune.
Overall, the flavor is intensely herbaceous and bitter, with only a slight sweetness.
History of Fernet Branca
Fernet Branca was invented in 1845 when Bernardino Branca first produced the amaro liqueur in the Fratelli Branca Distillery in Milan, Italy.
Bernardino was a herbalist who aimed to cure cholera with his creation. Doctors prescribed it to people who didn't eat, as the herbs in the drink were supposed to stimulate appetite. His herbal concoction was known for its medical properties and soon gained popularity.
Only a few years later, the brand started heavily marketing the product nationally- on a scale that might not be impressive today but was far above the standard for the mid-19th century.
In 1893, the Italian artist Leopoldo Metlicovitz designed the brand's famous logo. Until today, this symbol, which shows an eagle, a bottle of Fernet Branca, and a globe, is featured on the label of each bottle.
Today, it is the most successful representative of the Fernet category. Bartenders fell in love with its bitter and herbal taste and commonly enjoy a shot of Fernet Branca when meeting other bartenders. This tradition is also known as the "bartender's handshake".
How Fernet Branca is made
Fernet Branca is still produced according to the original recipe of Bernardino Branca. It is a well-kept trade secret, but we still know some of its details.
The recipe consists of over 27 herbs and spices including cinchona, chamomile, rhubarb, cinnamon, linden, iris, saffron, zedoary, galangal, and myrrh. The other 17 ingredients remain unknown, as do the exact proportions and steps involved.
The general process includes making alcoholic infusions and essences of the ingredients. After that, these individual elements are blended into a single product.
This final product then ages for at least one year in wooden barrels made of oak before it's bottled at 39% ABV.
How to drink Fernet Branca
Neat or on the rocks
Fernet Branca is traditionally served neat or on the rocks as an after-dinner digestif or pre-dinner aperitif to stimulate appetite.
It's best served chilled or on the rocks to mute the intense bitter notes. That improves the overall balance of the amaro. Most commonly it's served in liqueur glasses which are small stemmed glasses that typically hold up to 2 ounces of liquid.
In a bartender handshake, Fernet is served in a shot glass either chilled or at room temperature. -The latter makes the bitter notes more prominent and the taste of the liqueur even stronger.
With a mixer
The best way to drink Fernet Branca with a mixer is in a Fernet con Coca, mixed with chilled Coke.
Other suitable mixers to pair with Fernet Branca include ginger ale, lemonade, tonic water, and sparkling wine. When mixed with chilled club soda or Seltzer, it also makes for an excellent aperitif-style drink.
The complexity of flavors in Fernet Branca makes it a versatile ingredient in cocktails. Here are some of the most popular cocktails made with the liqueur:
- Hanky Panky: A classic Fernet Branca cocktail that makes use of the flavorful bitter-liqueur. Invented in the 1920s by Ada Coleman, it is a perfect drink to experience the complex flavors of the amaro liqueur.
- Toronto: The most traditional Fernet cocktail is the Toronto. This playful twist on the Old Fashioned recipe uses Fernet Branca, and maple syrup, in addition to a base of rye whiskey.
- Midnight Stinger: This delicious after-dinner digestif cocktail is made of bourbon, Fernet Branca, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
If you're new to Fernet Branca and its intense bitter flavors, I recommend mixing it in cocktails. That way, you get used to its unique and distinct taste.
Fernet Branca vs other Amaro liqueurs
Fernet Branca is more bitter and significantly less sweet than most other amaro liqueurs. Here is how it compares to the amari:
|Fernet Branca||Average Amaro|
|Bitterness||Very high||medium to high|
|Sweetness||very low||medium to high|
|ABV||39% to 40%||11% to 25%|
|Ingredients||Mostly herbs, roots, and spices||Herbs, roots, spices, fruits, and peels|
|Use cases||Aperitif,digestif, cocktails||Aperitif,digestif, cocktails|
In conclusion, Fernet Branca is higher in alcohol, more bitter, and contains way less sugar than other products in the Amaro category. The mint-forward expression of Fernet called Branca Menta is more comparable to them. This version is sweeter, lower in ABV, and thus, also easier to sip.
The uses of Fernet and other amari are very similar and only differ slightly. All of them are served as digestifs or in combination with other ingredients in mixed drinks or cocktails.
Why is it so famous in Argentina?
By 1907, Fernet Branca began exporting to Argentina. The initial objective was to supply Italian immigrants with their bitter liqueur. When they started mixing it with Coke, the liqueur became ultra-successful. Today Argentina is the leading country in Fernet Branca consumption.
The liqueur became so popular that only 18 years later, the brand opened a distillery in Buenos Aires. It was and stays the first and only distillery outside Italy until today. And the love for Fernet only grew from then.
Today, 75% of the world's Fernet consumption is attributed to Argentina.
No wonder, as it's part of their national drink - the Fernandito, or Fernet con Coca. You can get this blend of Fernet Branca and Coke everywhere in the country.
Much love from San Francisco
Apart from Argentina, Fernet was relatively unknown outside Europe for more than a century. That changed in the early 2000s when the herbal liqueur was hyped in parts of the US.
Especially in San Francisco, it has been receiving more and more love since the turn of the century. According to Eduardo Branca, heir of the family business, in the 90s, their back-then portfolio manager Antoinette Cattani went from bar to bar in California to convince owners to carry the brand. Doing that, she used the catchphrase Fernet-Branca is a bong in a bottle.
The bold strategy worked, and the herbal liqueur became a cult in San Francisco. Today, the city is responsible for 35% of the total Fernet Branca sales volume and consumption in the US.
The dry herbal liqueur also gained traction amongst craft bartenders everywhere. The so-called "bartender's handshake" is a popular shot when groups of bartenders meet up.
Fernet Branca is an intensely bitter herbal liqueur from Italy with a long tradition and history. It's most popular in Argentina, Italy, and San Francisco, among bartenders and professionals in the bar industry.
It's a spirit worth exploring, and as you do, you'll acquire a taste for it over time. Start mixing it in cocktails, then only pair it with one mixer, and finally sip it on ice or at room temperature.