…as some have called it. It is a dark black liquid that, in appearance, resembles Jaggermeister. But to most people that have tried it, that is where any similarities will end. Often, one can be seen at the bar tipping back a shot of this mystery dark liquid followed with another shot of ginger ale or, better yet, ginger beer…followed by a smile. Or for first timers, you may even see a grimace, like they just got punched in the face, and then comes the smile. For those of you that know me, you know what I am talking about. The ginger beer probably gave it away. If heaven were a liquid, I would indeed be referring to Fernet Branca. Fernet who? Branca What? Undoubtedly, most people do not know what I am talking about. But for those that do…that first sip is probably akin to sticking your head in an ice water bath. But what follows is magical, mysterious, and uplifting all at the same time.
A little background for starters… Fernet Branca is what’s known as a digestive, or digestivo. It is a type of aperitif that is supposed to be drunk after a meal to help you digest. It is an Italian bitter made up of over 40 different herbs and spices. Some of the herbs and spices include myrrh, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, saffron, and anise. The liqueur itself is grape based and has a caramel color added to it. So now we know some of the ingredients that make it up, let’s take a look at who made it up.
Turns out, this venerable liquid is the product of the Branca family. Specifically, the proprietary recipe has not changed since it was invented in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. Initially, there were many health benefits that were attributed to Fernet. Some would use it to quell a common cold, and as a medicine, the drink was still considered legal during America’s Prohibition in the 1930’s.
These days Fernet has garnered quite the cult following here in the United States, mostly amongst bartenders and other “industry” folks. I know many a bartender who has formed love affair with this intriguing spirit. However, it is fun to see patrons come in and request a Fernet and Ginger more and more now without having to suggest it.
It is true that Fernet and Cola has become the national drink of Argentina, where it is drunk there more than any other place in the world, including Italy. Here in the states, San Francisco has attained the ubiquitous title of the Fernet capital of North America. Actually, it is said that San Franciscans drink the most Fernet Branca outside of Argentina. Indeed, I have read articles about places in San Francisco where the Fernet flows freely and in abundance. Whilst Worcester is not quite there yet, we will continue to try and let Worcester-ites in on the secret that is known as Fernet. In fact, “excuse me barkeep, I’ll take a shot of Fernet with some ginger beer on the backside.”