Fernet: A Brief Introduction

What exotic spirit is all the rave among hipster bartenders in San Francisco but remains otherwise a giant question mark in most of the rest of America? Hint: It’s an Italian amaro, a type of bitter spirit. If you guessed Fernet, congratulations.

A complex blend of 40 or more herbals and spices, the spirit is in the same class of drinks as Jägermeister (although Fernet tends to be more bitter and less sugary). Fernet contains such ingredients as myrrh, camomile, saffron, cardamom and aloe; some suggest that some Fernets — which keep their recipes under tight secrecy — include such treasures as wormwood, coca leaf, quinine and codeine.

Amaros like Fernet usually get enjoyed as a digestif after a large meal, but they may be enjoyed separately. They pair well with coffee or espresso, and in Argentina Fernet is mixed with Coke in a 1:9 ratio and served as a popular drink. (I sipped a glass of Fernet-Branca with diet Pepsi — yummy, and a great summer cool-down thanks to the minty flavor of the F-B). You can even sub it out for bitters, especially in something like a Manhattan.

Bottles aren’t terribly expensive, and make a slightly unusual but versatile addition to any gentleman’s home liquor cabinet.

(N.B. — We’re planning on an alcohol segment about Fernet-Branca in an upcoming podcast. Stay tuned!)

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