Fernet: The Curious Case of an Old Liqueur

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Text: Michelle Fierro

Fernet. That popular, pretty green bottle with the orange label that sits on the shelf of many a bar. You’ve seen it pop-up in more places in our city and yet, you wonder what it is, and the curiosity grows. Fernet is an Italian digestive— a bitter liqueur made with bitters and herbs. It’s been around since before prohibition, popular mostly because of its medicinal properties and claims that you could never get a hangover from drinking it. It’s an 80 proof liqueur, I’m sure it would cause some sort of feeling of un-wellness the day after…

Its more credible claims are that it aids digestion and helps cure such a hangover (I’ve used it to calm my moody stomach and happy to report it did as advertised) because of its large amount of herbs, flowers, teas, bitter roots, plants and extracts. However, I am here to not just tell you about how this product can ease your digestive pain, but also to give you a push into breaking your curiosity and giving it a try. It is a very popular libation in Argentina, in which it cannot fail to be at any family reunion, dinner or any type of social gathering where people consume it by itself after a heavy meal, or mix it with Cola as a nice aperitif  aptly called a Fernandito.

Fernet Branca, the most popular of brands of this fine liqueur, is gaining strength in popularity in the US, especially in local craft cocktail bars. It is consumed as a shot between bartenders, a popular add-on in cocktails and of course as the Fernandito in some places.

But what does it taste like? Someone might say it takes more than 1 or 2 sips to actually get accustomed to its strong bitter flavor. Its strong aroma of peppermint is attractive, but it is not sweet in character. I myself, love it in a cocktail, but I won’t lie, my first time tasting it, I thought it was like Broncolin—a Mexican, honey-based throat soothing remedy with heavy peppermint and herbs—and it wasn’t pleasant. However, with time, I can now get the flavors of chamomile, rhubarb, sage, peppermint (obviously) and bitter roots that are most prevalent and I am eager to keep on experimenting with it on my cocktails. I have grown to appreciate it and respect it.

So, now that you know, go ahead and ask your bartender for a taste, savor it and perhaps you will too, learn to love it…I dare you.

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